How’s this B12 title race shaping up?

We had a few games of real import last weekend in terms of the title race. It’s important that Oklahoma and West Virginia both took care of business without slip ups, but the games that change some of the equation were Iowa State’s victory over Texas Tech and Oklahoma State’s upset of Texas.

Recapping the weekend

I recently went on a podcast called “the Hookem huddle” to talk about Texas’ loss to Oklahoma State and the upcoming slate for the Longhorns if you enjoy the sound of my voice.

Texas has some obvious flaws on defense that are hurting their chances to come through as a Big 12 champion. In particular, an inconsistent “lockdown” CB in Kris Boyd who missed the 1st quarter against WVU for coming late to a practice and then a bald spot in the middle where seniors MLB Anthony Wheeler and nickel P.J. Locke have been regularly targeted by opposing gameplans. When Boyd can be trusted to lock down the left side though they can drop iffy deep ball player Brandon Jones down in between them in what I’m calling “the comb over” scheme. Cover 3 buzz mable to the schematically “with it.”

The other impactful outcome to the standings was Texas Tech dropping their road game in Ames, IA against pump fake Purdy.

It’s really amusing to watch defenders fall for that every single week. There’s not much they can do though as it’s a split second decision and most of the time, like here, Brock Purdy has a pass option that the defender is trying to take away. You can’t leave your feet against him but that wasn’t even the sin of the guy here. Instead you have to focus on tackling him but I imagine it’s hard for scout team QBs to mimic his ball skills.

Pump fake has also proven pretty tough, he’s had 39 carries for 227 yards at 5.8 ypc after removing sack yardage, which only further demonstrate the physical toll he’s taken this year. Texas Tech hit him hard early and often and he never seemed the worse for ware, obviously he’s a tough player.

Texas Tech gave it a good go, they continue to be a scrappy team, but they have the same problem that almost everyone else in the league has. Their QB play is young and error prone and that makes it hard to win on the road. Tech is more likely to play spoiler for the rest of the year than make the title game.

Here’s a look at the current standing

I imply here that it’s a seven team race but obviously that’s not realistic. I haven’t done the math to conclude if Baylor or OSU are mathematically eliminated or not but I suspect they are or it’s close. At any rate, neither are good enough to get through their remaining schedules without taking the clinching loss.

Texas’ tiebreaker edge over OU and early winning streak are at risk of being irrelevant if they don’t take care of business down the stretch. The big ones for the Longhorns are the home dates with West Virginia and Iowa State, there’s a solid chance that Tech’s potential tiebreaker edge over them won’t matter, but Texas really needs to win out to secure things or else win out against those three teams and save an additional loss for the Kansas game.

Oklahoma is in good shape between the stride they’ve hit on offense, the slight improvements on defense, and then their sole loss. They have two road games though and even a home date with OSU where the chances of coming up on the wrong side of a shootout are plausible. Kyler Murray needs to continue to protect the football down the stretch and that’ll probably clinch it for Oklahoma.

I’ll argue West Virginia is in the worst shape of the top three. They have to play an angry Texas that’s looking to rebound off an embarrassing loss, they have to travel to Stillwater later, and they host the terrifying Sooners.

The team that’s best positioned to make the B12 title game, outside of Texas and Oklahoma, is Iowa State. They now have tiebreakers over everyone except Oklahoma and Texas, whom they’ve yet to play.

It’s entirely plausible that LHN will host a primetime, de-facto B12 semifinal between Texas and Iowa State. Of course the Longhorns have a big edge in that one because it’ll come after a few weeks of film and punishment on pump fake Purdy and will take place in Austin at night.

Like I noted with Tech and is also true of OSU and Baylor (I guess), their ceiling this season is bowl eligibility and spoiler in the B12 title race. Texas Tech is positioned to spoil the season for Texas or Oklahoma.

Running through the scenarios, I think the most likely outcome is the one everyone anticipates, a rematch of the Red River shootout. I’d say the next most likely is a rematch of OU vs Iowa State. If both of those teams win out then Iowa State would have the tiebreaker over any of the 2-loss, non-OU teams in contention.

West Virginia would need to beat at least Texas and then probably hope for Texas to follow that up by beating Iowa State. I like the Cyclones over that scenario because it requires fewer toss-up outcomes to break the right way and also because the Cyclones are definitely better than West Virginia and more likely to take care of business. Texas Tech needs to win out and then see Oklahoma and Texas knock out all of the teams that have tiebreaker edges over them. Plausible but unlikely.

This week’s games

West Virginia is going to come in hot against Texas. They had some extra time to prepare, plus Dana Holgorsen seems pretty juiced about having the chance to beat Texas and get a better hold on the league standings. Of course Texas will also be fired up after the debacle in Stillwater and coming back home where they’ve played very differently this season.

The trouble I see for the Mountaineers is in the fact that they simply aren’t very good running the football and iffy in general along the OL outside of Yodny Cajuste. Texas will attack them up front and DE Charles Omenihu is perhaps the most disruptive DL in the league at 6-6, 280 with the speed and skill to win the edge or to shoot gaps inside. If Kris Boyd comes in right mentally then WVU is facing a tough day.

Conversely, the Longhorns will be looking to pound West Virginia with their size both in the run game and throwing the ball. This is a week where Texas probably particularly benefits from having two 6-5 wideouts, a couple of worthy TEs, a downhill run game, and a QB/FB hybrid because the Mountaineers are small.

Oklahoma vs Texas Tech is a fascinating game. The Sooners did some solid work on defense against K-State by playing a lot of 2-read to the field with sam LB Ryan Jones (6-1, 230) helping attack the edge and FS Robert Barnes (6-2, 205) frequently coming down in sky support from the boundary. Normally that wouldn’t be enough to stop the K-State run game but they are no longer a blistering, single-wing team but a normal run-centric spread team that doesn’t have a particularly scary RPO or play-action game to punish teams for bringing aggressive, nine-man fronts from ostensibly conservative and two-high shells.

To their credit, the Sooners were also good about disguising whether Barnes would be flat-footed in run support or dropping into cover 2 until just before the snap. They’ve also mixed in the same sort of 2-robber dime look that Iowa State made popular that we might see this week. The obvious move from OU would be to play lots of cover 2 on the boundary and sky to the field from the 4-2-5 nickel while mixing in the dime look and make Texas Tech prove that they can and will try to keep up with Kyler Murray with run game calls.

Tech does have some nice run game calls this year though, such as this nifty play:

Tech Oz Sweep GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

The Red Raiders are aggressive with throwing RPOs on run downs and have lots of pass options attached to runs like their own GT counter play and then they have stuff like this. They have the right side of the OL block for an outside zone/jet sweep while QB Alan Bowman pitches on a sweep back to the left. Their TE Donta Thompson isn’t an amazing blocker, although his perimeter blocking helped Ennis beat my alma mater for a TX HS state title back in his day, but their FB Connor Killian is a useful ancillary. Especially in their gamut of misdirection sweep plays.

Kliff Kingsbury isn’t going to make it obvious to OU’s defenders where the ball is going, he’s going to try and out leverage them and make their tacklers prove they can find the ball in space and bring people down. Sound like something you’d want to bet on the Sooners handling well while in Lubbock late at night?

Tech is also playing good run defense this year and sometimes from conservative, 2-robber looks. The key to their defense and the reason that Kingsbury’s 2019 season could be interesting is senior LB Dakota Allen:

Animated GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

He regularly blows up lead blocks and ruins schemes at the point of attack for Tech. I dunno how well he can tackle Kyler Murray, which is proving one of the hardest tasks in football if he’s on the move with space to maneuver, but he could cause problems for the Sooner run game.

But Tech can’t withstand the Sooner offense for four quarters any better than any of the other victims of this OU team. Their hope is that David Gibbs figures out how to confuse Kyler Murray into giving them the football a few times while Alan Bowman plays a significantly cleaner game for the Red Raiders than he did in Ames. I think Tech will beat the spread and give OU a game but ultimately it looks like a bridge too far unless the Sooners fall apart on the road.

7 Comments

  1. System Poster

    I think you’re exactly right in your analysis of the Tech-OU game. The Tech defense isn’t good enough to slow down OU’s offense for any sustained length of time and even assuming OU’s defense remains as bad as they’ve been the last few years, I’m not very confident in Tech’s chances of winning a shootout between Bowman and Tech’s skill players and Murray and OU’s skill players. Not to mention that the lack of improvement in Tech’s run blocking has been extremely disappointing. Kliff masked those defeciencies early on with the misdirection plays you mentioned, but that film is out there now, and aside from the play you posted, ISU was all over it.

    Also, I don’t know if you had the chance to watch the Tech-ISU game in full, but it was a very weird game in terms of non-offensive points scored, at least for someone who mostly follows Tech. And there had to be a record number of drive-saving personal foul penalties committed by Tech’s defense. It also re-affirmed that Montgomery is the best player in the conference. It doesn’t quite show up in the box score, but his ability to turn a loss or no gain into three or four yards (or more) just about every time he touches the ball makes ISU really hard to play.

    • ianaboyd

      I think Kliff will find ways to run the ball on OU, the question is just if that will be enough combined with their passing. If they can do it really well then their size on the perimeter against OU’s little DBs is going to take a real toll. But they have to confuse and turn over Murray to win.

      That’s an interesting argument for David Montgomery that I’ll have to reflect on, that his capacity for keeping Iowa State out of negative plays and even on schedule with his ability to break tackles is a game changer. Obviously they have a lot else going for them, their WRs are legit and pump fake has been a revelation. Sam Ehlinger also has a similar argument for Texas. He avoids pressure, avoids negative plays, doesn’t turn the ball over, and gives them a trump card in short-yardage or the run game.

      Kyler Murray is so explosive though, even though much of what he does consists of sitting back behind good protection and throwing to the best WR corps in the league (maybe the nation), it’s hard to put anyone ahead of him for B12 MVP. Monty is RB1, if nothing else.

  2. Will

    I’m not really concerned about Texas “pounding” WVU. WVU’s defense has been small all year and played a number of offenses that either are looking to punish them. For the most part, they’ve held up just fine and they have at least one LB returning this week to give them a size bump at the second level.

    WVU struggled mightily against Iowa State but having read the blog over the past couple of weeks, I think you are taking way too much away from one game. Plenty of WVU fans saw that as a likely loss going into it because the program has a habit of wilting once it gets a single digit next to its name. I’m not trying to discount Iowa State, they are obviously pretty good with Purdy installed. But the scope of that asskicking has at least something to do with WVU not really showing up in that game either.

    But yeah, the run defense couldn’t stop David Montgomery. He is routinely among PFF’s leaders in broken tackles so it’s not just a WVU thing (as System Poster notes). And I didn’t really see Iowa State’s line bully WVU’s front until late in the game when they had been out there for 30 minutes+. Often times, Montgomery slipped tackles at the line and then made his way to the second level. I haven’t watched UT much other than last week but I don’t think y’all have a David Montgomery.

    The only other time the run defense has suffered a true meltdown is against Jett Duffy on snaps 65-90. I sorta doubt UT is gonna snap the ball 70+ times.

    It’s not a good run defense, but it is plenty physical for its size. If your only impression of it is from the Iowa State game (as it seems to be based on your writing the last couple weeks) I think you are underestimating it.

    I’m not here to make a prediction or anything, I almost always look foolish when I try to predict the future (on footballstudyhall I predicted that WVU could lose to anyone on its schedule except Iowa State a few weeks back, whoops!). But I think this is a much closer matchup than you imply here. WVU may not have Okie Lite’s run game, but it does have a much better passing game with more than one WR that can win one-on-one matchups. And they used Wesco a lot more against Baylor and that should provide them with a quick pass response to UT’s pressure. If WVU can score early, I am hopeful that it will be a good game.

    • ianaboyd

      Here’s a clip from early in the game against Iowa State:
      ISU dart/counter
      There were a few others where Monty ran wild, some of them because it took Tony Gibson a drive or two to get their defense drawn up properly on the TE exchanges that ISU hit them with early. The movement on the WVU DL is less than ideal and if it comes down to the WVU LBs blowing up lead blocks from huge people to constrain rushing lanes then things tend to go poorly for the defense.

      They’re playing pretty solid D this year overall but Texas is just a bad matchup for them because of the Longhorns’ capacity for power running. With the title on the line I’d expect to see a fair amount of this:
      Ehlinger tight zone
      Ehlinger zone-read shuffle

      I’ve seen a decent amount of West Virginia’s defense, I’ve noticed that at the MLB position that Shea Campbell is actually pretty good for instance, but they haven’t faced a run game of this caliber yet. The closest was ISU who had comparable or better runners in Monty and pump fake (although Ingram and Ehlinger are up there) and a weaker OL than Texas.

      The WVU WR corps is pretty darn good. Jennings is a really good chain mover, Simms is dangerous as a 3rd option, and Sills overwhelms lots of DBs. But Tylan Wallace is better than any of them and if Texas gets an A+ game from Kris Boyd that allows them to address the other two with safety help.

      I agree that WVU laid an egg against ISU on the road but I haven’t seen them look very impressive in a single game this season. Baylor handed them the game but were otherwise holding up on D other than assignment errors, K-State gave them a fight in the trenches, and Tech came up short playing two QBs.

      • Will

        Even that clips has Long missing a tackle at the LOS. Which, if Long doesn’t make his tackles, WVU is gonna struggle on defense. He is their guy and that’s it unless one of the safeties is hot. Or Stewart balls out because it is his one start in Austin. Again, it’s not a good run defense.

        Agree on Campbell, I was wondering what you thought about that. When he can just run downhill and hit people, he is much closer to a Big 12 caliber player.

        I think they’ll be ready for the QB run game. Word out of Morgantown is they wanna force y’all to throw. We’ll see if that is a bad tactical decision.

        I don’t disagree with your general points, it is a bad matchup for WVU on the road. Just wanted to weigh in, it felt weird not commenting. But I think it is still close enough that this game could go a lot of ways.

        Gotta say though, you don’t think WVU dominated a game that they were up 41-0 at the half? Because they got held to field goal attempts early? K-St lost 35-6, had no success running the ball and I don’t think WVU scored after the half. Tech only came back because they went to a totally different QB, that game was like 35-10 at the half and WVU literally hospitalized Bowman. I think you’re grading them on an unusually tough curve. Who has Texas beaten better than most of WVU’s wins? WVU has like 5 out of 6 wins at 99% win expectancy or higher.

        If I was on Twitter I would hit you up during/right after the game but I’ll just have to post my thoughts/retractions here tomorrow night after the kids go down/Sunday. I’m pumped for this game. This is the kinda game you dream about when your team leaves the Big East for the Big 12.

        • ianaboyd

          I remember the first time West Virginia came to Austin after joining the league was a pretty hype game that went well for the Mountaineers.

          I’d argue Long misses that tackle because Monty has enough room cleared out to have some room to maneuver and then plant and blow by/through him. Long could have made that tackle but the DL getting washed out made his job hard.

          Everyone has been looking to make Texas throw, the challenge is doing that if Texas involves a second TE and/or the QB run game which evens out the numbers. They haven’t done that a ton this year but they could if they think they need to. But probably much of the game will hinge on if Texas can hit their WRs under deep coverage from the CBs and FS.

          Baylor handed WVU that game with turnovers, alligator arms in the passing game, and occasional busted assignments on D like on that wheel route. Both them and K-State didn’t seem too stressed by the WVU run game and I think that matters a lot since Texas is likely to play this game in dime.

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