Week 5 is the first real slate of Big 12 football games that will start to shape the conference race. Obviously Oklahoma State had a big chance in week 4 to catapult to the top of the league with a victory over Texas but I suspect that only people living in Oklahoma really thought that was likely or that the contest was particularly close.
A few interesting takes I’ve heard about that game:
OSU was THIS close if they’d only called better plays in the red zone!
Mike Gundy fueled this one a little in his post-game presser, although he defended his calls and emphasized execution. The media and fans love to second guess calls though, as though a given play works or doesn’t work based on whether the call was smart rather than any of a dozen other factors.
This take simply ignores the fact that Texas controlled the line of scrimmage and nearly put the game on ice in two different points in the game before fumbling punts that let OSU back in.
It also ignores Texas’ strategy, which was to play off in inverted Tampa 2, start many of OSU’s drives with the 2nd or 3rd team DL or LBs in the game before subbing in the starters in the red zone, and to double Wallace over the top. Everything about Texas’ defensive gameplan was oriented to allow OSU to try their luck at driving the ball between the 20s and then daring them to finish drives with touchdowns without use of their most explosive threat (Wallace) and without packing numbers in that would allow a breakaway run to crease the defense.
This is how the modern game works, you try to hold the other team to field goals and beat them in situational football.
Mike Gundy is holding his super-talented offense back with his gameplans
This is a classic, thinking backwards conclusion. This is how it works, you see a player like Spencer Sanders put up over 200 yards passing and 100 yards rushing often by simply overpowering the competition. You note his tremendous physical talent, and then question why Gundy didn’t put him in better positions to succeed?
The greater context presents a different picture. Texas doubled Tylan Wallace the entire game, as any reasonable DC would do after watching OSU struggle to involve any other receivers or execute a dropback passing attack against the other opponents on their schedule. Sanders won the job very late in the fall over more established veteran Dru Brown, which led me to speculate in fall camp that Gundy probably preferred Sanders for his physical talent but just couldn’t justify starting him yet because his command of the offense wasn’t there. I also noted back when he was a recruit that he was not likely to start as a true freshman because he was too raw.
A smarter take is that Gundy, who’s been crafting elite offenses with 3-star players in Stillwater for a decade or so now, is running the sorts of plays and gameplans that allow a young athlete like Sanders to get on the field faster and before he has the system mastered like 2017 Mason Rudolph.
There’s also this common sense that Texas was blitzing their cornerbacks to stop the outside zone play and Gundy kept stubbornly running it anyways. That’s not the case, Texas was in inverted Tampa 2 where the corners are force players on the edge with safety help over the top. That’s not a great call against outside zone either unless the DL and box are successfully stringing the play out to the flat. OSU’s problem was that they couldn’t get push on the Texas DL.
Now Oklahoma State has their backs against the wall in a big home game that’s part of an interesting week 5 slate.
K-State at OSU
While Kansas State runs a 4-2-5 with all kinds of coverages on the back end, the starting point for the scheme is the original Tampa 2. Bracketing receivers with deep 1/2 safeties is a very integral part of their playbook and they will likely at least mix that in against the Cowboys.
But Gundy knows that teams are going to do that now after Texas had success with it and he knows that he can’t afford to lose at home against Kansas State and still have a good chance at making it to the Big 12 championship game. So expect the Cowboys to have a clever gameplan designed to help Sanders find Dillon Stoner and the other wideouts in order to punish K-State if they go all-in on stopping Wallace (which they should still do, at least some).
The Wildcats will probably respond by trying to do this with more disguise than Texas, who very blatantly lined up with their deep safety nearly directly across from Wallace. I don’t know if Sanders is currently at a point in his development where he can pick up adjustments on the fly, so this game likely comes down to how well Gundy prepares him this week to have pre-rehearsed answers for the Wildcats.
The other side of the ball is interesting as well. Oklahoma State tackles well in the secondary and I really like their backfield in the new dime defense, but the front is weak and doesn’t hold up well to the isolation that this style of defense tends to subject a DL to. The inverted Tampa 2 works better for Iowa State and Texas because those teams have deep waves of skilled, big bodied DL to throw in there. OSU doesn’t have that and K-State is going to look to hammer them with the power run game all day.
At the end of the day the Cowboys have more explosive skill players than K-State and more margin for error. If K-State comes in and beats them in Stillwater with their backs against the wall, that’s indicative that Chris Klieman and his staff are definitely “up” for this whole Big 12 thing.
Iowa State at Baylor
Both teams have a lot to prove nationally in this game. There’s still a lot of doubt over whether Iowa State was ready for the offseason anointing that I and much of the national media gave them. Baylor of course has looked fairly promising but haven’t played anyone nearly as good as the Cyclones yet so there’s a lot for them to prove as well.
There’s only room in this league for one plucky, 205 pound dual-threat QB to lead his team to a potential Big 12 championship game against Texas or Oklahoma. Will it be Charlie Brewer or Pump fake Purdy? This game won’t necessarily answer that question but it will certainly help.
Some of the key points in this game are in the trenches, where both teams prefer to defer the stress in their defensive schemes in keeping with the same philosophy we saw play itself out in OSU vs Texas where both teams played inverted Tampa 2 (or other similar coverages) from dime.
Thus far on the year one of the warning signs for Baylor has been the run game, which has yet to really dominate despite their low level of competition. They could approach Iowa State’s defense in a couple of ways, one would be to get into 11 personnel and throw a lot of RPOs or play-action to the slot if Iowa State continues to play Mike Rose as the starting sam linebacker out in space. I don’t really like their chances of running the ball effectively against that look.
Another option would be to get into double TE sets and involve RPOs and QB read schemes to create numbers and angles to generate gains. Is that going to work for multiple scoring drives? Probably not, Baylor’s chances in this game hinge on playing pretty well on offense.
The trench battle on that side is a little shakier. Iowa State is better equipped to move the ball against a conservative defensive shell than the Bears. In a sense, the Bears are currently running the Iowa State offense, which the Cyclones have been developing for the last few years so naturally they’re ahead in executing it. The same is true on defense. Here are some of their advantages:
-An experienced OL that can more easily avoid the negative plays that crush a ball control offense. The Baylor OL probably has more talent, but right now you’d rather have the ISU crew.
-Multiple experienced inside receivers. Tarique Milton plays outside but is more of a shifty little burner and DeShaunte Jones is certainly that, then they have the TEs like Charlie Kolar. The design of the offense is all about hitting these guys underneath and allowing them to make plays.
-PFPurdy improvisation. Charlie Brewer can also improvise and make plays on the move but Purdy is excellent in this regard and a step ahead of Brewer.
The Bears are at home and will be giving the Cyclones the strongest blast of new scheme and focus that anyone has yet received from Baylor this season. I think Iowa State is a superior team though and will show them what it will look like when Baylor has a greater mastery of this style. If I’m wrong then Baylor will probably be in very good shape to make a go of it in the league this season.
Texas Tech at Oklahoma
The main intrigue here is how Oklahoma’s offense will look against a defense of this caliber. The Sooners have yet to draw a particularly strong defensive opponent yet, the Cougars weren’t ready for the challenge of dealing with OU’s talent and multiplicity in their new scheme and neither UCLA nor South Dakota had the talent and quality to make much of them either.
But Texas Tech has some good players, they’ve had a few games now to work out the kinks in the new defense, and they also had a bye week to zero in on this game. There’s a good bet that they’ll have designed a very full gameplan filled with ways to make the most of Jett Duffey’s running, either as a change-up or the full thrust of their attack. Can they win? I dunno, they don’t even have Alan Bowman, but they should give us a better look into who Oklahoma is this season.
We’ve already seen Oklahoma defend a spread to run attack from an explosive QB this season, although if they get a full dose of Duffey we’ll get a nice peak into how they’ve improved since the Houston game in the season opener. The real point of interest in this game will be how Texas Tech tries to defend Oklahoma and then how it goes. Obviously Texas will be watching that with great interest.
A glance at the Arizona film reveals that Texas Tech’s staff learned a great deal from studying the Big 12 because they are also running the inverted Tampa 2 defense with a 3-3-5 package. Linebackers Riko Jeffers and Jordyn Brooks are well situated in this scheme to do damage and they have taught them some things.
The approach I would try would be to sit in that IT2 base to encourage the Sooners to have to work their way down the field running the ball without giving them the freebies yards and points they often pick up with play-action. However, I’d also try to mix in some big pressures designed to make Jalen Hurts roll to his left.
This game will probably tell us a fair amount about the offense that Oklahoma will bring into the Red River Shootout and whether it can keep pace against these new defensive tactics when trying to outscore Sam Ehlinger and the Longhorns. I know the common assumption is that yes, of course it can, because they are still putting up video game numbers. However, I want to see it. Things snowball in college football when an offense breaks a defense, like when an army is flanked and rolled up. You get panic and the victory can really be maximized.
Read up on how the inverted Tampa 2 defense was developed to counter HUNH spread strategies in my new book: