The 2013 Texas Longhorns' defense of the Oklahoma Sooners' offense

Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE

If they don't break 30 it can't be considered a blowout right?

Carnage. Pestilence. Bloodletting.

These are generally the terms that come to mind when considering the fate of past Texas gameplans against Stoops' offense. Diaz seemed to more or less understand that the OU offense could be made more ordinary by stopping their run game but found his plan undone in 2011 when the young 'horn secondary was shredded by Landry Jones and Ryan Broyles (to say nothing of the carnage wrecked by Texas' own offense).

The 2012 Texas defense couldn't stop the run if they wanted to, at least if we assume that last year's effort was the most that the Texas defense was capable of, which is questionable.

Muschamp understood the key to stuffing Oklahoma as well and held the Sooners to 2.4 yards per carry in 2010, -.7 yards per carry in 2009, and 1.8 yards per carry in 2008. You'll notice that Texas' record against Stoops was better with Muschamp than any other defensive coordinator.

As a matter of fact, in every contest between Mack Brown and Bob Stoops the team that has rushed for more yardage has won every single time with one exception. That was 2006 when both teams ran for 124 yards on the ground, and Texas had a higher yards per carry average in that contest (3.9 to 3.4) as well as the victory.

In the 14 game series between the two coaches, Stoops squad has outrushed Mack's boys 2035-1531, a difference of 504 total rushing yards. While outrushing an opponent is generally a pretty consistent path to victory one has to assume that the particular emotions and intensity of this game are such that controlling the line of scrimmage through the run game is generally the most fail-proof way to survive the contest.

As it happens, both the 2013 Sooners and Longhorns are fairly dependent on the run game anyways. As a starting point to understanding the Oklahoma attack I have to recommend my own work on their usage of Blake Bell. To that piece I'll add some relevant facts and truths for this game.

The challenging fact about this Sooner offense is that they are largely built around the "Zone Stretch" running play and this particular OL has mastered the scheme to a degree not always seen at the collegiate level. Largely behind this play they ran for 212 yards on the Notre Dame defense (five yards per carry) and another 203 yards on the TCU Horned Frogs (5.3 yards per carry).

I hope our readership is well versed enough in today's college football world to immediately recognize those are two defenses which are considerably more stout against the run than Mack Brown's unit.

The Sooners complement Zone Stretch in two primary ways; first with big personnel and paired with play-action,


then in spread sets paired with the quick passing game.


These are the throws with which their Yeti QB is most comfortable, throwing in rhythm to receivers with separation thanks to the threat of the run. His execution of the quick and vertical passing game that Landry Jones and Sam Bradford dominated with in previous years isn't quite there yet.

This is the key for Texas and the chance for Greg to offer a different approach than Notre Dame or TCU attempted. Patterson and Diaco mostly sat in 2-high coverages and relied on their tough fronts and overall tackling and leverage to attempt to control the Yeti and thus played into the Sooner playbook. There's simply too many bubble screens, tunnel screens, play-action tosses, and quick passes that OU can execute along with their extensive running game in the space afforded by that defensive approach.

What's more, they have an abundance of explosive receivers who can wreck havoc with yards after catch against a defense that leaves them room to operate.

In 2004 Greg Robinson schemed to take away Jason White and the Sooner passing game which had won a Heisman trophy the previous season and absolutely obliterated Texas's 2003 defense. As a result, he yielded a 225 yard game to a freshman named Adrian Peterson and allowed the Sooners to hold the ball for 36 minutes in a shutout.

There should be no confusion about what, if anything, Texas should attempt to take away from the Sooners in this game. The same Cover-3/Cover-1 schemes which have been torched by Tyler Lockett and Quenton Bundrage must be brought to bear with the hopes that Bell and the Sooner receivers can't punish Texas over the top.

If they can, the game will be over before the 2nd quarter.

The Texas depth chart for the game is basically a tacit admission of Robinson's plan for the Sooners. Stopping the horizontal spread of the Sooner constraint plays paired with outside zone is something you accomplish either with an exceptionally quick and disciplined back seven, or by manning up across the line of scrimmage and taking away space.

Obviously Texas doesn't have an exceptionally quick and disciplined back seven, especially if the starting linebackers are Dalton Santos and Steve Edmond. You can safely assume then that a safety will always be dropping into the box to hopefully relieve Santos and Edmond from any burden in this game other than stopping the run and taking away short throws inside the hash marks.

Ideally, Texas could utilize the speed and improving edge play of Diggs, Phillips, and Thompson to corral the run game into the waiting arms of Santos and Edmond:


In this example, Phillips drops down and takes out a lead blocker. Jeffcoat is lined up as a 9-tech, a luxury afforded by an eight man front, and he seals the edge and then takes on the 2nd lead blocker as well. Santos is consequently left clean to make the play.

This approach would also leave the corners to take on the outside receivers with a single deep safety. The other safety, along with Diggs, have the more difficult task of manning the flats:

So far, if you're Greg Robinson, you have to feel okay about where the stress points are in your defense. Diggs and a safety to take away the flats and the edge in the run game? Can't do much better than that with this Texas personnel. There's a good chance OU gets some easy yardage in the flat but nothing back-breaking. When OU uses bigger personnel that could be Jinkens on the edge, who is hopefully well-versed in the OU playbook.

In this approach you have the middle of the field stocked up with your two biggest and most well-aware inside linebackers...for what that's worth, while you have some legitimately good cover corners going against the somewhat shaky vertical pass game of the Sooners.

In theory, that's about the best plan you can have. But what of Zone Stretch and the Sooner running game going against Edmond and Santos?

That's an eight man front consisting of TCU Horned Frogs getting caught by one of Zone Stretch's lethal backside cuts.


That's a Notre Dame front getting beaten to the edge by OU's big personnel package and Damien Williams outside speed, both of which Texas fans are well acquainted. Both of the OU tailbacks are great runners in this scheme.

They are also very useful in the passing game.

With three removed receivers to the other end of the field, Texas would be forced by this OU formation to drop Phillips down and leave Edmond alone on the boundary to handle the running back in either this play or in the curl-flat combinations that are prominently featured in the Sooner attack.

Even shielded by Diggs and the secondary there's no way to completely hide Edmond and Santos in coverage, particularly when OU utilizes their spread formations. Either player can be matched up in difficult assignments chasing the running back or covering up Jalen Saunders on short option routes. However, that's still not a back-breaking arsenal for the Sooners to attack with.

Finally, an eight man box makes team awareness and discipline against OU's dreaded tunnel screen and QB run game all the more essential lest Texas find themselves with two or three deep pass defenders as the only remaining obstacle for a Sooner skill player en route to the end zone. The choice to pair Santos and Edmond is both a sign that stopping the run is a priority, and that the team needs guys out there that understand what's going on or else the OU constraint plays will utterly confuse and destroy the team.

So what are the chance of Texas' linebackers making a respectable showing against Zone Stretch and building a foundation of hope for the defensive gameplan? Obviously they aren't tremendous. While Texas has a very strong DL, the Sooners have already run roughshod over TCU and ND units that will put multiple players into the NFL.

Another worrisome fact is that Texas hasn't yet faced a good Zone Stretch team this season. New Mexico St. wasn't good at anything, BYU punished Texas with Inside Zone, Power, and option, Ole Miss ran Power-Read and Inside Zone all day, Iowa St mostly used Pin'n'pull and Power-Read. Robinson's greater focus on using DL to protect linebackers will come in handy but how exactly will Texas' back seven stand up to Gabe Ikard, Trey Millard, Aaron Ripowski, and the Sooner backfield?

Texas' inability to hold any post-Diaz opponents under 100 rushing yards should have put to death the notion on the Longhorn Interwebs that Texas' inability to stop the run was related to Diaz making stupid blitz calls rather than playing base defense. While installing those blitzes may have hurt Texas' ability to effectively install the base defense, it's become clear that Texas' struggle is with the very basics of run defense. They've done little under Robinson besides run base defense and it hasn't been awe-inspiring.

The basic keys to stopping Zone stretch are first to seal the edge and limit the stretch, second that the DL not get reached or allow easy angles for OL to catch linebackers, and third that the linebackers converge on the running back removing creases and then closing in for the tackle. There are three corresponding problems for Texas in stopping this play.

Problem one is any time Trey Millard is the leading blocker out of the backfield. I'm not sure if Texas has anyone in the back seven save for Phillips that I'd trust to effectively blow up a Millard lead block. They'll probably have to field Jinkens in these sets and hope he's up to the task when OU brings Millard on the field.

Problem two is the need for the Texas DL to be disciplined and not be sealed or reached by the Oklahoma OL. I'm guessing this might go 50-50 in the game. Last year Texas was getting cut a lot on the backside, they need to be more aware this time around.

The final problem is our linebackers maintaining leverage on the running back without getting "caught in the wash" against advancing OL. I'd say the prognosis here is fairly grim.

Robinson surely can't have spent much time in practice the last few weeks going over anything except Zone Stretch and the basics of the Sooner offense yet it's generally unlikely that the Texas D will be in shape to stuff it after two weeks of practice. Texas has to hope that they can at least contain it and force OU to maintain drives running uphill and without room to get the ball into the hands of explosive playmakers.

Finally, there's the Yeti. Despite his massive size and lack of elite speed, he is an elusive foe with a knack for disappearing into the mountains only to emerge screaming and brandishing a club in your face when you least expect it.

Yeti-hunting is a noble pursuit but one fraught with peril. Oklahoma can and will deploy him against Texas in the middle of the field on "Power-Read" (with the sweeping back one that can really punish Texas), they have a QB draw game, they can run inside zone or stretch with Sasquatch (Millard) leading the way for Yeti, or they can use zone-read:


On this game-clinching play Sasquatch took TCU's safety Chris Hackett on a 10 yard ride while somehow also removing another 210 pound safety, no. 26 Derrick Kindred, from the picture as well. Yeti's slow gait allowed 215 pound star strong safety Sam Carter to arrive with leverage only to get an elbow in the face and the taste of turf as his reward.

This is undoubtedly another key part of Robinson's reasoning in starting both Edmond and Santos. Bringing down the Yeti and taking his precious scalp to sell to fans of the Discovery channel will require some brute strength. Oklahoma preserved some key drives against TCU with QB scrambles as well which means that the Texas DL needs to be more concerned with maintaining their lanes than their sack total and NFL stock. Finally, against the Belldozer short yardage situations Texas needs to have some heavy packages well prepared. If you're asking Thompson to make a tackle on the goal line against a charging abominable snowman you need to re-think the plan.

So there you have it, in order to keep the Oklahoma offense out of the end zone and the final score manageable or semi-respectable this is the plan Texas must attempt to execute. Robinson will have to match his biggest and least incompetent LB's against OU's towering monster, control the perimeter with loaded fronts and speed on the edges, and get disciplined play from the DL.

If it turns out that OU's vertical passing game is more polished than expected, none of this matters and the game gets out of hand quickly. If it turns out that the extra practice time hasn't resulted in a Texas defense that can maintain a sound approach against the runs and constraint plays of the Sooner attack, then Texas will quickly bleed to death. If the Texas offense wets the bed early and hands over the ball early and often...again...then none of this matters.

But if Texas can tighten the screws and prevent OU from waltzing down the field from the moment the gun sounds, then just maybe Texas can hang around long enough for the offense to find a rhythm and the Longhorns can at least make a respectable showing.

Next up we'll examine what stands to prevent Case McCoy and his inexorable moxie and luck from finding that rhythm. Is Case's path to victory more or less likely than the Texas defense catching a wild Yeti?

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