Friday, November 13, 2015

Previewing Oklahoma at Baylor: Pt II, when OU has the ball

At some point in the last few years Oklahoma went from being the dominant bully on the block that everyone is afraid of to being this decade's version of the 2000's Mack Brown Texas Longhorn team.

After getting physically whipped by their rival, the Charlie Strong Longhorns (who are largely incompetent at this stage but plenty violent in the Cotton Bowl), the Sooners were perfectly set up for a recovery run before traveling to Waco to take on the league's new big dog.

The Sooner schedule has played out since that defeat as follows:

@Kansas State: 55-0 victory
Texas Tech: 63-27 victory
@Kansas: 62-7 victory
Iowa State: 52-16 victory

Those are arguably the four worst teams in the Big 12 and the two better squads in that group had to play in Norman. However, the Sooners took great advantage of this easy stretch to settle on their run game identity, develop a new nickel package that could be useful against Baylor, and tinker with their OL.

In particular, they've been able to get Samaje Perine and the run game going just in time to face their brutal concluding stretch of @Baylor, TCU, and then @Oklahoma State.

Perine's performance in the first five games of the year was dulled as the Sooner OL was struggling to control the line of scrimmage in some of Lincoln Riley's new gap schemes. In those five games he had 82 carries for 364 yards, 4.4 yards per carry, and three touchdowns.

In the four games since Perine has carried the ball 58 times for 442 yards at 7.6 yards per carry and with seven touchdowns. Backfield mate Joe Mixon has also taken off in this time with 45 carries for 359 yards, 7.5 yards per carry, and four touchdowns.

With this rekindled identity and balance on offense, Oklahoma is now hoping to do what they haven't been able to do in either of the last two seasons and keep pace with the Baylor offense.

Big bodies will collide when OU runs the football

The OU run game has become fairly diverse in scope but is now largely focused around zone blocking, which has been a better fit for their personnel. They're probably at their best in 20 personnel groupings with three WRs and both Perine and Mixon on the field but they also have some solid options in fullback Dmitri Flowers and TE Mark Andrews to mix in as well. Their formational versatility and the versatility of both Perine and Mixon gives them a lot of flexibility for how they can attack opponents.

A big question for them this week will be what they do at left guard with former starter Jonathan Alvarez back from an ankle injury. While he's been out they've been playing the 6'8" 339 pound converted tackle, Derek Farniok and running a lot of "stretch C" blocking where Farniok blocks down while the rest of the OL executes standard reach blocks and center Ty Darlington pulls around the edge:

A scheme like this raises a dozen questions for this OU-Baylor match-up. Let's stay with the theme of left guard as this scheme requires that the left guard (when run to this side) be able to control Baylor nose tackle Andrew Billings.

If Jonathan Alvarez is back in action they'll probably want to support his 6'3" 297 pound self against Billings with a double team rather than pulling Darlington (only 6'2" 285 himself) around the edge to try and find Taylor Young (Rocket) in space.

The success of Alvarez and Darlington in double teaming Billings and then sealing off linebackers to create cutback lanes could be one of the most crucial factors in this football game. Now seems a good time to mention that Billings is also coming off an ankle injury.

Then there's big issue number two here, the edge block by OU left tackle Orlando Brown against Baylor right defensive end Shawn "I am Groot" Oakman.

Oakman is used to being able to totally dominate opponents virtually at will with his absurd 6'9" 275 pound athletic frame. Well, Brown may be a young guy as a redshirt freshman, but he's also a pretty big guy. At 6'8" 342 and shockingly light on his feet, Orlando Brown is going to test Oakman in ways he's not accustomed to. If Oakman wants to get paid next summer he'll show strong in this one.

Finally there's what happens if and when Oklahoma gets Samaje Perine on the edge. Will Baylor prefer to play more standard cover 2 on the boundary with the corner responsible for forcing the run? Or will they bring rover Orion Stewart down aggressively and how will he handle trying to tackle Perine?

That's three "strength on strength" match-ups on only play concept and it's hard to say with great confidence who will gain the advantage in any instance.

Oklahoma could also try to run more power or inside zone schemes but the best way to take advantage of Billings, if he's hurt, and to leverage the strengths of their own OL is with stretch blocking that forces him to move his feet while potentially springing Perine to the edge where he was an absolute terror in 2014.

For the Bears, it's all about Billings and their run defense takes several steps back when he's not in the game. They do have several good run support players though starting with Taylor Young, who's brilliant when covered up by his nose tackle, and also including their very solid safety tandem of Chance Waz and Orion Stewart.

The Bears will usually look to outnumber the run and bring Stewart into cutback lanes so that Young can just run to the football with reckless abandon and it's difficult to punish them for this approach without throwing the ball.

Baker Mayfield vs the Bear pass defense

The biggest weakness to this OU offense is their pass protection and breakdowns there tend to highlight the best and worst of who Baker Mayfield is as a quarterback.

At this point the Sooners are now starting true freshman Dru Samia opposite redshirt freshman Orlando Brown at right tackle after Texas absolutely abused Josiah St. John. Their OL is not full of guys who thrive against the blitz and Mayfield is still learning to hit hot routes rather than trying to make something happen with his legs.

What has made OU dangerous this year is that Mayfield is very effective at escaping pressure and either scrambling for yardage or finding receivers on the run. He has great lateral quickness and can win the edge against most defenders, particularly when using the threat of a throw downfield with his more than respectable arm strength.

Texas abused them because they were able to get pressure all day long while fielding multiple linebackers that were faster than Baker Mayfield when he tried to scramble. There aren't any great solutions for the Bears here, who have had a weak pass rush all year, unless they want to bring Rocket-Groot blitz combos all day. While it's easiest to attack the Sooners on the right side of their OL, the Bears simply don't have great personnel there.

They're probably better off trying to contain Mayfield in the pocket and hoping the rush can get home with time.

The other big worry for the Bears is pass coverage, where they've not been great in 2015. Bennett has diversified the coverages that the Bears will play this year, mixing in some tampa-2 looks that frankly haven't gone that well (Grant Campbell isn't the best guy for defending the seam) and trying to keep safeties Stewart and Waz in two-deep zones where they aren't asked to pick up players in man coverage. They'll also leave their corners on islands at times and have seen mixed results from this approach.

The problem for the Bears has been that what their defensive backfield is best at, sitting in zone and rallying to the football, works best when the DL can consistently get pressure. The Bears' alternative means for getting pressure is zero-blitzes and they don't have anywhere close to good enough DBs in man coverage to pull this off without getting burned.

They definitely don't want to ask any of their safeties to spend quality time playing man coverage on Sterling Shephard, who will be the best WR Baylor has faced this season and may prove to be the best WR they face all year depending on how healthy Josh Doctson is when Baylor rolls into Ft. Worth. Shephard can run by weak corners, is effective coming back and getting open when Mayfield scrambles, and will also move inside and run crossing routes and seam stretchers over the middle of the field.

The Bears best hope of containing him is to be able to play both safeties deep all day long and play bend don't break, but that will require their corners and nickel to be very effective at stopping the run, which takes us back to the question of Brown vs Oakman and Billings vs the double team.


There's a reason the line on this game is only Baylor -2.5 and the most likely result of this game is that Oklahoma is able to do a much better job of keeping pace with the Bears and the whole game comes down to whether Mike Stoops has schemed Stidham well or if the freshman is ready to make plays on a big stage.

Oklahoma has enough strength across their offense to take on the strength of the Bears' defense and between Baylor's lack of pass rush and Mayfield's effective scrambling there's likely to be some fireworks when the Sooners throw the ball.

At the same time, if Baylor gets a great game from Billings and can play more cover 2 then they have a great chance to keep the OU offense from turning this into a shootout played in the 40s.

Since I have no faith left in Mike Stoops, I'm expecting Stidham to stave off a game effort from Mayfield with something in the realm of a 38-33 victory in Waco.

This Big 12 season is about to get crazy.

1 comment:

  1. I agree. OU's offensive efficiency, particularly the running game, has the ability to turn the tide in this game. November upsets are frequently the result of injuries causing regression of favored teams, and the Billings/Alvarez situation is prime example of this.

    OU switching to the zone blocking strategy was an acknowledgment of their limitations and has proven useful. Perine is actually proving to be a pretty able blocker when paired with Mixon.

    OU's best position grouping now has Mixon, Perine, and Andrews on the field. These players are able to align from 10 to 21 and run, provide effective blocking on bubble screens, and threaten deep. Perine is improving at blitz pickup.

    Baylor's offense should put up points, at least 30 - 35. OU will probably allow Stidham to beat them with his legs, if the Bears dare run him (Ok St, TCU still to come).

    This year, OU's offense is potent enough to match them if the OL is competent in pass blocking and can give Mixon/Perine just a crease.

    The game is pick'em for a reason. It'll be decided by field position, turnovers, and injuries.