The Q&A has now officially gone the way of all article concepts that garner <10 replies on a game week Friday. As the BC editorial staff ponders a new Friday feature, we’re rolling with a special Hate Week fill-in - The Kick Some A.
There are no questions. All the big picture questions - about the Charlie’s tenure, about the defensive disasters, about a certain coach down I-45 - will keep, and they’ll flare or fade as the rest of the season plays out.
And on Saturday there’s only one answer - kick OU’s ass.
There’s good news on that front - from a physical standpoint, it’s happened three years in a row.
In 2013, after more than a decade of getting his team sitting down to pee without Vince or Colt running the show, YOLO Mack rolled into the Red River Shootout* with a fast-and-loose approach that had his guys unleashing some unseen physicality and stunning the Sooners despite a QB who couldn’t throw the ball 45 yards in the air without a drone strapped to the damned thing.
In 2014, a young and struggling Longhorn squad arrived and proceeded to batter OU across both lines of scrimmage, losing on a pick return/kick return combo but thoroughly outplaying the Sooners for the bulk of the contest.
In 2015, a younger and struggling-er Longhorn squad came into the Cotton Bowl and laid down an even more thorough beating, with D’Onta dashing and Baker Mayfield crashing to the turf enough times for Charlie to (crab)snatch his tenure from the jaws of disaster and enjoy a signature win (which was, unfortunately, signed with disappearing ink).
But it’s possible to win the physical battle and lose the war, as a team sporting an 0-2 record across its last two games despite out-rushing its opponents by a combined 362 yards can attest. OU is a somewhat battered, somewhat discombobulated and all-around beatable bunch. But if Texas doesn’t have a plan to combat what they do well, then Texas will walk out with an L.
Let’s see how they can put a W on the board instead.
The Texas defense will need plenty of hate in its back pocket to deliver the four-quarter physical beatdown required to keep Mayfield, Mixon and company on their heels. But paradoxically, they’ll also have to embrace some Zen if they want to leave their crippling mistakes in the past
Your best eleven is not your best eleven, but your best eleven.
A new job that employs old skills is not a new job.
What you do when you’re not blocked can be more important than what you do when you are blocked.
A 3-4 is not the right defense for Oklahoma...unless you have the right four.
The linebacker you’ve been looking for isn’t a linebacker...and the safest play is knowing you’re not safe.
The Sooner offense is basically five things:
- Joe Mixon everywhere. While he’s not as devastating a pure power runner as D’Onta Foreman, he’s plenty capable of hitting you in the mouth while boasting similar top-end speed and the ability to put a foot in the ground and bounce outside for big gainers. He’s scariest, though, as a receiver. In addition to the typical screen-and-flare route game, Mixon can fly right up the seam and haul in an over-the-shoulder throw or split out wide and run a 15-yard dig route. Ensuring that Texas’ coverage schemes don’t break like a 125-pound woman’s orbital bone when Mixon motions out to a five-wide look may be Charlie’s biggest challenge this week.
- Baker Mayfield on the edges. Mayfield has the ability to beat you from the pocket when he has time, but he’s at his most dangerous when he’s either keeping around the end on a Read Option or breaking contain to freelance outside. The disciplined rush lanes and one-on-one overpowers that highlighted last year’s DL effort have to be on the table again, along with our first well-coached approach to the Zone Read this season.
- Dede Westbrook free to roam. Westbrook is the lead dog of the Sooner WR corps, and while he’s a reasonable all-around receiver he’s not in the class of guys like Toriiiiiii Hunter, Equanimity St. Jude, Chad Hansen or James Washington. He kills you in the screen game and when he gets lost due to bite-ups on play fakes or out-and-out flea flickers. Strap a man to him at all times, whether he’s aligned outside or in the slot, who won’t lose him and who has no other job but to immediately attack his first lateral motion on screens (as Davante Davis did with some great success against Washington last week).
- Mark Anderson in run/pass conflict: The Sooners’ lanky TE/H-back isn’t much of a blocker, but he’s sporting a 20-yard per catch average and four touchdowns thanks to seam speed, soft hands...and coming absolutely uncovered on play action. He’s got to have dedicated eyes on him and a guy who either isn’t subject to immediate run/pass conflict or is aligned far enough back to process it and still make plays.
- A collection of other mammals. The Sooners’ tackles are solid but their interior OL is meh at best. Samaje Perine is a load, but jammed-up works in the interior can limit his output. And while all the other Sooner skill position dudes can make you pay if you blow a coverage, none of them are individually scary. You build your game plan around stopping Mixon, containing Mayfield, strapping tight to Westbrook, not losing Anderson and just keep it simple everywhere else.
So how do you blend all those Zen precepts and opponent-specific rules into the best base package for keeping OU in check and your own prior foibles in the rear-view mirror?
You break out the 46 Monster:
NT: Nelson/Boyette/Wilbon, mainly 2-gapping with the occasional shot to either A gap, same as it ever was
SDE: Omenihu/Cottrell/Elliott, wrecking the B gap from a 4i and freeing up an outside blitz while providing edge heat when we slide into a four down linemen look.
DT: Poona/Nelson/Christmas, doing similar things to the SDE role but attacking the B gap from a 3-tech when we go four down.
If those linemen roles sound familiar, they should - they’ve been the anchor of our D so far and doing just fine.
ILB: Wheeler/Freeman, flowing fast to the ball inside with protection outside, with on-the-job scrape training and help when Mixon becomes the responsibility
Fox: Roach/Hager/Hughes, shifting from a stack to slightly shaded inside the DT to standing up or putting a hand down on the edge, but with the freedom to attack inside with the flank protected
Monster 1 (SS): Hall/Jones, the versatile blitzing/dropping outside linebacking complement to Malik that Texas has needed all season...and had all season...
Monster 2 (OLB): Malik And Don’t Get Hurt, Malik, doing Good Malik Things up to eleven and keeping the bad Malik things locked inside a box by keeping him locked outside the OT
Outside Corners: Hill/Davis/Boyd, playing 70+% man and spending four quarters telling the #1 receiver to their side that they’re better than he is
Nickel: Locke/Hill/Jones, playing pass first and foremost with the freedom to turn their back on the LOS or attack screen action thanks to the Monsters inside
Free Safety: Haines/Elliott/Vaccaro, staying over the top but aggressively doubling danger rather than aligning so deep and staying so safe that no one ever gets help of any kind. We go single-high on this one since we don’t have two safeties - or maybe even one safety - that can properly apex a pair of routes to their side and attack the most dangerous rather than sitting back and letting everything get completed in front of them (and confusing their corners to boot).
This starting lineup may not be the best eleven individual defenders, but it’s the best combination of eleven that Charlie can roll out at one time. Roach and Hager on the field at the same time brings too much predictability, too little edge discipline from Hager and all but locks Malik inside the tackles where he’s anywhere between marginalized and an active detriment. Letting them rotate in the Fox role brings constant, fresh-legged heat (Roach undeniably wore down over four quarters in Stillwater) and gives all four stand-up box defenders the option of doing just about anything on a given snap.
While this overall alignment seems new and scary given the back-to-basics-I-mean-it-this-time approach that it seems Charlie should be taking this week, none of what guys are asked to do here is unfamiliar. Both Foxes have logged some off-the-line time as Mikes or inside backers and both have at least a modicum of drop-and-be-aware ability as well as inside-blitzing and edge-turning ability. Malik outside hardly needs to be belabored at this point, and Hall has done most of his damage this season as a box safety and edge blitzer while still giving you credible ability to drop into a zone or carry a tight end up the seam. He also finally gives you the versatility to align Malik outside to the boundary as well as the field and not worry about getting snookered or outrun to the wide side. The corners and nickel are getting back to basics and, depending on OU’s personnel package aware that they aren’t getting help over the top on most downs. And Haines gets to use his brain and come down from high to help on the scariest dude OU has on the field at the moment rather than cleaning up danger after it’s already happened.
Let’s see how this look addresses OU’s danger guys when we keep it simple in Man Free:
Stop Mixon: This is about as safe against the run as we can make things with three wide receivers, with the interior gaps jammed up and seven box guys against six blockers with overhang defenders on the edge and a couple of fast (if not overly fundamental) linebackers in Malik and Wheeler following the back’s flow. If Mixon’s coming out of the backfield for a pass, he’s banjoed by the ‘backers - one takes him, and the one he flows away from drops into a short middle zone to cut crossing routes and transitioning to spy duties on Mayfield. Haines has eyes for Mixon on this from deep - if it’s pass or play action he’s watching Mixon and Mark Andrews at H-back. If Mixon flows to Malik’s side, it’s earn your keep Malik and he helps Hall out on Andrews. If Mixon goes vertical or wheels out to the boundary, Haines gets over the top of him because Mixon vs Wheeler is our worst matchup on the board. If we had Earl Thomas back there we could keep an eye on two or three guys and fly to help as the ball’s in the air, that would be awesome. But we don’t - this way we’re at least addressing some game-breaking danger and trusting our corners on unspectacular wideouts.
Contain Mayfield: This is as much about awareness and rush discipline as alignment, but you’ve got him contained by the boundary rush and have a spy dropping to the middle. If this is a dropback pass, the burden will be on Omenihu to work outside and contain or at least be able to string Mayfield out if he tries to escape to the field side, relying on the backside pressure from Poona and Roach to bring the heat.
Keep Westbrook Under Wraps: Whether he’s aligned out wide or in the slot, Westbrook is facing dedicated man coverage that can attack him on screen action and stick tight if he heads downfield. If he’s in the slot or on the boundary and there’s less danger from the box (Perine at RB and/or Andrews staying in to block) then Haines can come help on him if he makes a quick decision, but his DB has to play like no help is coming.
Andrews On Play Action: This is a tough assignment for Hall in terms of run/pass conflict, but you’re at least putting it on a veteran and aligning rolling him back to eight yards depth so he can make a flat-footed read and attack or backpedal as needed and giving him help over the top if Andrews is presenting the most dangerous threat.
The benefits of having two fast and versatile guys on the edges comes into play if OU came out in that alignment and then, say, motioned Andrews to the field side:
If the formation strength switches to the field side, you just shift into a 4-3 Under look with Roach dropping down and Hall sliding into the weakside linebacker slot. Malik’s got Andrews with automatic help over the top on play action while Wheeler and Hall are now banjoing Mixon and following his flow.
You can easily throw a couple of change-ups out of the base look by rolling to a Cover Three look with the field corner playing Cover 2 rules and jamming/sinking with the #1 receiver until the flat gets threatened:
...or faking a rush three, drop eight look with Malik coming on a late pick-off blitz once the blockers are engaged (how he bagged Kizer against Notre Dame):
You can’t just roll with one package all game, but this is an approach that can maximize our strengths and minimize our weaknesses while taking away what the Sooners’ game breakers do best.
The other key will be how the unblocked down defenders react. A guy who has his OL go right past him to the second level has to realize that he’s being read, bounce inside with his shoulders square and be able to minimize the back’s cutback lane or string out the keep rather than just flying upfield or towards the back and being made wrong. OU’s scariest running play comes out of 10 Personnel Twins when they block down with three OL and pull the other two:
The pullers are looking to kick out the unblocked DT, turn up into the hole to smack the first unblocked guy they see and let Mixon to straight up the gut to paydirt, as you can see in this link (and could see embedded if SBNation wasn’t ABSURDLY FUCKING BAD AT EMBEDS, YOU IDIOTS.) The play here is for the unblocked DT to realize what’s happening as soon as the tackle leaves him to block down, attack that first pulling block and “wrong shoulder” it to jam up the hole and spill the play outside where it can get chased down. If that first block gets spilled, the second one gets jammed up and either Roach or Hall can flow free to the ball.
We’ll see what Charlie rolls with on Saturday, but we’ll be once and for all sure that what we’re seeing is Charlie’s from concept to install to teaching to in-game calls. He knows the micro and macro burdens that are on him in this one - here’s hoping he’s up to it and that he’s got the boys (finally) ready to play fast and loose.
There’s not a ton here that I didn’t say in last week’s Q&A - the key this week will be having a QB who’s healthy enough to get the ball more than 20 yards downfield in the air. The Sooner secondary has been repeatedly ransacked this season, and all the old staples like the Slot Shot:
Play Action Double Rub:
And Play Action Switch:
should be there for the taking if Buechele can get the ball up and out in a way we’ve been hesitant or unable to do since his hard shot against Cal. The Sooners are tough up the gut but don’t have an interior pass rusher or all-around game wrecker the caliber of OSU’s Vincent Taylor, and their already shaky DE corps has been further hindered by the loss of Charles Walker. The time will be there if Texas is picking up and beating blitzes, and if they can finally get the Shallow Cross blitz beater in the mix:
Then we could get back to something approaching cooking with gas in the passing game.
The ground game figures to go as well and as long as D’Onta can go - what sounds like an oblique injury could annoy him over the course of 28 carries or drop him to his knees during warmups. It’s a hell of a thing to fight on the heels of Chris Warren’s knee injury, and Kyle Porter is capable of more than we’ve seen him give so far, but this one gets a lot tougher in a hurry if D’Onta is severely limited or goes out early.
Given Swoopes’ largely stellar performance against the Sooners in 2014, this could be the week to mix in some more between-the-20’s 18 Wheeler (though not from down to down, for God’s sake) and see if he can at least complete a couple of balls to loosen things up in the run game. The other prescription there is to try anyone else at the in-line tight end position - Quincy Vasser, a sixth OL, anyone - so that Blueitt can move to the H-back/lead block role and sit Beck down in this set. His play action TD last week was a thing of beauty, but it was likely set up by the fact that it’s impossible to tell when he’s slipping past a defender for a pass because that’s also his normal lead blocking technique. He’s been the single biggest factor in getting us behind the chains in 18 Wheeler situations, and this isn’t the week for it.
Punts: G’Day, Dickson - keep doing what you’re doing.
Punt Return: Maybe this is the week we actually block a gunner, don’t fair catch and gain 12+ yards on a return! Maybe!
Kick Coverage: I have no idea what causes Mitchell Becker to put the ball four yards deep on some kicks and leave it at the six yard line on others, but I do know that if I see three guys bunched up outside the numbers again on kick coverage that the Red River Shootout may turn literal in a hurry.
Kick Return: I can’t say it any better than this.
THE BOTTOM LINE
For one day, unity.
For one day, passion.
For one day...like all other 364 days....OU sucks.
38-31 Texas. Fuck OU.
*Then, now and forever - The Red River Shootout. That’s it and that’s all.