While the average fan on either side probably envisions any possibility of a Longhorn win to be the result of an offensive shootout, the Texas defense has a real opportunity to be a major factor in this contest.
I don’t appreciate your mocking laughter. Is it also necessary to point while you do it?
Hear me out for a second.
I understand that the Texas defense has been less than the sum of its parts and ranks near the bottom of FBS passing yardage defense (126th out of 130; take that New Mexico).
I understand that Oklahoma is averaging 640+ yards and 53 points per game and has been humiliating the teams on their schedule. A schedule boasting a combined 10-17 record with one winning team, but OU didn’t know South Dakota would be down when they scheduled them.
QB Jalen Hurts leads the nation in passing efficiency. He’s also 3rd in the Big 12 in rushing. You’ve heard of one man gangs? Jalen Hurts is the Crips and Latin Kings combined. OU is also averaging 9.9 yards per play. Which seems fictional.
Yes, Lincoln Riley is a terrific offensive mind.
Yes, the Texas secondary is racked with injuries and overall play has been sketchy.
That’s all understood.
The Texas defense has the opportunity to turn this game on Saturday.
No, I am not drunk. Why does everyone keep asking me that?
The fact is that the Sooners have had some bad injury luck of their own. Both Oklahoma starting offensive tackles missed last week’s game against Kansas. OU’s 45 points disguised subpar play at the tackle position. Their starting offensive tackles are first year replacements for last year’s terrific offensive line so Sooner OL coach Bill Bedenbaugh was already dealing with a steep developmental curve. So what happens if you take away those guys? Some Marianas Trench depth chart exploration.
While Lincoln Riley may be playing possum with their starting status for Texas, there are credible reports that at least starting LT Erik Swenson will be out. Possibly also RT Adrian Ealy. Neither is 100%. If both miss, Oklahoma will replace them with Virginia transfer RJ Proctor (a natural guard in tackle’s clothing, who isn’t very good) and an actual converted starting guard in Tyrese Robinson. In truth, even when Ealy has played, he hasn’t been that good. If Tyrese Robinson moves out to replace him, OU starts yet another new player at his guard spot. Lincoln Riley’s skill talent and schemery has been disguising deficient tackle play with smoke, mirrors and opposing defenses that lacked the talent to do much about it.
Texas has the talent at the right spots to do something about it.
Texas has a huge opportunity this Saturday if they can give that talent the right game plan.
OU can cover up their offensive tackle issues if Texas goes standard 4i alignment with inside linebackers blitzing, a DB blitzing up the middle from distance, or a short field corner blitz, which has been Orlando’s scouting report for the last year and a half. Combining that with coverage switch schemes that will have Chris Brown, BJ Foster or Brandon Jones running with CeeDee Lamb and Charleston Rambo deep isn’t optimal either. Here’s what I mean:
Isolating BJ Foster on West Virginia’s best skill player because you want to give them “a look” while Jamison crashes the flat, thus allowing a bad QB a single read pitch and toss is not great football. Texas is only rushing three and still manages to get their worst coverage DB iso’d on WVU’s best receiver. Now consider that West Virginia doesn’t have a single skill player that would start at OU. Do I have your attention now?
In the standard Longhorn rush, the 4is are lined up on the inside shoulder of the offensive tackle. Without an additional Texas edge defender outside of the offensive tackle to suggest or bring pressure, that tackle has a good situation. OU can “block out” and assign the Texas 4i to the guard or double. 2 on 1 in favor of the offense. Or block down and play action. The tackle always has the angle advantage or help. The pressure is off.
Texas will be giving a natural guard a get-out-of-jail-free card (and this is the Sooners, avoiding jail is crucial to their program) in edge pass protection.
That would be a mistake.
OU will also line up in tight splits and collapse on all interior gaps if the offensive tackles really struggle. Which means any blitz between the tackles will go into our defensive line’s back and get caught in the chaff. Any free outside man (likely a blitzing CB, as this is Orlando’s general counter to those protections - and now the Horns are bringing six and creating massive holes in the secondary) OU’s offensive staff will put on Hurts to account for with an easy hot route, screen or let him shake the single small defender off, roll right and launch a touchdown to CeeDee Lamb on a double move. That’s how it will go down. Trust me on this one. Last year, Texas even tried to have a 4i lined up inside the tackle play contain on a QB who runs a 4.3 40. Hey, it’s “a look.”
That’s the “We’re gonna do what we do” game plan and it will get Texas beat, while pissing away an epic upset opportunity.
Texas must put the OU tackles in peril and isolate them.
You do it with men lined up outside of them on or near the line of scrimmage, close enough to bring immediate pressure while still keeping the 4i in play. That offensive tackle now has no angle advantages, no prospect of help and a lot of thinking to do when Texas starts adding twists, T/E stunts and delay blitzes from the edge. It’s 2 on 1 at the snap and the defender’s have the initiative. While Texas will be in dime or nickel personnel, the front is five men because Texas will want both OU edge protectors feeling heat. The Texas edge defenders should preferably be Joe Ossai and BJ Foster, but when OU goes Trips or has a bunch formation, that can vary appropriately.
The point is to single up the OU tackles on pass rushers while the 4i attacks the T/G gap inside. Now the OU tackles must perform on every play. This also contains Hurts with outside pressure instead of conventional rush-to-contain tactics or pointless inside blitzes that Hurts will skirt with his athleticism and strength that shakes off hands and glancing blows.
I’m advocating blitzing to contain in a very targeted way while ruthlessly trying to expose Oklahoma’s edge blockers. On every single down.
It doesn’t have to get stale or predictable. Texas can drop those edge defenders into hot routes. Drop 1/Bring 1. Bring both. A lot of this is old school 3-4 philosophy using nickel personnel. Hell, drop both, then have the defensive line run T/E stunt games with mugged ILBs as a change up. Get those tackles thinking and turning their shoulders. Texas doesn’t need Lawrence Taylor outside to make an impact.
Guards playing offensive tackle on a big stage, struggling with doubt/technique, constant pressure, and smaller, faster defenders running past them, can and will fold like a cheap suit. Technique deteriorates and mental errors compound. It also short circuits the offense before it really gets started.
Texas can also run these isolating pressures on the Sooner tackles with only four or five men committed to the rush. Orlando doesn’t have to zero blitz or engage inadvisable tactics that expose the Horns to 70 yard screens and Riley’s specialty single read skill shots. This is safe pressure. Targeted pressure. On the weakest link in the chain.
That game plan has a real chance of hurting OU’s offense before it even gets started and forcing Hurts into throws and decisions he hasn’t had to make all year. It’s imperative to teach the outside pressure guys to come at a proper angle and blitz with containment - not just fly by Hurts and leave the entire side of the field open.
Oklahoma is one of the most penalized teams in the country (129th out of 130). OL holding and personal fouls are a large reason why. The Oklahoma OL holds constantly. This is a feature, not a bug. OU understands that they have a big play offense and that their makeshift OL is more massive than skilled, so getting away with five holds to every one called is an exchange they’ll take every time as it’s going to result in net points and yards over the course of a game. How the officials choose to deal with this will be significant in the game outcome, but there’s also a tremendous onus placed on Texas defenders.
Defensive linemen and linebackers consent to being held by stopping their feet and failing to create the obvious separation that highlights the hold, thus effectively forcing a referee to acknowledge it. The Texas rush philosophy - in combination with containment imperatives - should reflect this.
Texas won’t earn holding calls without attempting to expose OU’s edge blocking. Because they are OU’s worst offenders. Because they will be dealing with speed. Because it’s not their natural position. Because it’s a huge stage and the most important game of the year. Because it’s the easiest holding to detect.
Does Texas have the fundamentals to execute this plan flawlessly? I don’t think Texas has the fundamentals on defense to execute any game plan flawlessly. Tackling and angles have been poor and unit cohesion has lacked. That’s reality. But sometimes simple, aggressive and fast is the cure.
Texas should opt for the game plan that puts relentless focus on Oklahoma’s weakest links rather than play it honest, giving OU’s offensive line a free pass and Jalen Hurts free passing lanes.