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Texas Longhorns vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys: Tactics and Strategy

One of the things that makes football so fun to watch is the intricate ebb and flow of strategic and tactical adjustments, from game to game and from play to play. Here's a breakdown of how the Texas Longhorns need to approach their game vs. the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

Brendan Maloney-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Talkin' Tactics - Texas vs. OSU

One of the things that makes football so damned fun to watch is the intricate ebb and flow of strategic and tactical adjustments, from game to game and from play to play. Now that we've hit a hiatus in the ‘how about we just physically dominate you and do what we want' portion of the proceedings (don't worry - they'll resume against Kansas!), the games become a lot more interesting. Not just because of the uncertainty of outcome, but because our coaches now have much more opponent-specific scheming to do in order to mitigate enemy strengths and exploit specific weaknesses. On the players' side of things, some guys are now facing matchups where we're generally just hoping they can hold their own while others will need to step up, carry the load and really beat up favorable matchups if we're going to come out on top.

So, what does that all mean for Oklahoma State?

I'll confess that the majority of my detailed Cowboy knowledge (at least the college kind) comes from Scipio's awesome write-ups on the offense and defense and a few drive-bys of Cowboys Ride for Free - I saw a little of their game against ‘Zona but didn't get to catch them going Mola Ram on their other two opponents. But so far as my knowledge goes, here are a few of the things I'd like to see us do to leverage advantages, mitigate concerns and get out of Stillwater with a win.


Wins Against the Ends

Oklahoma State seems to be bringing some steady, solid, but generally unspectacular defensive ends to the party. We'll obviously need our OTs to hold up well in the pass game, but given what Hawk and Cochran have shown so far and the likely mix of short stuff and play action that we'll feature I'm not too concerned here.

Where we could really gain an advantage is if Greg Daniels and Barrett Mathews can control their DE's one-on-one for the most part in the run game. We know that playing four quarters - or even one - against a fully-functioning Brian Harsin offense can be a journey to Hell for a DE. If a combination of muscle and mind-fuckin' can help wear down their resistance, our TE's ability to consistently kick them out when we want to run Power O inside them or collapse them in when we want Outside Zone/Pin n' Pull to work will help us get numbers where we need them and - even more importantly - keep the momentum we need for positive plays.

Our guys won a lot of these battles against Ole Miss, and it contributed tremendously to the destructive quality of our run game in that contest. We don't want to ask our interior guys to consistently go head-up with OSU's DTs and root them out to create space - we want to get them moving laterally or, at minimum, block down on them with an angle advantage while the play flows away from them. Power O and Outsize Zone give us chances to do just that, but the plays won't hum unless the DE's are controlled.

Backs Falling Forward

Against a quality road opponent with a strong set of corners, the last place the Texas offense wants to find itself is behind the chains. We're not going to be tearing off yardage in the run game in the 10-, 15- and 20-yard chunks we saw against Ole Miss, but we'll need to at least replicate the forward momentum we saw in most of those runs for a lot of tasty 2nd-and-6's and 3rd-and-2's. Oklahoma State has quality linebackers and we're not likely to chump them out entirely, but my big thesis for Big XII play is that this conference doesn't have the LBs to stop B&B trucking company in its tracks if they're having to fly laterally and tackle in pursuit.

The first point above and this one are closely linked - our TEs winning the war will be key to both our inside and outside run games. On Power O, kicking that end out cleanly lets Hopkins (pulling from LG) and Roberson (firing out from the backfield) get a clean read on where they go (inside the hole) and who they hit. They run that play clean with momentum, and we're engaging on the right side of the LOS and giving ourselves a positive run. They chop up their steps and dither because the DE isn't controlled, and the play gets a lot messier and gives OSU's LBs a chance to hit our backs with momentum on their side. On Outside Zone, when it runs like it's drawn the OSU LBs need to fly laterally and work around blockers before engaging a back who's trucking downhill with bad intentions. That's how you get ahead of the chains. If the DE penetrates enough to either mess up the pulls or really change the back's path in the backfield, the play's momentum is dead. That's how you get behind the chains.

It's also incumbent on B&B to keep winning the collisions when they happen - busting long runs is awesome and we'll see a few, but banging heads and keeping us head of the chains is Job One.

Corners Against the Safeties

The unit where the Cowboys appear weakest overall is at safety. And when I'm facing an iffy safety, the first thing I want to do is test his ability to get sideline to sideline. It's likely that their SS-type, Daytawione Lowe (sorry, autocorrect - you're going to be of no help in this section) will spend a lot of time up with Shamiel Gary (seriously?) or Lavocheya Cooper (OK, I seriously think Scip was pranking us with these names) handling centerfield in man-free looks. While both dudes will get some tackling tests when B&B break loose, I hope that our intermediate and deep passing game in this one has more of an inside-out look than what we saw against Ole Miss.

Specifically, I'd like to see us get some corner routes on play action from DJ Grant and some corners and post/corners from whoever we put in the slot (ideally Marquise) with our wide guys running some shorter in-breaking stuff to keep the corners from bailing back to a deep third. While I'm not averse to us taking selective one-on-one shots down the field with our wide guys against Brodrick Brown and Justin Gilbert, I think there's more money to be made on Saturday attacking the deep corners versus attacking THEIR corners deep.


Brandon Moore, Two-Gap Terror

Scipio's early-week depth chart missive contained the interesting note that we're seemingly tasking Brandon Moore with a more traditional Nose Tackle role, with Whaley sliding back to what I'd imagine to be a penetration-focused 3-technique. With Moore in that role and the assignment issues we've had with our LBs, I wonder if we won't ask Brandon to take on an old-school 2-gapping NT role for this one. In theory, if he can account for two gaps we can really simplify assignments for some of our other guys and give at least one of our LBs the freedom to just flow to the ball and blow it up. There's obviously some detailed X-and-O discussion to be had here as to whether my simple line of thinking would hold up against what OSU likes to do, but I have to wonder if this is some of the thinking that our depth chart shuffle indicates.

Some obvious concerns here would be:

  • A) Moore's tendency to turn his shoulders when trying to penetrate, which could get him absolutely washed out in a zone run. Hopefully mitigated by some technique work and having his ‘hold your ground and make a mess' assignment drilled in during our off week.
  • B) His ability to hold up during a 10-play drive if the Cowboys go up-tempo. Hopefully mitigated by kicking them off the field quickly and the judicious use of timeouts if needed when they're rolling (tell Ash to watch that play clock as we need our TO's for the D this game).

Safety Disguises

There's been a lot of discussion in the last ten days over the level of complexity present in our defense, and whether both the complexity of the assignments and the simple timing of our defensive calls (read: late) is doing more to baffle our defenders than our opponents. Since I'm only afforded occasional LHN-driven glimpses into the mind of Manny Diaz it's impossible to know his precise thinking on the matter, but I'll bet there's been at least some effort towards assignment simplification and streamlining of our defensive call procedure during the off week.

One area where I do hope we're maintaining some deceptiveness, however, is in what we'll be doing with our starting safeties on most plays. I think Adrian Phillips is a capable guy who certainly has the speed to cover ground in the secondary and the willingness to fill with authority in the run game, but Kenny Vaccaro could go in the first half of Round One this April. His amazing INT in deep pursuit against Wyoming highlights his centerfield playmaking ability, and his ability to hospitalize ballcarriers hardly needs to be belabored. I want OSU wondering where he'll be on every given play, and I'd like to make that a mystery for as long as possible. If you're going to call an option play, will you be risking Walsh's game and season with Vaccaro assigned to light him up? If you're taking a shot downfield, will he be waiting to nab it?

I don't know how often personnel and alignment will let us start out in a Cover-2 look with Phillips and Vaccaro deep, but that would be my dream situation to consistently have one rotating up to fill and one dropping into the deep middle.

Cobb? Go Fetch.

There are various situations - facing an elite pass-blocking OL, dealing with an extremely mobile QB or just going up against an offense that gets everything out really quickly - where your ability to really get after the QB with your front four is compromised. One of my favorite techniques in those situations is the delayed blitz from a particularly athletic LB or S. Get the OL all engaged with a down lineman, then a half-step later send a defender flying through a gap to pick off the QB in the pocket.

I'd really like to see this tactic employed against Walsh in particular. With any luck, despite OSU's quality OL we'll be able to force an interior double-team against a guy like Whaley or Tank Jackson. Have the DE's engage their OTs and rush under control with an eye towards keeping Walsh in the pocket, and sometimes pop and drop into a short zone to disrupt a quick passing window. While he's processing that, send Cobb into the gap and take him down.

What are you guys hoping to see on Saturday?