Initial impressions from week 3 in the B12

I like to watch film before I give too many sweeping opinions on a weekend’s action but I tuned in closely enough to the various B12 games to come up with a few strong impressions.

Gundy throttles Boise State

Not only was I expecting this to be a massive Boise win but I even related a story of urging someone who (foolishly in my estimation) had wagered on USC to hedge by betting on Boise State (and Iowa State).

I hadn’t watched Oklahoma State very carefully this season, only enough to know that Taylor Cornelius wasn’t Mason Rudolph but that the Poke skill talent is probably close to being good as it was in 2017. That was even more of a cementing of a previously held assumption than anything.

But Gundy had a couple of aces up his sleeve. The first was a QB option and RPO run game featuring big, gangly Cornelius that caused some real problems for the Boise defense. The second and perhaps bigger issue was a pressure package that moved the Pokes’ experienced DEs and LB Calvin Bundage around all over the place to absolutely destroy the Boise State protection schemes.

With a D that knows how to bring really smart and efficient pressures combined with a QB that has some skill to unlock the rest of this offensive talent, Oklahoma State just SHOT up in my internal power rankings of the Big 12. We’ll get to that at the end of this piece.

Iowa State bends and then breaks against Oklahoma

This was one of the first times that I didn’t think Matt Campbell and his staff had a great gameplan for an opponent. After a weeklong debate over the nature of Iowa State’s pressure package and how effective it might be against the Sooners, we instead watched the Cyclones drop eight and spy Kyler Murray, daring the Sooners to work their way down the field.

That’s not a good way to handle this team. My scouting report on Kyler Murray and the Oklahoma offense through the first three games is that they have more dangerous weapons outside than a year ago with Ceedee Lamb and Marquise Brown coming into their own and Murray is completely capable of finding them and delivering back-breaking strikes down the field. The Oklahoma run game is not as good as it was a year ago, which is kinda funny because an offseason argument I often had with Sooner fans was whether Murray’s running ability would make up for the loss of Baker Mayfield in constraining opponents from attacking the OU run game.

It doesn’t, so I was right about that, but for some of the wrong reasons. Murray’s ability to attack off play-action is excellent and Brown seems more dangerous now than he was a year ago, kinda like fellow mighty mite Dede Westbrook who had a solid junior year and then exploded as a senior in this offense. The “Ant-man and the Wasp” connection made a terrifying hook-up early in the game.

Ant-Man And The Wasp 75 Yard Bomb GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

That was a straight line bomb so you don’t really have to use the Pythagorean theorem to calculate that this ball traveled 53 yards in the air before landing right in the bread basket.

My sense after the FAU/UCLA games was that Kyler Murray is predictably not a huge fan of contact. He’s a terrifying runner until you can actually get your hands on him, then he goes down easily. If he goes down in a way he doesn’t like, such as right after delivering a pass, he’ll immediately appeal to the officials for more protection. His body language and the way he runs makes it clear that he’s not out there trying to be a hero when it comes to breaking tackles or running through defenders.

This team has too many weapons and Murray is way too good at hitting them on the move or from the pocket to try and drop everyone back and hold up against this team. Instead defenses need to make Murray feel heat early and often and get his eyes focused on where pressure is coming from rather than where his receivers are down the field. That’s the MO for Texas and Oklahoma State is another defense that appears to have an effective formula for that, I don’t know if either Army or Baylor are going to test him much.

The Oklahoma defense had some of their usual issues with DB tackling, I need to look closer to get a better feel for how their front is playing against the run. I know they stacked the box against David Montgomery (who wouldn’t?) who sometimes seems to be better at picking up 3-6 tough yards in the face of contact then he is at picking up 10-15 yards by running by people. Getting beat down the field by big wideouts like Hakeem Butler isn’t the worst sin, although it’s not a weakness you want to carry into the Red River Shootout. Their ability to bring pressure against the Cyclones, particularly late in the game, was huge.

What I perceive as potential weaknesses in the 2018 Sooners don’t appear to be the sort that will stop this team from being in the running for the B12 title deep into the year.

The Cyclones are still in it as well, this defense is playing at a high level and most teams won’t find it as easy to beat their schemes for long scoring drives as the Sooners did.

Texas stomps USC

Texas is just a bad matchup for these Trojans. Todd Orlando’s knack for disguising coverages and bringing inside pressure is a nightmare for a team that can’t protect their run game and has to rely on a true freshman pocket passer to move the football. While doubting Texas is a popular pastime of late and many people were ready and eager to believe that the Longhorns would find a way to blow it against USC as a home favorite, I doubt that Orlando’s success against J.T. Daniels really shocked anyone or changed many opinions about Texas.

What may not be as well recognized yet is the fact that the Texas offense is considerably better than a year ago, particularly at tackle where they have gone from “abysmal” to “legitimately very good” in just a year.

The trick of it is this. They added Rice grad transfer Calvin Anderson, who’s very athletic and reliable in pass protection and then RS freshman Sam Cosmi finally flipped the switch in fall camp and has started at RT the last two games while true sophomore and returning starter Derek Kerstetter has slid inside to RG. Then Elijah Rodriguez, who was slated to play RT a year ago before being lost for the year to an injury in fall camp, is now at center. Consequently, this is the most athletic OL Texas has had since 2013 and maybe even much longer than that, with four starters with the length and quickness to be at least passable at tackle.

I’m sure they’ll still have their doubters, but the defense just hit their stride after an only decent start to the year and the offense has played pretty well with a lot of growth potential.

TCU holds their own against Ohio State

I’ve just started breaking this game down, it was one of the first I pulled up to get a closer look at since I’ll be previewing the Texas vs TCU showdown at Inside Texas later this week.

I noticed the TCU OL played fairly well against SMU, particularly on runs to the left side behind JUCO transfer Anthony McKinney and (more importantly) returning starter at LG Cordel Iwuagu (anyone know how that last name is pronounced?). For the Ohio State game they ditched the rotation of overmatched RS senior Trey Elliott and unimpressive JUCO Chris Gaynor to slide backup tackle Austin Myers into that slot. As a consequence, the Frog OL is now actually closer to being as talented as Frog fans insisted while pointing to some of the better recruiting rankings of the younger players on the roster.

They still weren’t able to make hay running on Ohio State outside of the long run by Darius Anderson but they did some damage, especially early in the game before the Buckeyes started to adjust. The TCU secondary had the problems I thought they would against the Buckeye WRs and also at DT where their rotation of “guys not named Ross Blacklock” had predictable struggles against Ohio State’s massive OL and talented backs.

Still, they had a smart plan of attack, played hard, and were in that game only to be ultimately undone by the Buckeyes’ talent advantages. Before this game my impression of the Frogs was that they had something similar to last year’s formula: run game + defense + ball control = lots of wins, but with weaker execution in every phase despite some young talent infusions. That still sounds about right but I think they’re closer than I did a week ago and this coaching staff combined with these athletes can allow them to add “more regular explosive plays” to the formula in a way that may even things out.

The other games

Kansas State zeroed in on utilizing Skylar Thompson against a bad UTSA team and picked up a needed win. I saw too much against Mississippi State on rewind though, this team has a lot of holes to fill.

Texas Tech lit up a bad Houston defense (how are they so bad tho?) with freshman QB Alan Bowman (liked him a lot for this system) and appear to more or less be the same team they are every year.

Kansas is sneaky good, mostly because they’re a little deeper overall and they have Pooka Williams running wild for them. I’m sure they’re still terrible but perhaps the gap between them and the rest of the dregs isn’t so great.

When I watched Duke run over Army on a Thursday or Friday night game earlier in the year I thought, “here we go, let’s see how Baylor does against this and that should say a lot about their coming season.” Sure enough, even without their starting QB Duke ran over Baylor. Bear fans seem very perturbed also by how Matt Rhule keeps pulling his QBs, much like he did a year ago, rather than giving Charlie Brewer a chance to play through problems and develop for the future.

My take is that Matt Rhule’s specialties are in developing hard-nosed, multiple defenses and then physical OL that can join forces to control games at the of scrimmage. Well, the Baylor defensive personnel isn’t very good yet and neither is the OL. His recruiting plan has been to go find ultra raw players with the athletic upside to be dominators but the need for a few years of college S&C and grueling, Rhule practices. That’s the very opposite of a quick fix. The jury is going to be out on the #RhuleofLaw for a few years yet. The Bears could have hired some Air Raid head coach and been much better much faster but that coach likely wouldn’t have had the potential ceiling of a Rhule squad.

Who can win the league?

Whatever they are on defense, Oklahoma still has the Riley O and raw athleticism and overall firepower to be in every game against B12 competition. Even if some of these teams catch them with a good gameplan and tougher or more sound play, Oklahoma can probably still keep up just by virtue of their talent.

Texas and Oklahoma State stand out right now as teams that have some weapons and formulas on offense combined with defenses that play hard and know how to get pressure when it matters. TCU and Iowa State have some of that as well but the Frogs don’t have as reliable a QB play yet and the Cyclones are obviously still working out the OL. West Virginia I still need to see more from, they seem like Oklahoma light. Right now I’d say Oklahoma, Texas, and Oklahoma State are the three teams most likely to produce a champion. TCU, Iowa State, and West Virginia are definitely still in the running but they look less likely to be able to impose their strengths and will on a game often enough, everyone else is probably out of it.

30 Comments

  1. Joey

    I know you haven’t broken down the tape yet, but a lot of the debate after the Iowa State game between Oklahoma fans has been where the blame falls for the defensive performance. Should mike be blamed or should the players be blamed for poor tackling? I tend to think that tackling is a responsibility that falls on the DC. Your thoughts?

    I also think there’s more to defensive breakdowns than just missed tackles, but I only watched the game in real time, so I don’t have much of an idea on what breakdowns occurred.

    • ianaboyd

      Oklahoma has sucked at tackling for years. The obvious conclusion, backed up by anecdotal evidence I’ve collected, is that the Sooners don’t practice live tackling to the degree that other programs do.

      Show me a program noted for its physical play, particularly on defense, and I’ll show you a program who’s practices are a bloodletting. TCU, Texas, Georgia, etc.

      I also think OU’s tackling problems are often also exacerbated by their reliance on man coverage and guys that can play good man coverage. Get a bunch of skill guys running around on defense with their backs to the ball and that’s a recipe for problems bringing people that break the first level down to the ground.

    • Clayton Davis

      Is there a full game replay available somewhere? I have seen some that show a ton of highlights, but predictably those aren’t going to show a lot of the busts. Although I think I did notice some replays with Murray doing fine with a bit of pressure – I don’t think it was a case of Iowa State just dropping 8 and not bringing pressure, or losing a receiver because of play action.

      • ianaboyd

        I didn’t see Iowa State bring much pressure at all and I watched the whole game. It was a lot more “drop eight and spy.” Which is tough when there aren’t many spies around the country that can really pressure Murray.

        I saw one blitz that Iowa State brought that they gave away before the snap and then executed hesitantly because OU rushed into their snap. It resulted in Murray hitting Calcaterra up the seam well before pressure arrived but then the Cyclones laying a lick and forcing a fumble.

  2. System Poster

    I’m still holding out hope on Tech being a different defensive team this year until we see the team with Jah’Shawn Johnson, because the front seven has been pretty solid this year. This isn’t the 2014-2016 Tech vintage that was giving up 300 yards rushing every week. The problem is breakdowns in the secondary, but that should be somewhat expected when your best DB is on the sideline (and replaced by a guy who’s only been on campus for a few weeks). They’ll still have SOME problems because outside of Demarcus Fields (and Octavious Morgan, who is out for the year) there’s not much talent at CB, but at the very least I would expect Johnson to fix up a lot of the coverage busts and to do a better job defending the deep balls.

    • ianaboyd

      Can they stop the run without leaving their secondary exposed? Can they rush the passer? They still look to me like a team that will get into shootouts all the time and come up short at least as often as not. Might be better than a year ago and find themselves in the middle tier but I don’t think there’s any real chance of them putting together a B12 championship team.

      • System Poster

        Yeah, they’re definitely doing a better job stopping the run without loading the box full of safeties and the pass rush has been decent. Tony Jones has been great as a situational pass rusher and Eli Howard looks as good as he was at the end of last year.

        And no, I don’t think they’re going to be competing for a Big 12 title. I just think Jah’Shawn Johnson cleaning things up on the back end will help out the defense a lot and if Bowman keeps it up, maybe they’re a team that can win 5-7 conference games and save Kliff’s job.

  3. Max Swift

    I’m curious why TCU isn’t considered to be more in the “likely to produce a champion” group of teams and Texas lowered to “definitely still in the running.”

    I mean, I’m a Texas fan and I’m a homer as much as anyone else, but I think until Texas’ defense can standup in a more effective way they really don’t stand much of a chance. They’ve looked good on occasion and for large parts of games, but they haven’t produced a full game of ” that was excellent.” Tech, TCU, OSU, WVU, and OU all produce offenses that make me think Texas stands a greater than 50% chance of losing each contest.

    On the other hand, I see TCU being able to out perform and out coach any team in the Big XII with GP as the head coach.

    Granted, Texas could figure it out and go on a tear, but I think considering current state they are definitely a top 5 team, but not top 3, imho.

    • ianaboyd

      Ehlinger>Robinson is the big thing. I also think Texas’ D is better than TCU’s. The Frogs are sound and will always gameplan at a high level and get after opponents but their DL is a weak spot and I don’t see Jason Verrett in their secondary. Texas’ D hasn’t put it all together yet but they have a lot of growth or personnel rotations that could get them there whereas TCU has what they have.

      Consider that BJ Foster, Caden Sterns, Keaontay Ingram, and Sam Cosmi have been some of Texas’ best players this year and all of them are playing their first year of college ball.

      • Philly Frog

        E may be better than R for now. I’ll be watching to see how Shawn progresses between now and November.

        Also, please note that Bethley was a 247 freshman all-american. DL is probably league-average with Blacklock gone (they also throw out Banogu and Collier who can both ball).

        • ianaboyd

          Easier to be a freshman all-American when you’re playing on a top DL with a rockstar to your right and left but noted.

          Robinson has a high ceiling, I’ve always liked him. He did a good job in the misdirection/screen game against Ohio State and also throwing to spots down the field. Maybe after Saturday I’ll have to flip TCU and Texas. Ehlinger is more seasoned for now though and has a command of the offense.

  4. JHoop

    So what is Rhule’s ‘potential ceiling’?
    As a BU alum, I will be patient and understanding. 5 wins was the goal this year. 4 is acceptable.
    Curious is you think Rhule was the correct and/or best hire when it was made.

    • ianaboyd

      I wrote a ton about Baylor’s situation back when this all started to go down if you have time and interest.

      When I realized Briles was probably gone I wrote on what Baylor should look for: http://sportstreatise.blogspot.com/2016/05/if-baylor-has-to-replace-briles-heres.html

      And then this 3-part series on the overhaul that Rhule was going to be enacting in Waco:
      http://sportstreatise.com/2017/06/talkin-baylor-with-david-smoak/

      Short summary: Art Briles was a generational coach, a true legend with an amazing offensive mind and coaching abilities on top of his shadier side as someone willing to go too far to boost his program’s chances.

      Gaining an edge on the rest of the league via offensive brilliance was going to be insanely difficult without Briles while maintaining an effective offense in the B12 isn’t necessarily that hard because the talent pool is so loaded and Baylor can make a nice pick of the litter in Texas.

      With that in mind, my prescription was that they hire a defensive coach provided he wasn’t incompetent in regards to building good offense. Matt Rhule seemed like he might be that guy, particularly when he made some offensive hires to emphasize the spread more.

      But between the fact that Baylor’s roster was recruited to a unique scheme, that it was gutted by attrition in the wake of the scandal, and that Rhule has prioritized developmental projects in recruiting, you’re looking at a very long and comprehensive rebuild. Not an attempt to shuffle the deck a little and move along under the same plan as before. I think most Baylor fans were expecting the latter and that just ain’t it.

      • JHoop

        I understand. And I remember reading your comments then. So this is not coming from an impatient or delusional perspective. The educated fans and alumni realize how special Briles & his system was. But the question remains? What is the ceiling for Baylor with Rhule? 8 wins 5 years from now?

        • ianaboyd

          Probably something akin to the ceiling we’ve seen from other B12 programs. Good shot at a B12 title in years where you have a difference making QB and TX and OU aren’t fielding elite teams.

          • JHoop

            And there in lies the rub.
            Riley’s great and he’ll eventually hire a good DC.
            Herman will be great.
            Patterson isn’t going anywhere.
            Gundy, who knows what he will do tomorrow, much less in the future. But as long as he’s there, OSU will be solid.
            So BU & everyone else will be looking at 5th place as the ceiling. Awesome!

            Great stuff as always Ian. Keep it up.

          • ianaboyd

            It’s a tough league because OSU, TCU, Baylor, and arguably Tech all have comparable resources and it’s hard to stand out. Then you have West Virginia out there always causing a problem and then usually one of the North teams gets the Midwestern “play tough D and run the ball” formula right and is right up there in that mid-tier as well.

            Then of course OU and Texas, the former of whom never seems to dip too low and the latter of which seems to be finally figuring it out.

            Briles not only had an amazing process for beefing up Baylor but he also came along when Bobby was starting to lose his edge and Texas had collapsed.

          • System Poster

            JHOOP,

            While all that is true, Riley could leave for the NFL. And for the likes of TCU and OSU, a couple of bad recruiting cycles at the QB position could send either program reeling for a year or two. TCU is only five years removed from 4-8 and only two years removed from 6-7. OSU went 7-6 in 2014 before Rudolph really developed. Those are both great programs with great coaches that are going to be better more often than they’re bad, but they’ll have down years, too. They aren’t Bama or Ohio State that can simply reload year after year.

  5. Chris R.

    Ever since some injury ravaged seasons Bob did cut back on physicality of practice for most part.
    Riley talked about lack of good tackling today at his PC. One can tell it really bothered him.
    We will see how season goes but OU is really missing Anderson. The timing between OL and backs needs improving. Bedenbaugh said today that Evan’s is still adjusting to LT. Thankfully they have a couple of games to work on it.
    Perhaps the most concerning thing for OU is the depth at DL and Jack is razor thin. We didn’t have much of a rotation due to all the guys out. Gallimore, Bledsoe, Mann and Jackson had to play entire game. OU can’t afford any injuries to one of those 4 right now.

    • ianaboyd

      I bet we can correlate the end of physical practices with the end of OU’s stellar defensive reputation.

      OUs run game has dipped. Doesn’t seem like opponents have near as much trouble with GT counter, which is interesting because it’d been high near unstoppable for two years. I think maybe the lack of lethal QB pass options for it has hurt it but that could be wrong, I haven’t watched close enough to tell if it’s even true. Definitely Trey Sermon isn’t as good as Anderson or Mixon. He’s hard to tackle because of his strength but he’s not near as explosive.

      Injuries seem the most likely thing to diminish this Oklahoma season.

      • Will

        Sure will be. He had an up and down performance against Youngstown St. More up than down.

        And they retooled the position for him, he played right up on the line for at least a few snaps. Dude is not afraid of contact either.

        • ianaboyd

          I took in a couple of those. I think it’s smart to use him like that. Doubles down though on having aggressive guys around the ball that need to be covered up.

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