Wednesday, November 18, 2015

How Oklahoma ended Baylor's 20 game home winning streak

Oklahoma at Baylor was probably the biggest game of the season for the Big 12 because it firmly established that the Baylor dynasty is on hiatus for a year. This team can't win the Big 12 with a true freshman QB, although I'd venture a guess that this QB will probably win a Big 12 title before his career is over.

We don't yet know if OU can win the Big 12 either, it's looking more and more like a two- or three-way tie at the top might be in the cards. One. Two. Three. True. Champion(s).

We'll talk more about that later, for now I'll break down how exactly the Sooners finally broke through against the Bears.

1. They were finally able to score on Baylor's defense

Over the last two seasons the Sooners haven't been balanced or skilled enough on offense to attack Baylor's aggressive, Sparty-inspired brand of 4-3 Over/Cover 4 defense. The nature of the Bears' defense is such that if you get behind and show weakness they will absolutely swarm you with press coverage on the outside and flat-footed safeties coming downhill to outnumber your run.

Well thanks to Baker Mayfield, the Sooner offense is now quite balanced and capable of requiring that you commit numbers to multiple areas of the field to shut them down.

Before the game I noted Mayfield's ability to create off-schedule plays with his feet was going to be a tough challenge for a Bear defense that pairs a backfield at its best playing two-deep zone with a defensive line that can't get consistent pressure without blitzing.

Baylor ended up with three sacks, but they failed to contain Mayfield and he made several plays either scrambling for first downs (or penalties) or buying time before finding Sterling Shephard.

The Sooner WR was probably the biggest problem Baylor had and Lincoln Riley moved him all over to punish the Bear DBs not named Xavien Howard. Shephard ended the game with 16 targets, 14 catches, 177 yards, and two touchdowns. That's 11 yards per target.

With formations like this the Sooners could ask challenging questions of the Baylor defense, particularly with Shephard as the man in the slot. Do you bracket him with the weakside linebacker and safety ("R" Stewart) or try and man him up with the safety and allow Rocket to fly to the ball to stop Perine?

They'd do the same thing to the field side and hit Shepard three different times with seven routes (a deep out) against three different Baylor DBs (Burt, Waz, and Singleton) most often with a "snag" route combo:

The goal with this concept is either to get easy yardage on the flat or "snag" route underneath if the underneath defenders carry the vertical route by the slot or else to get that slot in a favorable match-up downfield against the safety. Covering that route is a very tough challenge for the field safety, which is why Baylor tends to go with a more coverage-minded athlete at that position.

Throwing that seven route to the field is a challenge though, but one that Mayfield was up for. Chance Waz and Travon Blanchard are solid zone defenders and tacklers but they're not up for handling a combo like Mayfield-Shephard on a field seven route.

Samaje Perine also had a great day simply because he's freaking hard to tackle if the OL can give him anything close to a crease and some momentum to work with. They were able to do so and Orlando Brown did a respectable job of staying between Shawn Oakman and the ball, even if he couldn't stop the freakish DE from getting a lot of penetration.

Andrew Billings was a big problem for OU as well but Perine routinely broke tackles from Baylor's unblocked run defenders. Such is life.

So Oklahoma was able to keep pace with Baylor, but that probably wasn't the biggest problem for Baylor.

2. The Sooner DL won the line of scrimmage

There were a few problems in the trenches for the Bears which added up to a difficult night for a unit that was trying to protect Jarrett Stidham from having to win the game by himself.

Obviously Linwood had a good day, with 21 carries for 103 yards, but the Baylor offense isn't designed to move the ball methodically on the ground. They're designed to blow the game open with the passing game and OU was content to allow Linwood to do 100 yards worth of damage without committing extra numbers to the run knowing that this wouldn't result in Baylor scoring enough points to win a shootout.

Here's the Bears' best running play this year, which they of course will combine with WR screens, H-back blocks, and even downfield routes:

Here's why it's Baylor's best play: You force the defense to commit numbers out wide to the field, away from the trenches in order to stop the bubble screen from picking up easy yardage, you get Coleman in a 1-on-1 match-up on the backside to run whatever route is most likely to yield results, and then you have a running play with down blocks and your best OL (Spencer Drango) leading into the hole for the RB.

This play yielded some results on the first drive for Baylor, and then OU shut it down. How? In part because their odd front required Baylor to win some battles on base blocks without the benefit of angles. In that match-up, Charles Walker dominated the Bears' right tackle Pat Colbert, their nose tackle often squeezed the gap closed as well working against Fuller, and the right guard Jarell Broxton also struggled to connect on OU's LBs at the second level.

The Bears then tried to run this play to the left side with Colbert as the lead blocker, but Colbert would regularly whiff trying to block the play-side linebacker whereas Drango is dependable at finding and connecting.

Ironically, when DE Matt Dimon was kicked out for his egregious attempt to kick the Baylor long-snapper (you sure picked a real threat to neutralize there, Dimon) it probably hurt the Bears because it meant more snaps for Walker, who's probably the second best DE/3-technique DL in the conference (Hassan Ridgeway).

But then, this is why you carry a 410 pound TE on campus, right? To come in and mash skulls when you're struggling to win the line of scrimmage, right?

Well it turns out that Laquon McGowan is a terrible football player who routinely misses blocks. I counted one series where he whiffed on his assignment three consecutive times. Here's one of the more egregious examples that got him relegated to the bench:

The Bears had to turn to Gus Penning, which helped greatly, but by then it was becoming too late to try and blow open the game with running plays and Stidham had a costly pick that sealed Baylor's fate anyways. I'd expect to see more of Penning in the coming weeks, save for maybe on the goal line where McG's massive paws are still an asset and opposing defenders are easier to find and block.

3. The Sooners took away Corey Coleman

Oklahoma started out with a plan to keep some numbers in the box to stop the run, since they assumed (and I did as well) that an honest six-man box would probably perform well enough against a Baylor run game that's used to bullying undermanned fronts.

They had an evolving plan for stopping Coleman from abusing them for this strategy. If Baylor brought four receivers on the field then the Sooners would match up in man coverage with Jordan Thomas on Coleman and a little bit of help coming from the middle of the field and underneath:

When Baylor would bring a TE on the field, the Sooners still bracketed Coleman with an OLB underneath and Thomas over the top and would drop Steven Parker down on the slot, still in man coverage.

Jordan Thomas had some help, but he also just had to be able to run with Coleman without getting beat and he did a great job in the first half. In the second half, OU felt comfortable enough with how things were going in the trenches to just play more Cover 2 and bracket Coleman the traditional way without fear that a 5.5 man front would get gashed by the run.

Coleman finished the day with three catches for 51 yards. That ain't no way to win a shootout.

It was clear that Stidham's comfort level with the Baylor passing game beyond the RPOs that make up a good chunk of the offense is still not there yet. The Bears run a ton of option routes that he will someday be murderous with but against the Sooners he threw a curl straight at Zach Sanchez when Cannon was running a slant.

Moving forward, the Bears need to improve his comfort level throwing these routes to Jay Lee and K.D. Cannon because the road doesn't get any easier with trips to Stillwater and Ft. Worth and teams aren't going to stop bracketing Coleman. I think a 9-3 outcome is most likely for the Bears unless Boykin and Doctson are seriously limited.

Next Saturday we get OU-TCU in Norman and Baylor-OSU in Stillwater. If there's going to be the threat of a three-way tie we'll know it when the dust settles from those two contests.


  1. Actually a 3-way tie is not mathematically possible . . . BUT . . . a 4-way tie is possible if OSU loses both of their games and Baylor wins the next two and then loses to Texas.

  2. Take away Linwood's opening gain of 34 yds and that average (70 yds, 20 att) is pretty poor. Great job by OU's defense.

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