There were only three games in the Big 12 this week, but all of them were pretty significant and a couple of them had lines that I thought were pretty silly heading into the week. Oklahoma and Baylor both -11 was a bit much and sure enough, neither covered although both pulled out some wins.
Iowa State blistered West Virginia, which was unsurprising given that the Mountaineers were coming off a home game against Texas where they spent all their shot. Texas Tech took Baylor to overtime at Waco in a closely contest game with multiple officiating snafus, including a missed intentional grounding on Jett Duffey late in the fourth and then a Baylor fumbled snap in overtime.
It probably evened out in the end and Tech should look back to Matt Wells’ decision to kick a field goal in the 2nd OT on 4th and 2 rather than running the ball again with SaRodorick Thompson, who’d already taken 28 carries for 153 yards and converted some short-yardage opportunities earlier in the game. Including a 4th-and-2 earlier in overtime and a 3rd-and-1 that sprung free for a 30-yard TD that sent the game into overtime in the first place. Oh yeah, and Baylor’s star middle linebacker Clay Johnston had been knocked out of the game earlier.
Oklahoma sacked Sam Ehlinger nine times and out-gained Texas 511 yards to 310 yet only won 34-27 due almost entirely to Longhorn effort and Jalen Hurts miscues. Lincoln Riley’s Sooner staff out-coached Tom Herman and the Texas counterparts for the second consecutive game. The rest of the season will be a battle from Austin to get back to the Big 12 title game in hopes of evening this series back out.
Here’s some notes from the weekend’s action.
Contrar-Ian says the glass is half empty
I was skeptical of the Oklahoma defensive backfield, Jalen Hurts, and Baylor in general coming into a Saturday in which both were favored by 11 points in rivalry(ish) games. Coming away from Saturday, I’m still generally skeptical of all three believe it or not.
The Oklahoma defensive backfield was far and away the best of those three, showing some great awareness of the Texas playbook and showing a few different looks out of a base, press-quarters scheme. The Sooners predictably determined to play a lot of sky coverage to the field with Brendan Radley-Hiles staying on the slot and strong safety Delarrin Turner-Yell playing inside of him while playing mostly “cone” to the boundary with the free safety Patrick Fields sitting on inside post routes from the X before closing on the run.
In other words, two-deep coverages designed to take away easy pass options before closing on the run game. They played it quite well and were helped by strong play up front and also a notably horrible offensive gameplan from the Longhorns.
Jalen Hurts was true to form. Terrific runner, very capable of delivering the ball to his first read, extremely questionable in a hurry if his read is confused and he’s contained in the pocket. Lincoln Riley mixed in a variety of sweep motions with CeeDee Lamb and option run schemes to play to Hurts’ strengths and he was able to get the job done and really torched Texas on the ground with a few scrambles.
Baylor won a sort of pyrrhic victory over the Red Raiders. The loss of LT Connor Galvin showed up a handful of times, including a fourth quarter sack that nearly buried the Bears. The ugly loss in this game was MLB Clay Johnston injuring his knee again. I broke down the essential role Johnston was going to play this year after Big 12 media days, and shared a quick exchange I had with him in which he expressed excitement about his health and asked for prayer that it would continue.
Currently the Bears still have a winning formula and a situation that has them very firmly in the Big 12 title hunt. It’s hard to cover Denzel Mims and Tyquan Thornton and the Bears found some answers in the middle of the field when those two vertical weapons were taken away against Tech, in particular hitting the RBs six times for 85 yards, including a couple of big ones to Trestan Ebner that made the drive which forced overtime.
The defense is also still in okay shape, particularly with James Lynch absolutely dominating up front. The Bears currently have a tie-breaker over Iowa State and they get both Texas and Oklahoma at home later in the season. The worry is the same one I mentioned a week ago. They’re bleeding key players to injury and maintaining health and fresh adjustments in the month of November is a challenge that has taken down many a Big 12 title contender. The big one I’m still watching is trigger-man Charlie Brewer, who’s been dinged up a couple of times and had 13 rushing attempts and two sacks against the Red Raiders.
The Bears’ hope of reaching the B12 title game rest in large part on the OL running the ball more effectively without using Brewer’s legs and then also protecting him, particularly if the solution for bracket coverage on Thornton and Mims is going to be slower-developing routes to the RBs.
QB health is also something to watch for Oklahoma. Jalen Hurts is up to 74 carries so far, which he’s translated into 630 yards at 8.5 ypc and eight touchdowns. The Sooners’ collection of POP passes and various play-action schemes had Texas playing a lot of match coverage that took the LBs away from the box and turned their backs some to the ball, the overall need to keep up with all of OU’s weapons tends to generate a lot of scrambling opportunities for their QB, who has as much running ability as most any RB.
Hurts is probably up for this, he’s about 220 and extremely strong in the lower body. His freshman year at Alabama he had 191 carries over 15 games, but it’s still something to keep an eye on.
Contrar-Ian says that glass is half empty too
For the second consecutive contest, the Texas defense was unable to take away the strength of the Oklahoma offense AND the Texas offense was out game-planned by the Sooner defensive staff.
Ruffin McNeil made some big changes for the Sooners heading into the Big 12 title game last year and played a 4-3 with Caleb Kelly and FS Robert Barnes alternating between serving as an extra man in the box to handle Texas’ two-back run game from 11 personnel while moving cornerback Tre Norwood to SS in order to keep a good coverage bracket over Lil’Jordan Humphrey. Texas took a half to adjust and weren’t able to score enough to follow the formula of winning via shootout.
This year, Texas had a lot more RPOs worked into the two-back offensive mix that could ostensibly serve to punish a similar approach by the Sooners. The Sooners did indeed follow a similar formula but with a better front, nickel personnel rather than 4-3, and a really good pressure package utilizing improved speed across the DL and Kenneth Murray. Texas eschewed many of the main, base RPOs and calls and totally abandoned the empty passing game that had been torching opponents all year in order to trot out a transparent 21 personnel look that put Devin Duvernay in the backfield only to regularly swing him back out to the perimeter.
It very much looked like Lincoln Riley had worked his way into Tom Herman’s head and the game shouldn’t have even been as close as the final score save for Jalen Hurts’ poor ball security contrasted with Sam Ehlinger’s typical refusal to surrender the football. But as bad as that was, there are plenty of adjustments there to be made for the Longhorn offense, such as sticking with the base system.
The bigger concern was the Mike Stoopsian results produced by defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, who’s been doubling down on bad tendencies for about two seasons now. His Longhorn defenses stand in stark contrast to the Alex Grinch Oklahoma unit that regularly has good gameplans that play to his teams’ strengths and allow them to attack opposing weaknesses from a base look that sees minor modifications from week to week. Texas has run what has basically amounted to six different defenses in six games while demonstrating poor tackling technique. It’s not a lack of physicality but almost the opposite extreme, players regularly ducking their heads to try and land kill shots that have often had the effect of leading to a failure to break down and get ballcarriers down OR the injury of the defensive back.
Eight different Texas DBs have been injured to some degree or another so far this year, including a few of their best starters lost for an extended period of time.
Assuming they can rebound on offense and finish in the top two of the Big 12 (pretty likely), Texas still has systemic problems on defense that can’t be truly solved until the offseason.
Who won week 7 in the Big 12?
Alex Grinch is the big winner. He’s now made it through three games without experiencing the “Air Raid baptism” in which an attempt to play defense by non-Big 12 rules gets a new DC absolutely murdered by a Big 12 offense. Perhaps he received the baptism enough in spring and fall camp from Riley that he was able to emerge from the waters cleansed.
I think it’s probably still coming though, it always comes, but it didn’t come against Texas in the Cotton Bowl and that’s a huge win.
Grinch is running your best practice, 4-2-5 quarters schemes from nickel and he’s been working to get the most out of his personnel this year. They’re using the 5-1 front not only as a way to overwhelm lesser fronts in the run game as they did prior to the Texas game but also to bolster their pass rush, which clobbered the Longhorns.
Here’s an example from Texas’ first drive of the second half before they finally got rolling:
The key to this look is that all five OL are covered up at the snap, so the twists and stunts they use to free up Kenneth Murray are difficult to pick up because he’s the secondary concern of whichever OL he ends up attacking while hunting for space over the middle.
It’s not “rocket surgery” or anything terribly complicated, it’s just a simple scheme that helps put playmakers in position to make plays. The left guard trades the tackle to the left tackle and then puts his eyes on the jack linebacker. The center focuses first on successfully passing nose tackle Neville Gallimore to the right guard, and Gallimore had been giving them trouble. No one picks up Kenneth Murray long-sticking from the opposite edge until it’s late and the RB struggles to do so as well. It was a tough game from Texas’ RBs in terms of pass protection.
When Ehlinger is completing his drop he’s seeing Murray coming free so it was also successful in generating the pressure you need to help the man-1 blitz structure behind it hold up. The Sooners were also in dime, trading out the weakside LB for Jaden Davis.
Grinch is basing out of a normal, 4-2-5 press quarters scheme with a few handy blitzes and then some fronts designed to make the most of OU’s superior athleticism at nose, mike LB, and then DEs like Ronnie Perkins and Jalen Redmond. Texas didn’t handle the front well and weren’t able to attack the back end, often coming within inches only to see receivers like Brennan Eagles and Jake Smith (also Collin Johnson in one spot) drop deep shots that could have undone the structure of the defense.
Grinch will have a few more challenges this year. If Oklahoma State can get their act together on offense they have some weapons that could isolate and attack weak spots in a defense that’s been very good at avoiding exactly that. Baylor and Iowa State also have enough optionality in their offense to try and arrive at that outcome and Texas will presumably give a better effort if there’s a rematch, but for now Grinch continues to make the most of the hand he’s been dealt.
Read about some of the other coaching battles between Oklahoma and Texas over the 21st century in my book:
Sooner fan here and long time follower of your analysis. Always appreciate your attempts to be intellectually honest and push biases aside. You have previously commented on OU’s soft culture on D and have been skeptical of Riley’s ability to change it. From your perspective do you think Grinch is getting it to change?
Certainly no negative indicators yet. He’s struggled at times to get the kind of tackling and physicality he wants from his safeties but he also inherited a lot of little cover guys there from Mike Stoops so that’s pretty understandable. So far the Alex Grinch hire has gone exceptionally well, which is terrifying for other teams if you believe as I do that the Oklahoma offense in 2019 with Jalen Hurts is nothing to what it might be in 2020 with Spencer Rattler.
Agree about Ratller. He has looked great in limited action. Lamb has said Rattler has exceptional accuracy. High praise considering the QBs he has played with. Rattler also processes very fast. Makes quick decisions. That is why I don’t see Riley going to NFL anytime soon. Just wish we had Grinch last 2 years.
I think I agree on Riley, and they have a chance to make it right over the next two years with Grinch.
If Grinch keeps this up he could have a good HC opportunity in 2 years
Not just Rattler. Skill positions and OL are all loaded, too. Should just lose Humphrey this year, if anyone on the line, and a lot of talent coming up at WR.
Feel like Baylor gets a bye week at a decent time if they can get out of Stillwater without any major casualties, whatever else happens in that game.
Helps, but that stretch of @TCU, Oklahoma, and then Texas is going to be really rough. Also, if you get a serious injury to a key player in that stretch you don’t have a bye week to patchwork together your solutions.
Irritating that I’d rather beat UT than OU, but get UT after OU. But alas. We’ll see what both teams look like when we get there.
It’s fascinating to me how fans around the league regularly seem to derive more satisfaction in beating Texas, who’s not been good this decade, than beating OU who has ruled with an iron fist. Must be some combination of Texas fan arrogance and Stockholm syndrome.
In some ways Texas not being very good until recently makes it worse because Texas fans going “WE’RE TEXAS YOU PEONS” feels much more like irritating hot air when, for example, Case McCoy is herp-a-derping his way to a couple of inexplicable wins than OU fans going “WE’RE OKLAHOMA YOU PEONS” does as long as Baker or Kyler or Jalen are dropping genuine napalm on people.
Plus I’d generally say Texas fans are more personally irritating in my experience – present company (usually) excluded.
That’s all fair, it’s pretty interesting. When OU fans want people to kiss the ring they’re holding a bloody mace in the other hand.
If Tech was able to run rough-shot over our D in the 2nd half of that game, I shudder to think what Chuba Hubbard is gonna do to us in Stillwater with a BYE week to prepare. I’m marking this one as a surefire loss right now. Am I just being haunted by our history in Stillwater, or would you expect Chuba to destroy us also?
Oklahoma State off a bye week on the road in a must-win game is definitely a scary draw.
Who do you think should replace Todd Orlando?
Too early for that, they need to figure something out to salvage the season. Obviously Chris Ash will be available though and was in town last week.
Texas would benefit from something like what OU and Ohio State experienced this last offseason. A focus on fundamentals within a narrower base scheme so that athletes can be easily set up to react and play fast.
What up to this point makes you believe that will happen? Also when is the right time to discuss replacing Orlando?
Believe what will happen? A good offseason? Too early to know what that will look like.
In my mind, Orlando is gone (and should be) if he doesn’t salvage this season in a major way. But for now Texas is in contention to win the Big 12 so the main point of conversation to me is whether they can get the D into good enough working order to get there.
Ok let me clarify what makes you think that Todd Orlando will fix any of the fundamental with this defense? When he had an entire off-season to do so and instead this defense got worse.
If Tom Herman makes him. But all that matters is that either he’ll fix it well enough to win the league and keep his job or he won’t. It’s silly to talk about replacements before he’s cemented his fate or Texas has been knocked out of the B12 title hunt.
How different (if at all) is what Grinch is doing now from what he was doing at WSU?
I’ve criticized your opinion on the root cause of poor tackling in the past. Now you’re doubling down on a baseless hypothesis.
In prior years, OU’s DBs couldn’t get people down because they were too soft. This years’ Sooner DBs who are playing are mostly the same as last years. We have no information that OU’s changed practice patterns such as increasing live tackling in practice. What we do know is OU’s practices do involve giving out candy bars for good defensive plays (which has been appropriately mocked).
Now, Texas DB can’t get people to the ground because they’re too physical.
Could it be that you can’t determine the psyche of a football play through a TV screen? Is it time to open up the Goldilocks Tackling School (not too soft, not too hard)?
I propose a different framework that includes some facts.
1. Football is violent. CFB players sign up to play it so they’re down for inflicting hits and taking them. No one who wants to avoid violence signs up for this. No one is “soft.”
2. Humans tolerance for pain is eroded by fatigue. Despite effort, individual performance declines with increasing fatigue.
3. From 2016 – 2018, Sooner defenses would routinely have player on the field for entire games, even those with 80 – 100 defensive snaps. OU’s defensive efficiency was worse in quarters 2 and 4 than the other quarters (this is a relative comparison, between OU’s defensive production vs quarters 1 and 3 and relative other teams production in 2 and 4).
4. OU’s purposefully rotating players on defense in every game. Apparently, OU DL players are even on a fixed snap restriction.
5. UT’s DBs have been decimated by injuries, exposing them to having to play more snaps.
The Horns are apparently going to be doing more live tackling in practice, decreasing recovery time and exposing players to more injury. Great job Mensa.
The teams that tackle well are generally the teams that practice it often. The problem at Texas, beyond apparently easing up on tackling due to injuries, has been that they don’t break down but instead you regularly see guys duck their heads and fly in to try and land kill shots. A former player went public with the revelation that this sort of “tackling” is encouraged at Texas currently vs breaking down and keeping eyes on target.
I don’t know what, if anything, Grinch has changed about his team’s approach to tackling in practice but he’s exerting a lot of pressure up front that tends to channel the ball into predictable chokepoints that allow his secondary to close with leverage. I’ve seen multiple plays this season where the Sooners were caught in the secondary and looked as iffy at tackling or getting off blocks as other seasons, but that didn’t happen in the Cotton Bowl. Grinch has also expressed displeasure with some of the physical efforts by the secondary and tried to shuffle some pieces around to get reliable tacklers on the field, so far it’s working, it’ll probably work even better when he’s recruited more of the players.
Some day you may figure out that people trust you more if you admit when you are wrong.
“Oklahoma and Baylor both -11 was a bit much and sure enough, neither covered although both pulled out some wins.”
Oklahoma could have easily covered. The OL was complete for the first time since game one, and both OTs were still gimpy. This was Hurts worst game by far, and I’m not even talking about the TO’s. Accuracy issues and decision-making (not taking the easy yards running for the 4th down conversion in the 2nd half) made life harder for the Sooner offense. Still, OU put up 34 and ran out the clock.
OU’s defense is playing like it has 2 shutdown CBs and they have about 0.7. Motley is playing much better in the first half of the year, and Jaden Davis is a true freshman who is a revelation. Tre Brown is being targeted mercilessly, and he could be called for holding every play. Their stunting and aggressiveness leaves them vulnerable to quick run plays and screens. This defense is top 50, not top 20.
Sure, Baylor or Ok St could could expose OU’s DBs on the road (Iowa St comes to Norman). The thing that Hurts + OU’s OL offers the Sooners this year is an incredibly efficient running game, meaning that OU should put up > 40 on all three. Which of these three is going to match this versus OU’s competent (not good) defense?
Hopefully, Hurts runs five times or less versus WV, K St, and TCU. He could use these games to work on his downfield passing to players other than CD.
OU defense isn’t good? What? They aren’t great or elite, I’ll give you that, but they certainly are good.
They’re top 10 in sacks and 3rd down rate. SP+ has them at #30 right now. They shut down one of the best offenses in the country. What more do they have to do to be considered good?
Agree on the rest.
OU could have covered if Hurts was a better passer. It was a bit lucky for Texas that the game was as close as it was but some of that was Ehlinger protecting the ball and just overall effort in an emotional game.
The Sooners always have an incredibly efficient running game. It’s more multiple this season with Hurts involved but the last two years they’ve been plenty effective, maybe more effective, in the run game. I don’t think it’s safe to assume that this offense can consistently drop 40 every week against TCU, ISU, and baylor.
“Sam Ehlinger is the best player in the conference.”
Here’s another gem:
“I think the Sooners go 10-2 or 9-3 and then come up short in the B12 title game due to lack of depth up front on defense that allows better running teams like Texas or Iowa State to control the game in the key Nov/Dec contests played in cold weather. Oklahoma figures to be able to run the ball pretty dang well too but their defense doesn’t look near as good as Texas or Iowa State’s. That doesn’t matter if you have extra firepower on offense but if things grind down more then it makes all the difference in the world.”
OU lacks depth up front? Texas runs the ball better than OU? OU’s defense isn’t near as good as UT’s? LOL
How about this? (This is comparison of Ohio State, Washington, and Texas)
“Who has the best QB of those three teams? The best OL? The best D?
Texas has a good shot of being the best at all 3.”
And then he doubled down to bet that Texas had a better shot at the playoffs than Ohio State… LOL
“Alex Grinch would happily trade his first team secondary for Texas’ 2nd team unit.”
Texas’ 2nd team would probably trade for Alex Grinch, too. They need someone to teach them to tackle LOL
Sam Ehlinger is the best player in the conference, that opinion has not changed.
OU’s D is definitely better than Texas’, which keeps cycling downhill through some of the same negative issues that plagued them a year ago.
Agree that Grinch ahead of the Texas secondary (which is almost the 2nd team at this point because of injuries) would yield a better product.
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