A cautious look at week 1 in the B12

Evidently Lane Kiffin’s FAU team may need a few games to put it all together, much like in 2017. They were totally overmatched against the Sooners, obviously, and made an ass of yours truly. My B12 title pick didn’t do me any favors either, dropping a road game with a sloppy performance against the Terrapins.

After trying to absorb as much tape as I could, here are some thoughts on what we saw in week one with an effort to be consistent about not overreacting one way or the other to anything that occurred. I’ve got lots of reactions to the Texas game going up at Inside Texas so I’ll focus elsewhere in this space. Suffice to say though, I still think Texas can compete for the B12 title. Fire away if you think that’s ridiculous but neither that nor Michigan losing a close road game to a Notre Dame squad I picked to contend for a playoff spot strikes me as conclusive evidence that either Tom Herman or Jim Harbaugh are trash.

Wildcat scare

In my picks I said that Kansas was playing “the wrong South Dakota school” to give them a good scare. I made that statement from a place of A) knowing that this was not the South Dakota State Jackrabbits that have made a habit of contending with North Dakota State in recent years B) knowing virtually nothing about South Dakota. Well, apparently they’re pretty good too.

These northern/midwestern FCS programs that are the only college programs in their states are trouble. They often take the game really seriously and have some under scouted players running around. South Dakota had a clearly done their homework on Kansas State and were jumping routes and running hard to the football on defense while testing the Wildcat corners and outside-backer in a fashion similar to how much of the B12 has attacked the team.

It’s too early to be definitive but my impression from the game was that the K-State D I had questions about actually looks really strong while the offense I assumed would be a team strength has some real identity concerns.

The big questions are essentially what they’re going to hang their hats on, or better still “who” is going to carry the offense? Alex Delton is a great single-wing runner but he made some horrible reads and throws against a South Dakota team that didn’t respect him and knew what was coming. I think he might be a Daniel Sams-type bit player that isn’t an every down starter. That makes Skylar Thompson Jake Waters, except he’s not that good (not yet at least) and he’s not throwing to Tyler Lockett.

They do have Alex Barnes, who’s a good player and will probably have to become their war horse. They need to call a game against Miss State in which they use every trick and element of the roster they can to constrain the Bulldogs from keying on Barnes all night. Joe Moorhead hired Bob Shoop for that job (stuffing Barnes) and he’s a good one. I’m sure Snyder will reveal all kinds of tricks and tactics later while driving this roster to arrive at a better place by league play then they’re at currently. However, they don’t yet have a strong QB leading the way like we thought they would and K-State hasn’t been terribly good yet this decade when they haven’t had that.

It’s early to make a call like that, especially one that we all took for granted. “I’m sure one or both of those guys will prove to be the next great K-State QB in 2018” made a lot of sense but I have real hesitation about that conclusion now.

Schooner roadkill

My one fear with for the Owls was that they were going to be overwhelmed early and unable to establish their run game against the Sooner defensive front because they were playing catch up and floundering on the road against an overpowered offense. That was exactly what happened and things went south and snowballed on them quickly.

Chris Robison missed everything early while some penalties helped kill the initial Owl drives. Oklahoma didn’t punt for a while but instead poured on touchdown after touchdown, quickly making the game 28-0 and virtually out of reach for the Owls.

Nonetheless, I still got to see the Owls work some misdirection with inside zone and other spread run concepts at the new look OU defense. The results often looked like I expected.

Motor Zone Over Ou Front GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
Motor Singletary Vs Ou Secondary GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

On both of these plays the Sooners are more sound than they were at times a year ago. As in, guys are fitting the right gaps. In the latter example they send the backers to the lead block and ask a safety to clean up the other interior gap, like I prognosticated they would do this season from their nickel package.

However, what you tend to see in each example is just…pretty soft. The Owls weren’t afraid to single block the Sooner nose with their Tulane transfer center most of the day and loose the guards to pursue other activities. The first clip features Kenneth Mann getting pancaked while both LBs are washed out, the second clip sees Ronnie Perkins pancaked and then the normal routine where a physical runner abuses the attempts at run support from the Sooner team pursuit.

Oklahoma has UCLA next, who probably isn’t terribly physical but may further test their soundness. Then Iowa State, who we haven’t seen yet this season but may be a good test on both sides of the ball, then Army who will probably be unable to handle their offense, then Texas. There’s a solid chance that Oklahoma goes into the RRS undefeated and on top of the world, or there would be if Iowa State wasn’t coached by Matt Campbell. I tend to think the Cyclones will probably at least reveal cracks in the Schooner wheels, whether they’re able to beat them or not, and Oklahoma won’t go into the Cotton Bowl looking like a top 4 team to the discerning eye.

Early impressions of Kyler Murray are that he’s hard to tackle in the backfield and seems to have the ability to reach a lot of areas of the field with his arm. If you can keep him leveraged he’s too small to run through tackles but he’s as shifty as they come and uncareful angles will lead to someone being made to look silly. I still have questions about how he reads coverages or whether he sees blitzes or diagnosis defenses. The physical talent is what we expected, which is to say that it’s very impressive. The A’s ponied up for a reason. His supporting talent is fantastic, overall I didn’t learn much about them.

Oklahoma is probably the most athletic team in the conference which will be obvious on many weeks in the coming year. They definitely aren’t the toughest though.

Rocky top run D

West Virginia predictably gashed the Tennessee defense. It’s year one with a new system for the Vols and the area where you’d guess they might have a chance to cause problems (SEC DL personnel) was always going to be less of a factor against the Mountaineers’ big and experienced OL.

WVU ran the ball reasonably well against the Vols but they eviscerated them through the air. That’s not shocking, although Will Grier definitely played a good game and we essentially got confirmation that yes, this veteran QB with an experienced supporting cast are indeed playing like you’d hope from such a group.

The biggest concern with the Mountaineers is the defense and Tennessee was a decent test of where they’re at in that regard. On the positive side of things, this is definitely a very different DL than they were putting on the field in 2017. Their movement and quickness were problems for the Vol OL with Darius Stills, Reese Donahue, Ezekiel Rose, and Kenny Bigelow combining for 7.5 TFL. Donahue and Rose were manning the DE spots with Clemson transfer Jabril Robinson actually starting while Stills and Bigelow were a 1-2 punch at nose.

LB and CB are probably the bigger concerns this year, which is a touch surprising because they’ve tended to develop those positions pretty well. An issue at LB is the fact that their inside positions are staffed by 6-0, 215 pound Dylan Tonkery and 5-11, 225 pound David Long. These guys will run to the ball and can cause problems when they’re covered up or stunting free but if you get a body on them that’s it.

After a while with starter Charlie Benton (6-2, 215) they rolled with walk-on Shea Campbell (5-11, 240) at sam linebacker. Neither were very good at all, Campbell doesn’t remind me of Justin Arndt in the slightest.

The secondary looked fine in this contest but you know they’re thin at corner and that B12 opponents will really get after them on the perimeter. They need to find an 11th guy who makes the defensive backfield better and he could probably play a variety of positions. Got a good ILB? Great, move Tonkery or Long to Sam. A really good safety who can tackle and play blocks? Play him at Sam.

This defense is in decent shape overall and could probably round into a unit that gives West Virginia a chance at the Big 12 title thanks to that talent infusion across the DL. They need some tinkering though and to either develop some guys or figure out different personnel packages.

This run kinda captures where they’re at:

Wv Pushed Around Some GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

The LBs are getting shoved around, Bigelow gets penetration but it’s mitigated on this occasion, then when Hakeem Bailey misses the tackle in the wide open cutback lane. Lots of smaller bodies crashing into the line for WVU and just getting bullied. Handle the penetration and the speed and the West Virginia backfield is your oyster, although their safeties will hit and tackle better than say…Oklahoma.

That’s all I got for this week. I’m sure most Sooner fans will not be convinced since I spent much of the offseason talking about how FAU might expose them. Careful look at the tape of that game and the Texas-Maryland game though suggest my sense of things heading into the season was right but that various week one issues didn’t allow the factors I identified to dictate the final outcomes on the scoreboard. We’ll find out in the coming weeks.

36 Comments

  1. Sidney

    For a Texas homer you do a decent job of analyzing game film for other programs. I do find it funny that you watched the Texas game (loss to a team without a head coach) again and saw a team that will be “elite running the ball in 2019”. So you pick Texas to win that game by double digits and they lose in an embarrassing fashion but yet you can predict what will happen 365 days from now and how dominant they will be? Amazing!

    • ianaboyd

      Big picture trends are easier to get a bead on than specific, game by game results. The big picture trends say that Texas is definitely getting better and that their downhill run game mentality will be present in 2018 but more obvious in 2019 when more of these younger talents recruited to run that system start to come of age.

      • Will

        Yup, that is a huge problem. That’s the top three options at SAM down, and the earliest any of them might be back is November.

        That leaves us with Campbell, who did not acquit himself well, and Exree Lee (I spelled his first name wrong), a converted safety who is like 6’0, 200 lbs. Maybe they move Kwantel Raines to SAM. He’s like 6’2, 205 and the future at SPUR. That’s not much better but at least he’s long.

        I think you have a pretty good read on the defense, thank you for taking the time to watch and write about it.

        I think CB has a chance to get better. Norwood is a player, but he is tiny. Bailey looked a little stuck in mud at times but he’s got some upside out there. I don’t have many thoughts on Pitts, but it’s clearly not ideal that he’s the third guy and Keith Washington is way behind him.

        Fortunately, if WVU gets around NC State, they get a bunch of very flawed teams to open up the Big 12 slate. That might help the defense develop a bit before the meat grinder in November.

        • ianaboyd

          You’ll also probably be able to outscore most teams and maybe be better on D than OU was a year ago. Overall I’d feel fairly optimistic about competing in the B12. The playoffs are out of the question.

  2. Sidney

    Also, you say people shouldn’t overreact to one game (which is true) but yet you think Texas will have a dominant run game in 2019 based off a few clips from the first game in 2018. Is that itself not an overreaction? lol

    • ianaboyd

      I’m talking about big picture trends again and seeing things I’ve been hearing about from practices and also observing from HS film. Namely, that Texas has a sophomore running QB, a really talented freshman RB, and then some young OL working their way up the depth chart like Sam Cosmi that are all well suited to the downhill run game.

    • Clayton Davis

      Hmm, I guess this is a departure from last year, where you held one opinion of the Sooners’ D, felt like maybe you’d been proven wrong by the Ohio State game, and reversed it. So maybe I shouldn’t knock you too much for sticking to your guns until you get more data.

      Still, you have 2 example GIFs of Sooners’ failings, when most of the game film was the exact opposite. They didn’t hold Singletary in check just because FAU abandoned the run – they stuck to the run in the drives after OU went up 28-0 and Singletary was bottled up each time.

      • ianaboyd

        Those were a couple of the choice picks. There were times when a Sooner DL made a play, especially when FAU tried to option Ronnie Perkins only to discover that he was too quick. There were also instances where the FAU doubles were driving OU off the ball but a mistake elsewhere limited the impact.

        I didn’t breakdown every Singletary run but what I saw combined with the nature of the game (OU taking an early and massive lead at home) suggested very strongly that this Sooner D isn’t any tougher than the ones we’ve been watching for the last few years.

        • chris

          Toughness has never been the issue as much as being in the right gaps. have you ever played high level football or coached it? People that have and watched that game closely disagree with you completely. you can hand pick plays of any team, even Alabama, and still see plays where their defensive lineman get beat. Texas gave up 200 yards rushing to a team that was 4-8 last year. Does that make them not tough? As I watched that game they had people in the wrong gaps or reading the wrong keys. it wasnt toughness, it very rarely is. Even if you watch the Rose Bowl, toughness wasnt the issue, it was reading the wrong keys and not being in the correct gaps on most of those long runs. But I guess we will see again in the Cotton Bowl who is tougher right?

          • ianaboyd

            Yeah, when you get swallowed by blocks and regularly have tackles broken it’s not exactly an indication of toughness.

            Funny thing has been OU fans claiming these are one-offs or cherry picked examples when we’ve been watching this from the D for years now.

  3. Joey

    Ian,

    Love your stuff, even as a Sooner fan. Completely agree with your assessment that the Sooner D is not physical. A lot of overreaction to a week 1 game (much like Texas fans). In most games, the OU offense puts teams on their heals so fast that it’s really tough to evaluate the defense. Other teams offensive play calling gets desperate and sloppy. Also agree that Iowa State will be a better indicator of where this team is. I still have questions about Murray as a thrower.

    Also, I know you’re catching a lot of heat on Twitter, but I completely agree with your assessment that Texas has improved and can right the ship. If they just pound the ball with Ingram and continue to play physical, assignment sound defense they’re going to present a lot of problems for ALL big 12 teams.

    • ianaboyd

      This seems obvious to me, especially since they caused a lot of problems for every B12 team on the schedule last year except for TCU, but Ws and Ls always stand out more than the process.

  4. Chris R.

    Sooner fan here. I think the D is on it’s way to being tougher but it is a process. I think simply being more gap sound and more athletic will provide improvement. It should be noted that Riley did say post game our NTs need to be much better and more dominant and both said mistakes were made on D that FAU did not take advantage of. Riley was critical of tackling. They aren’t resting on laurels after one game.

    Concerning your comment about OU not being the toughest team. Perhaps on D but name another Big 12 team that has the combination of a physical athletic OL combined with physical athletic backs (Anderson and Sermon) as OU?

    I do respectfully disagree with insinuations that Riley is set to have a soft culture and your comments on the Wylie hire. But time will tell. I would much rather have Riley than Herman but again time will tell. Keep up the good content.

    • ianaboyd

      OU will definitely maul people on offense, they’re not “soft” in that sense. It’s on D where they’re really suspect in terms of toughness. But if you defense is soft, you can’t be the toughest team in the league, ain’t gonna happen.

      Appreciate you reading!

  5. System Poster

    It seems like K-State’s M.O. under Bill Snyder’s second reign has been to start slow and then get gradually better over the course of the season. It’s very K-State-y to almost lose (and once actually lost) to an FCS team before putting together a solid 7 to 10 win season.

    • ianaboyd

      For sure. I probably made more of their struggles on offense than I should have, Delton looks rough though. Thompson probably has the higher upside as a passer, but he needs to execute some schemes that help Barnes get going. They probably have some such schemes they’re saving up for Miss State.

      • Brent Siemers

        Caveat – I watched the game only once, and missed the first quarter because of ESPN streaming issue. I thought both KSU QB’s were bad in the passing game, staring down their primary receiver and really not moving through a progression.

        I was underwhelmed by Sam Sizelove. Apparently he is on the field because Snyder trusts him to get the team lined up, but he looked like a Penn State LB from 1982 — fine from B gap to B gap, but way too slow to get depth and run to the boundaries.

        • ianaboyd

          I didn’t take note of Sizelove’s play but definitely agree about the QBs. I think Thompson has the better arm and protects the ball better but doesn’t have a great feel for the passing game yet.

          I’m sure they’ll have packages designed to maximize Alex Barnes on Saturday with Delton coming in to run some wildcat. I’ve seen Snyder manufacture offense with similarly limited teams before, like 2010.

  6. jobhr

    The questions IAN BOYD had prior to the OU vs FAU game:
    Can the young Sooner linebackers stay in position against FAU’s option-heavy, straight-ahead attack?
    Will the Sooners’ DBs make solo tackles on athletes like Singletary or Johnson?
    Or will we see Kiffin smirking on the sidelines while his obscure band of anti-heroes run roughshod over a recent playoff defense?

    Looking at the first half only for FAU’s offense as the 2nd half was mostly subs:
    3 and outs: 4
    Singletary: 55 yards on 12 carries (4.5 per carry; 2017 avg 6.4)

    Talk about cherry-picking examples, you selected Singletary’s 1st and 3rd longest runs for your analysis. Looking at the former, his jump cut in the hole was excellent at setting up the block, and he broke tackles downfield. It was a very nice run by a good back.

    Because OU’s defense performed well in this game doesn’t mean they will throughout the season. Your inability to acknowledge this hurts your credibility.

    • ianaboyd

      There were doubts about OUs run D, on the surface the game suggested that OUs D was better.

      When I watched the film the game flow and situations seemed the much bigger factor than improvements by the Sooners. FAU couldn’t connect on anything they set up, their option plays went awry, but when they went at the OU D it looked like I thought it might.

      The last time I ignored process for scoreboard outcome I was saying “I guess the Sooners fixed it” after they beat Ohio State. This time when I see them up to their normal gaffes I’m going to call it out.

      • ianaboyd

        I also insisted all year that Jalen Hurts was not playing well in the new Bama offense and that it would prevent the Tide from winning a title even as he put up good stats and they kept winning. I’m not gonna ride the direct results roller coaster and ignore what I’m seeing.

      • Clayton Davis

        “The last time I ignored process for scoreboard outcome I was saying “I guess the Sooners fixed it” after they beat Ohio State. This time when I see them up to their normal gaffes I’m going to call it out.”

        This is a pretty fair point. I guess the big disconnect stems from you saying that you were essentially right about OU, not “the Sooners did a much better job on defense but let’s see how the season plays out.” FAU rushed 42 times for a 3.1 average. Singletary didn’t rush for a gain of more than 5 yards for the rest of the game.

        • ianaboyd

          I think he did actually, or someone else did. Anyways, things worked out for the Sooner defense, particularly after Robison established early on he wasn’t going to punish them down the field and FAU had to start pressing to score. Doesn’t mean that the way they played run defense was particularly good or likely to work against good running teams in the Big 12.

          I know this is a really hard sell right now and I’ve fired back at the more antagonistic critics but I do think this will be borne out over the course of the season.

          • Clayton Davis

            There were a few other players who managed 5-6 yards in the first half after Singletary’s 2 big runs. I suppose one could include second half stats for giggles, but OU had mostly reserves in for the second half.

            I still beg to differ on your assessment, although you can definitely still pick out some poor tackling, but time will tell. OU is still going to be really tough to beat this season if they can keep their defense to a top 50 level or above, and I am optimistic that’s in the cards based on what we’ve seen.

          • ianaboyd

            Yeah, I think there’s evidence to support that take. I’m still on the other side though and with Gumbs gone the pass rush is even more vulnerable to going over a cliff.

  7. jobhr

    Power 5 college football players do hard things at a high level. They are aware of the risk of severe injury on every play. I wouldn’t have the guts to call any of them soft to their face. They’re all tough.

    Your strength is your breakdown of strategy. When you start delving into psychology, your lost.

  8. Chris R.

    I agree…Gumbs is a huge loss! At 6’3″ 253 with a 4.56 40 he was the type of athlete that OU is targeting to match up with Clemson, Ga, Bama etv. On top of that OU lost Fr Jalen Redmond (another freak athlete) for the season with blood clots. He played same position as Gumbs. So some misfortune there. There is a real possibility OU may play more true 4-2-5 as a result. We should know more against ISU.

    • ianaboyd

      More true 4-2-5? What does that mean/how would that help?

      I’d think they’d go the other way, lean more on the three-down since that Jack OLB can play off the ball more.

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