Big 12 Twitter-bag Vol. IX

I’ve been trying to gather news and tidbits on some of the developments in spring football across the league but hadn’t really put enough together to make a full post yet. So I’m opening it up to take questions and conversation starters from the Twitter-bags on what the picture for the 2019 Big 12 season is starting to look like.

Let’s begin.

There’s a lot of coaching changes around the league which tends to make a big difference but personnel is sometimes a bigger factor. A new coach who’s inheriting the same team is going to end up doing something similar if the previous coach had any sense at all of the comfort zone of his players. Another tricky issue here is that coaches that want to make big changes usually try not to advertise them unless it’s a new coach replacing a fired guy who wants to help engender excitement about the team.

Kansas State is one obvious answer, they plan to go under center quite a bit in the next year which they weren’t really doing anymore under Snyder. There’s a fair amount of conversation about their defense changing but so far I haven’t ready or seen much to suggest they are changing much at all except perhaps diversifying the playbook some.

Texas Tech is probably due for some of the biggest changes in that they’ll be using a TE and making the run game into something they do as part of their strategy for attacking defenses and imposing their will on the game. Kliff Kingsbury often emphasized the run game only to the extent necessary to allow it to set up the passing game.

Texas and Oklahoma will probably have some interesting wrinkles in the coming year as well as both are replacing their best offensive players around whom their teams were built. The Sooners are going from Kyler Murray to Jalen Hurts, which is a major change, while also turning over basically the entire OL. Texas is replacing Lil’Jordan Humphrey, potentially with a RB/WR hybrid in Jordan Whittington, so that could change their gameplan as well.

Lovett is a great example of THE biggest problem confronting Matt Rhule right now in Waco. His approach to recruiting, talent development, and talent deployment don’t all fit together that easily. He’s looking to recruit raw athletes with huge upside that can be molded into versatile players with NFL ability, so far so good. He uses a physical and demanding practice regimen to make the most of these players and to pull the dog out of them temperamentally and the talent out of them in terms of skill development, that’s great too.

But then they use complicated schemes on defense (or have to this point) that raise the bar really high for how much technique and knowhow these raw players have to develop in order get on the field. They’re also doing that in a league where everyone else is relying on pace, simplicity, and then hybrids or option schemes to allow them to fly up and down the field and distribute the ball. It’s very difficult to beat Big 12 offenses with multiplicity on defense, it’s too easy to make mistakes in assignments or tackles and then when you do the price you pay is extra high because the ball is going to speed in space.

Lovett is a great prospect for safety but he’s been wasting the last few years doing something other than learning A) how to play this position in the Big 12 and B) how to play this position in Rhule’s defense. To my eyes, one of the most important questions for Baylor this spring is whether Texas-savvy Joey McGuire can influence their defensive scheme to simplify in order to match Big 12 offenses. If he can, that could allow them to make a leap and it might give them a good direction to go in if Rhule then leverages that success to bail for the NFL or another job where his preferred style can work.

The Raid bros lost two of their fiercest fighters this offseason when Dana Holgorsen bailed for H-town and Kliff Kingsbury the blessed failed upwards into an NFL HC job and Kyler Murray.

Matt Wells runs more of a bash bro system, it’s actually very similar to what Texas runs under Tom Herman with an emphasis on 11 personnel and being able to run the ball on a six man box. Neal Brown runs an offense similar to Holgorsen’s but instead of putting as much of an emphasis on figuring out how to isolate their best players from year to year Brown has instead tended to emphasize playing physical O from within the Air Raid structure and being good on D and special teams. If he maintains that, and I think he will, he’ll be more of a hybrid-bro like Gary Patterson.

Of course the Raid bros still have four-peat Riley at Oklahoma.

The vast majority of college offenses at this point are RPO spread-I systems that I detailed a little in a recent Football Study Hall post. The idea is to have a versatile blocking specialist who’s a hybrid TE/FB and then three good WRs. So it’s generally either 11 or 20 personnel, depending on how you look at it, but with an ancillary who’s on the field for his blocking playing with the RB and WRs.

His job is to allow the offense to command the attention of six defenders in the box, thus generating some run/pass balance. When done well, the defense can’t play a plus one over both the boundary WR, field twin receivers, and run game unless they have particularly rangy safeties. Either they need to yield some 1-on-1s somewhere or be excellent up front. The offense just needs a capable distributor at QB who can execute RPOs or option reads to make the numbers work, the higher level ones can also beat man coverage or be big boosts in the run game…or both.

From the Spread-I structure, it’s largely about what you hang your hat on in terms of specific play concepts and tactics. Here’s a quick rundown of the Big 12 teams:

Oklahoma: RPO spread-I but with a double hybrid/21 personnel set, Air Raid passing attack, QB run option, and a playbook and call sheet designed from game theory principles. If you read Noah B. Riley’s new book breaking down the Oklahoma offense he explains how much of the Sooner attack is just built around running tons of constraint plays off their core concepts and passes designed to turn defensive rules against them. They also have more of a power run game than many teams thanks to their expansive GT counter concept. It’s a brilliant system, as good as we’ve seen in the college game.

Texas: RPO spread-I with a non-Air Raid spread passing attack, QB run game, and emphasis on hybrid personnel (particularly at TE and the slot) to manipulate matchups on behalf of their star players. Texas doesn’t have as elaborate a call sheet as Oklahoma but they rely on using hybrid skill sets to set up their playmakers to go out execute people.

West Virginia: RPO spread-I with Air Raid passing attack and QB run option schemes.

Texas Tech: RPO spread-I with more of a true TE and an Air Raid passing attack.

Baylor: RPO spread-I with some I-formation packages mixed in and more of a West Coast passing attack.

Kansas: RPO spread-I (presumably) perhaps with more of an emphasis on QB run options and QB run game in general given Les Koenning’s background.

Kansas State: Power run game from hybrid 21/22 personnel, largely under center with a west coast passing attack from the shotgun for passing downs.

TCU: Air Raid offense that uses some spread-I sets but more often plays in four-wide packages with an extra big emphasis on QB run option, RPOs, screens in general, and play-action.

Iowa State: RPO spread-I but with lots of bigger 12 personnel sets mixed in as well. The Cyclones are a bit closer to Texas, running inside zone a dozen different ways with gap run schemes as complements and then a play-action passing attack designed to isolate star players and buy time to hit them down the field.

Oklahoma State: RPO spread-I, the Cowboys rely more on this structure then much of the rest of the league emphasizing balance, play-action, and RPOs to a pretty far extent. They’re dabbling more with straight 11 personnel now and power run game concepts rather than the zone-based stuff that most everyone else leans on. They have an Air Raid-based passing attack but they lean more into the play-action then Holgo or Kingsbury did and more into Spread-I formations and pocket passers than TCU. In 2017 they used a lot of 12 personnel because they had it, normally though they have slot WRs they want on the field that can offer more than their second TE.

Most of these teams have multiple personnel packages but they tend to either have a spread-I set that is a regular feature or they live in 11 or 20 personnel nearly all the time.

Hypothetically? There’s a few I’d find fun and a few that I think most everyone would enjoy. It’d be interesting to see UCF against most anyone in the Big 12, they run a similar program and from their perch in Orlando tend to recruit as well or better than much of the league. Watching them against Iowa State would be fun, because spread teams that crush their regional foes and then face more updated defenses from the Big 12 often have big problems. UCF vs Oklahoma or Texas would also be fascinating for a glimpse at the talent differences. The Knights had a shot against LSU with a freshman, back-up QB so that could be interesting.

Big 10 matchups are fun as well, that league really doesn’t fully comprehend what it’s like to face more current brands of spread offense. Evan as the RPO spread-I proliferates across the country, few teams run it as well as the Big 12 squads. Oklahoma vs Michigan would be pretty amusing, particularly in a year where OU had a top line passer, I’m not sure about Hurts against the Wolverine run D.

I doubt it. Dude didn’t have feeling in his foot as recently as the bowl game and hasn’t played in a game in a couple of years now. Max Duggan is probably as caught up in the college game and Mike Collins is ahead. Then there’s Alex Delton, if Sonny Cumbie can turn him into a half-decent passer in the Shawn Robinson offense.

I suspect that they’ll be using Spencer Sanders but it depends on how well he’s got the system down. Gundy likes to be able to move at tempo and lean on the QB to keep them ahead of the opponent, which Dru Brown is more likely to have down than Sanders due to his greater experience in the college game. Brown with a command of the offense is more deadly than Sanders without one because Tylan Wallace and Chuba Hubbard are the class of the league at their respective positions.

I kinda think Gary just likes to cancel that game whenever he can get away with it. He’s a scouting fiend and he hates to gives opponents any chance to do what he would do to them with access to their practices and scrimmages, even the vanilla spring games.

I don’t think he’s too worried about SMU, maybe not Purdue either, if he can find a QB that can distribute the ball properly between their RBs and Jalen Reagor without turning the ball over then they’ll win 9-10 games. If their QB really pans out, some of their younger defenders put it together, and they aren’t crushed by injuries they could contend for the league title.


  1. travis

    Re: Baylor defensive simplicity. There was an interview with true sophomore CB Kalon Barnes after a practice, and someone asked about what’s different for him this year. He started talking about how much simpler everything is. It was somewhat ambiguous, but it sure sounded like he was saying there were schematic changes to make things simpler. Something to watch. He said something along the lines of, “it’s much easier, after every mistake it’s easy to know who’s fault it is. Not as much confusion.”

    • ianaboyd

      Hard to tell from that if they tweaked something or just everyone actually understands their job now. I’ll look for it.

        • ianaboyd

          That was fun, surprisingly detailed for such a thing, usually they don’t have that much technical detail. The bubble and the dig-post, good things to know how to stop.

          • Travis

            It sure looks like in that very last clip that they’re tooling with the Iowa State 3 safety look.

          • ianaboyd

            Yes, McVea is playing as the middle safety there. But lots of teams have that as a 3rd down deal, whether they are playing it on first/second down is another question.

          • Travis

            I think it is entirely possible they might be looking at using it much more this year. They lost 3 starters on the DL but have some good talent in the defensive backfield.

            The guys in black jerseys are the starters, and in a lot of the photo galleries there are at least 3 safeties wearing black jerseys. So it goes with reading spring tea-leaves.

            Baylor’s 3 down look over the past few years has been different than that MOF safety look, IIRC. They’ve usually taken off a DL AND a LB, and then add two safeties who usually play as OLBs who either blitz off the edge or play coverage in the flats. But I noticed that they started tooling around with the 3 safeties in the back look towards the end of the year. This might just be the result of Rhule recruiting so many 6’1 210 lb athletes over the last few years and just trying to find spots for them.

  2. Matt

    You were always really low on Cautious Mike’s defenses. After changing his rules about garbage time, Connelly’s S&P+ now has both the 2016 and 2017 Sooner defenses in the top 45 in the country. 2016 was actually as high as 31st. Does this change your perception of those defenses or is this an indictment against S&P+ in your mind (and if so, what do you think it is missing?)?

    • ianaboyd

      I haven’t pored through all that yet.

      My initial thought is that S&P+ has always underestimated Big 12 defenses because they’re up against it much moreso than the defenses in other leagues. That said, Oklahoma definitely wasn’t very good on D in 2017. They gifted yardage to Georgia when they weren’t being just blown off the ball and weren’t holding up. They got blasted by a lot of offenses and couldn’t offer much resistance. It’s something I’ll have to think more on in general, maybe other defenses were similarly error prone and you just didn’t see them pay for it because they weren’t facing Kingsbury or Holgorsen…I dunno though. Those OU Ds put some extraordinary filth on film.

      • ianaboyd

        I also heard that on retrospect, S&P+ now thinks Iowa State isn’t much on defense…and that seems truly off to me if it did produce that result.

        It’s VERY difficult to build a system that can handle the inputs from the B1G, SEC, and B12 and spit out something that is consistent across each because they truly play a different sport in the Big 12.

    • System Poster

      He’s done more than just mess with garbage time definitions, right? He’s incorporated pre-season and past season performances into the mix, which includes things like recruiting rankings. So since OU recruits well and their defense was actually decent in 2015, perhaps all of that is artificially propping up what appeared to be a pretty terrible 2016 defense.

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