Carnage. Pestilence. Bloodletting.
These are generally the terms that come to mind when considering the fate of past Texas gameplans against Stoops' defense. I'm hard pressed to remember a time when the Texas offense came out and hit OU in the mouth. Generally they've taken the first lick and either stood back up and hit 'em back or laid on the ground getting kicked until sweet oblivion took them away.
In 2010, the last occasion in which Texas offered a resistance to Oklahoma, that came with a long TD run on a sweep to DJ Monroe on the 2nd drive. In 2008 Texas got down 14-0 before Jordan Shipley returned a kick for a score and roused the Longhorn faithful to life. In 2007 Texas had three consecutive punts before putting together a two play, 61 yard scoring drive. In 2009 Texas finished their first seven drives with 6 punts, a fumble, and three 3'n'out's before finally managing a field goal...you get the idea.
Texas never comes into this game with the same fire and preparation as the Sooners. Either we have guys that have the wherewithal to stand up to the bully or not.
I'm on record as claiming that Texas will never beat a Stoops-coached Oklahoma team with Case McCoy as the starting QB and I hold to that statement. So let's begin this preview by addressing the possibility of utilizing Tyrone Swoopes.
Even when it becomes obvious that Mack's methods are no longer generating results, Texas fans frequently fall into the trap of looking at Texas football through a Mack paradigm. The highly recruited young guys are always viewed as being potential answers, rather than development and growth of the current starters. While everyone decries the lack of development occurring at Texas, people still clamor for the next young player to step up in hopes that he already possesses the talent to "fix" everything.
"This guy isn't getting the job done? Okay, stick the next four star kid in and see what happens. This two/three star kid isn't athletic enough? Let's let this four star kid step in, he has to be better right? He's a four star! He's no good? Stick in the next one."
This type of thinking is symptomatic of the oblivious-to-process paradigm that rules in Belmont. Suffice to say, it won't work. But let's address it anyways because it's going to be a major talking point this week with Tyrone Swoopes.
Let's begin by studying OU's gameplan for stopping TCU's offense.
OU always kept a linebacker in position to force the ball inside to the DL. In this instance, they run Cover-3 "Buzz" where middle linebacker Frank Shannon is on the edge and their Free Safety Gabe Lynn drops down into the box like a linebacker. When they blitzed, they always brought a linebacker off the edge. Why? Awareness.
The TCU run game is mostly Power-Read and Zone-read. The greatest danger is Boykin or one of their quick backs winning the edge and hitting open field. The threat of their young OL blowing open a nice crease inside was considerably less, so OU kept them funneled into the scrum.
TCU ran the ball 27 times for 44 yards on the game and finished with only 210 yards on the day.
At this stage in their developments, Trevone Boykin is a FAR more effective QB both passing and running than Tyrone Swoopes. I've seen Swoopes' spring game highlights and I'm not seeing something that is keeping the Sooner defensive staff awake at night.
Some will say: "at least Swoopes' athleticism can keep plays alive and make something happen, Case will never do that!" Something will happen alright, let me show you what happened when the much quicker Boykin tried to "make something happen."
That's the defensive end (though on this play rushing inside as a DT) Charles Tapper running down Boykin from behind. There are other examples as well, this is a very quick OU defense and they are playing a totally different style of defense from last year. There is little to no upside to bringing in an athletic QB and trying to beat them that way.
Bringing in Swoopes also wastes Texas ability to utilize two of their most important weapons in this game: Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley, and limits the effectiveness of Daje Johnson who will be relentlessly contained on the edge as OU did to TCU. As limited as he is, the most comprehensive Texas gameplan that fully utilizes every resource on the team is going to come from a McCoy start. It is what is is.
What's more, consider the list of great QB's who contributed to their respective programs the year after a Redshirt season: Colt McCoy, Vince Young, Sam Bradford, Taylor Martinez, Johnny Manziel, Michael Vick, Jameis Winston. Consider some QB's who were pressed into action without the benefit of a redshirt: Chris Simms, Garrett Gilbert, Terrelle Pryor, Jimmy Clausen, David Ash.
It's almost always better to redshirt the position. To waste Swoopes' shirt in order to crush his confidence in a no-win situation would be a dreadful mistake so let's please stop suggesting it.
Now let's get more into the specifics of this doomed matchup between Case and Mike Stoops, starting with the revamped OU defense. Last year they were a Palms/Cover-2 team that played a ton of dime personnel and tried to control the run by bringing Tony Jefferson down in run-support and controlling the line of scrimmage with a large, two-gapping DL. They were the nation's 2nd best pass defense but they were murdered by spread running games.
Then they graduated almost the entire DL along with both starting safeties.
This offseason they overhauled the entire approach. They don't play as much Cover-2 although they begin most snaps by lining up in a 2-deep shell and then rotating into a various versions of Cover-3.
As you probably know from the fact that Texas utilizes more Cover-3 this year, it allows them to outnumber the run at the risk of being exposed deep.
Personnel-wise, this is one of the more athletic OU D's we've seen in some time...maybe since Stoops was last here in 2002. They like to drop Gabe Lynn into the box to match inside receivers in coverage and help against the run, he's 6-0, 204 pounds. Nickelback Julian Wilson is 6-2, 199 while star cornerback Aaron Colvin is 6-0 192 and his young comrade on the other end Zach Sanchez goes 5-11, 176. The problem, you'll notice, is that they are long and hard to beat when in tight coverage.
They prefer to play Sanchez in press coverage with the deep safety keeping an eye out for him while playing Colvin in softer coverage on the other side of the field, essentially trusting him to lockdown everything to his side. Texas needs to keep Mike Davis away from Colvin whenever possible.
They lost their best linebacker Corey Nelson to a pectoral tear against TCU and will replace him with Dominique Alexander, whom I would describe as Jeremiah George before this last offseason. They're basically a 3-4 team now and outside linebacker Eric Striker is typically the 4th rusher. He's a novice pass-rusher and can be run over by a good run game but he's very athletic and rapidly improving. Wilson typically mans the other edge but if Texas uses big personnel OU will have to play another youngster on the edge. Good thing Texas is known for their TE's, huh?
The DL is long and athletic. Everyone on this defense can easily chase down or corral Case McCoy. If their nose-tackle Jordan Phillips is able to go he presents a combination of power and speed at 6-6, 320 that I'm not sure Espinosa has seen before. Hopefully our quick center can reach him. Without him they still stuffed TCU's interior runs. Their main ends Tapper and Grissom are in the 6-4, 265 range as are most of the key replacements.
Notre Dame was able to run over this front with double-TE formations caving in OU's overmatched edge players through double teams and outside zone blocking. Running straight up the pipe with Inside Zone is not likely to yield consistent results, even if paired with quick outside screens that will certainly be swallowed up as you see above.
Finally, they are blitzing more often this season, particularly with their own version of the Fire Zone:
Only five rushers actually come, but they don't usually play Zone behind the blitz like Diaz teaches. Instead, they are in press coverage on the outside and aggressively pattern matching with the "Hot" defenders underneath. If you want to get people open against OU vs a blitz or base defense you'll have to beat man coverage.
Which brings us back to Case. Last week the Texas staff discovered the potential flaw in the spread-option offensive approach. You can allow the defense to dictate your options so you'd better be comfortable with the choices that are presented to you.
While the new offense fits into Case's abilities to read defenses pre-snap and make a quick first read and accurate throw, it also allows a defense to make Case the feature of the Texas' offense. The spread, as a general rule, puts a heavy burden on the QB to make the correct initial read and deliver the ball AND to make something happen under pressure if that read isn't there. If you take away Case's quick reads and put him under pressure he becomes one of the worst QB's in the country.
This begs an obvious approach from OU, to send a barrage of "not really zone" blitzes and cue Yakety Sax from the Cotton Bowl speakers.
So what does Texas do? No they don't play Swoopes, reread above.
The Texas plan has to do all it can to force OU to account for all the weapons the Longhorns have while protecting Case from situations where he's looking for somewhere to fling the ball while Charles Tapper tears away from Kennedy Estelle.
It's probably worth going over the weapons Texas has at Major's disposal as it's easy to forget how talented this group has become: He has a mobile OL that is blocking Zone better every week and could do some damage if loosed on screens. He has a deep threat in Mike Davis and a very reliable possession receiver in Jaxon Shipley. He has homerun hitters with Daje Johnson and Kendall Sanders, a variety of good running backs, and an extra blocking surface named Geoff Swaim.
This is how that comes together in a passable gameplan for Texas:
1). Run the ball early and often with play-action and misdirection attached
Do not pair our inside zone with quick hitting tosses and screens to the perimeter, Oklahoma will demolish that. Texas needs to be running Outside Zone, Power-O, and Inside Zone with classic play-action, bootlegs, and reverse jet sweeps attached. From the first drive on OU should be made aware that they will have to be sure to stay on top of Mike Davis deep and Daje Johnson running to the edge at full speed.
Getting Mike Davis involved is particularly important as the last thing Texas needs is a shallow deep safety who's coming downhill in run support in a hurry, heedless of the threat of the deep bomb.
Play-action and misdirection will be essential to help Texas receivers find space against OU's tight coverage.
2). Flood the boundary and middle with our best receivers
When asking Case to throw he should have most of his weapons on one side of the field, stretching the defense so he can find them quick and either get the ball out or check down to someone who is fast. Major did a good job with this against Iowa St. and managed to pack most of Texas' weapons into windows Case's arm could actually hit. Granted, Case averaged only 5.4 yards per pass but that doesn't include the pass interference calls which won the day.
3). Attack OU's small size and young LB's with Power
Swaim and Daniels should see heavy time in this game in order to try and force 3-4 personnel from OU (rather than 3-3-5) and see if Texas can get some traction running at them. Texas should be looking to make this contest about OU's quick D standing up to the run game without losing track of Davis outside or Daje on the edge.
If this game becomes about Case trying to make plays then it gets out of hand quickly. Texas needs to take the burden away with heavier formations, misdirection, play-action, and every run concept in the playbook. First play, play action deep bomb to Mike Davis with the 2nd read to throw a check down or throw it away. Second play, more run-blocking with a Daje Johnson sweep attached. Third play, tunnel screen to Daje or Sanders after a fake screen to the opposite side of the field.
The ball needs to always leave Case's hand quickly in the hopes that whoever receives it can make something happen. The attempts to stretch the defense and create spacing need to rely on misdirection and playfakes, not Case's throwing velocity.
If we use any empty formations I'm going to send a letter to the Dallas DA everyday urging him to try Mack and Major for conspiracy to commit murder and criminal conspiracy (point shaving).
If it turns out that Texas can run the ball on Oklahoma, then things could get interesting. If Case's limitations are paired with an attempt by Applewhite to run spread-option concepts against a loaded box and lightning defense then we may look back at this as the worst beating in Stoops vs Brown history.
At the very least we should make OU stop our real playmakers. Either way, let's all hope Case and Mack take one for the team by absorbing the likely beating and keeping Swoopes and the future clear.