They know he calls blitzes from every direction and that the Bulldogs will use multiple fronts to try and keep the Sooners off guard. They know Diaz, but Oklahoma isn’t nearly as familiar with Louisiana Tech linebacker Houston Bates.
Bates, a 6-foot-3 250-pound linebacker, transferred to the Bulldogs after graduating and playing at Illinois. He’s a Louisiana-product and was one of the more disruptive linebackers in the Big 10 last season. He finished second on the Illini in sacks and tackles for loss.
The rotating Oklahoma offensive line will have to make sure its communication is superb to account for Bates and the rest of the Bulldogs’ pass rush.
“They’ve got some good talent on that side of the ball,” co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “They’re multiple in what they do up front – three-man front, four-man front, pressure from all over the place. Our guys recognizing, communicating and being on the same page is going to be important, in the run game and then our pass protection as well.”
Bates is immediately eligible because he graduated from Illinois and is pursuing a master’s program at Louisiana Tech.
That is the key position battle this week. Here’s a look at how each team compares across the board:
Quarterback: Louisiana Tech coach Skip Holtz decided on Cody Sokol, a talented transfer from Iowa, as his starting quarterback. With an NFL veteran as his position coach, bright days are ahead of Sokol, but Saturday is his first collegiate start. Trevor Knight’s last collegiate start was the Sugar Bowl. Oklahoma
Running back: There’s a massive difference between the two units in experience. The Bulldogs’ have a bell-cow running back in Kenneth Dixon, who ran for 917 yards last season. The two other primary ball carriers combined for 806 yards. Oklahoma’s top three ball carriers have 153 career yards. Louisiana Tech if only for experience sake, but that could change.
Wide receivers: No experienced depth doesn’t hurt Oklahoma here. Louisiana Tech lost four of its top six receivers from last year’s team. Oklahoma, if just for Sterling Shepard.
Tight end: Another easy one. Louisiana Tech just can’t match the athletes that Oklahoma has at the position. Blake Bell might catch two touchdown passes.
Offensive line: Too big, too strong, really too everything. Oklahoma no questions asked.
Defensive line: The Bulldogs lost their defensive tackles from last season to graduation, and Diaz has been searching for a replacement all spring. Oh, how he’d love to have Jordan Phillips. Oklahoma.
Linebackers: Against most team’s Louisiana Tech would get the nod here. Including Bates, the Bulldogs’ strength is in the middle level of its defense. Fellow pass rusher Vontarrius Dora will be a handful for Conference USA foes, but there aren’t too many outside linebacker tandems in the nation that can match Eric Striker and Geneo Grissom. Oklahoma, but it’s closer than you think.
Secondary: Louisiana Tech lost just one starter in the secondary but is switching to a 4-2-5, which can be a lot to take on in a year. Without the emergence of Jordan Thomas, Steven Parker and the surprise excellence of Julian Wilson, this discussion might be closer. Oklahoma … surprises are always fun.