Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Checking in on the Big 12 after week 8

In my estimation, week 8 was pretty ho-hum in the Big 12 unless you didn't already trust trends like Oklahoma finding ways to outscore everyone, Texas blowing it on the road, or West Virginia proving to be legit.

Here were a few highlights I took away from the weekend's events

Patrick Mahomes night in Lubbock was pretty amazing and fun to observe if you're not an Oklahoma fan. A line of 88 passes for 734 yards, five TD passes, 1 INT, 12 rushes for 85 rushing yards, and two rushing TDs is simply an amazing thing.

There's a lot of criticism floating around out there against Texas Tech from people saying that you can't win football games having your quarterback throw 88 times and leaving your defense out to dry...well they came pretty close. What's more, Oklahoma was a 19.5 point favorite and had a lot of advantages in this contest.

Coming at the Tech strategy from the perspective of "well they came within seven points, what would have put them over the top?" is reasoning backwards from the conclusion. Particularly when your takeaway is that the only thing that gave Tech a chance, which was Mahomes doing insane things, was part of the problem.

I'm going to pause now and note that Brent Venables' strategy for Tech would have been to bring an endless array of blitzes that aimed to keep Mahomes from winning the edge while sitting good tacklers in the middle of the field to run him down if he was flushed up the middle. You can get burned deep playing like that, but if you're going to try and win in a shootout anyways you might as well take the risk of getting burned in exchange for shutting Tech out on multiple possessions.

Anyways it all worked out for the Sooners and so long as Okoronkwo is back after the Kansas game I anticipate they'll continue to find ways to make enough stops to allow their now no. 1 rated O (per S&P+) to win them shootouts.

Mahomes is now at:

360 passes for 3313 yards, 9.2 yards per attempt, 26 TDs, and 6 INTs with
75 rushes for 237 yards and nine TDs (before taking out sack yardage).

He might be the most dominant QB the Big 12 has seen since Vince Young. Later on we're going to have to talk about that Red Raider defense, which is not fulfilling David Gibbs' mission to complement Mahomes by generating turnovers.

Mahomes may have been hampered by injury when he played against West Virginia but Kenny Hill wasn't and the Mountaineers shut him down. Only 4.8 yards per pass for an ordinarily explosive Horned Frog passing game against Tony Gibson's "all or nothing" defense.

If you listened to that full show with Jeff Postus that I was featured on you'll have heard a Mountaineer insider talk about how Florida transfer Will Grier has looked in practices at West Virginia. When you add up the Mountaineers great season, the program and staff they have in place on offense and defense, and the returning talent in 2017 you have a convincing case for Dana Holgorsen to stick around in Morgantown.

In the meantime, I've got the Mountaineers as the 2nd most likely team to win the Big 12 behind Oklahoma. Keep in mind that this team is playing both Baylor and Oklahoma at home.

I recently broke down Texas' abysmal performance in run defense over the last few years and particularly in Manhattan last Saturday at Inside Texas, so let's talk a little Wildcat football.

The Kansas State D played Texas reasonably well, although they bit on the customary "wheel route to Devin Duvernay" that seems to generate exactly six points every single week for Texas. The Wildcat strategy was very predictable as they alternated between playing off coverage on the boundary and dropping Kendall Adams in the box or playing him in cover 2 while playing off to the field to allow Dante Barnett to attack the box.

Either way, they played to contain the run and prevented Texas RB D'Onta Foreman from explosive runs although they couldn't deny him his typical 100+ yard rushing day.

The Wildcats probably win this game in a blowout if Jesse Ertz is healthy and doesn't turn the ball over twice down the stretch. Overall the Wildcats looked solid and I'd say there's a chance they make some noise down the stretch if Ertz is healthy and on track. They should be able to beat Iowa State in Ames on Saturday and Kansas at home, which would give them four conference wins. Their other games are Oklahoma State in Manhattan, Baylor in Waco, and TCU in Ft. Worth.

Winning 2 out of 3 from that slate would be really impressive. The big question though is what Bill Snyder will do. Will he finish strong and stick around one more year to coach a 2017 offense that will return Ertz, Pringle, Heath, 4/5 of the OL, and most of the backs? Or will he choose to retire?

If he retires, will Jerry Kill be the one making the call on how to replace him? If so, I've an inkling of who the next coach in Manhattan will be.

My sense of how week nine in the Big 12 will go:

Baylor comes out of the gate and puts a hurting on Texas, the Longhorns are unable to get back in the game. More on this later in the week at Inside Texas.

Texas Tech comes up short once more in their road trip to Ft. Worth.

OU looks to heal up at multiple positions but still destroys Kansas because Joe Mixon is the best player on the field.

If West Virginia is going to drop a road game this will be the one. Mike Gundy will have a good plan for attacking Gibson's defense but the question is whether Oklahoma State has enough athletes to stop the Mountaineer offense? More on this at Seventh Day Adventure later this week.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Eternal recurrence and the Texas v K-State series

If you're familiar with Nietzsche's concept of "eternal return" then you probably know where this is going...

My Texas vs K-State preview! Free of charge!

Auburn is finally great at defense

Just in the nick of time, because their offense has needed some margin while Malzahn tries to develop a new QB.

Read up on what it would look like if a good 4-2 Over-quarters defense like Baylor or K-State had SEC West caliber talent.

What if Trevone Boykin had played for Nick Saban at Alabama?

It's a horrifying hypothetical no one wanted to know the answer to, but it seems we are going to find out. Over at SB Nation I wrote about how Alabama has built their offense, and inside zone run game, to feature Jalen Hurts' spectacular skills.

Check it out and offer up your lamentations.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

What did we actually learn from Texas' win over Iowa State

Over at Inside Texas I broke down the Longhorn victory over Iowa State and talked about how much it actually means.

Included in the article is a big picture breakdown of how the game went down, details on the scheme that Texas has been using to combine Buechele's ability to throw deep to the boundary, the Texas run game, and Devin Duvernay's speed, and notes on the state of the Texas D.

Check it out for free!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Monday check-up on the B12: Noting WV and talking K-State O

The biggest takeaway from week 7 in the Big 12?
West Virginia did something very interesting by going into Lubbock and smacking the Red Raiders around to such a degree that Kliff Kingsbury felt the need to apologize to the Texas Tech community.

It seems plain enough that Pat Mahomes wasn't 100%, thanks to a shoulder injury he's currently playing through, but West Virginia still whipped the Red Raiders at the point of attack and held them to 6.9 yards per pass attempt in a 48-17 stomping.

I'll have to deep dive into this film later on but I think we can at least take note that West Virginia is playing pretty good football right now. And as I noted when breaking down their defense recently, they get Baylor, TCU, and OU all in Morgantown.

Their OL was already pretty good a year ago and returned virtually everyone while adding Joe Wickline's oversight on their development. Skyler Howard was starting to find the range of an athletic WR corps at the end of 2015 and he returned, as did that skill talent.

Baylor continued to overcome shoddy accuracy from Seth Russell thanks to a run game that is really hard to stop. It'll be interesting to see how that holds up against teams with good enough DBs to play man coverage and load the box without giving up too many points to allow them to match points on the scoreboard with Baylor. Right now I'm not buying them as B12 champs but some of that is simply due to a difficult schedule ahead that takes them on the road to Norman and Morgantown.

Oklahoma smashed Kansas State, but this outcome was heavily influenced by Jesse Ertz being knocked out of the game. I was talking Wildcat football recently with Tye Burger of Bring On the Cats in a long-running email thread we have and discussing the issues with K-State's offense.

Right now Wildcat fan is reaching near and far for solutions that could fix their ailing offense which is threatening to waste one of Snyder's better defenses. One hopeful solution I've heard many times is putting in running QB Alex Delton to just run a full-time spread-option attack similar to what Ohio State is running with J.T. Barrett.

I see two considerable problems with that notion, one is that it would waste a WR corps that is actually pretty good, to say nothing of all the practice reps that have gone into the Wildcats' pass protection schemes and passing game in general.

Another problem is that it would make the Wildcat offense rather predictable and one-dimensional. Texas attempted this last year with Jerrod Heard at the helm and arguably better overall personnel than K-State has right now at OL or RB. It worked okay for a while until Iowa State cheated them by loading the box with seven and triggering both safeties downhill at the hint of run-action.

Texas couldn't punish them with the screen or passing game and were subsequently shut out.

Kansas State's offense is currently designed to run clock while sustaining drives with steady gains so as to shorten the game and limit the possessions that opposing offenses have to get after their own defense or come out ahead in the percentages from throwing the ball around. They achieve that result by having a huge arsenal of formations and concepts that they can utilize to hit weak spots in defenses and allow their own team to come out ahead in the limited number of possessions that occur over the course of the game.

Playing that style requires a team of veterans on both sides of the ball who are intelligent, versatile, and highly disciplined. Currently Kansas State only has that on defense while their offense features youth and inexperience at QB, WR, and OL.

They'd be in better shape if Jesse Ertz had played last season as they intended, but he blew out his knee. They'd be in okay shape this year if Jesse Ertz didn't keep getting hurt as he has the versatile collection of skills necessary to run such a diverse offense. You can see him getting close to figuring things out at times only to be thwarted by drops, poor blocking, or injuries.

All that to say, Kansas State's system makes a great deal of sense and is being held back by the fact that they haven't consistently had QBs on the roster for the past two years that could execute a very challenging and QB-centric offense. Here's some alternative universes where this wouldn't be a problem in Manhattan:

1) Jesse Ertz didn't have injury problems and was currently executing a system he understood very well, carrying the water for a young OL and WR corps and pointing towards a hopeful future on offense.

2) K-State had signed a JUCO QB in 2014, 2015, or 2016 that could have learned the ropes and executed this offense at a basic, functioning level if not better than Ertz.

3) Alex Delton had mastered this "kitchen sink" offense by now so that the Wildcats had a more athletic one-dimensional back-up than Joe Hubener.

As it stands, K-State instead opted to sign Delton in 2015 and Skylar Thompson in 2016, which was basically the equivalent to betting on Ertz and hoping to develop talented youth behind him. If he was healthier, this would look like a great move, but he hasn't been so it hasn't looked so good.

If I could play the role of Capt. Hindsight for a moment, I'd say that K-State should be looking in Texas more for the types of versatile, gritty, undersized QBs with a high mental capacity for complexity that make this offense work. It's not as though there's a shortage of such players in Texas, after all Kansas State didn't offer Baker Mayfield either.

Dana Dimel gets a lot of criticism in Manhattan these days, which I think is rather silly given the brilliance of their offense and the obvious oversight that Bill Snyder has over it. However, if there's a criticism to be made it's that they haven't found enough QBs that can execute their system over the last few years despite the obvious fact that this system is rather hard on the physical health of the guys who play the position.

It'll be interesting to see if Ertz is healthy for the home game against Texas this coming weekend, if he is then I suspect some of these criticisms will pass away for at least a week.

Big 12 Power rankings:

1) Oklahoma
2) West Virginia
3) Baylor
4) TCU
5) Oklahoma State
6) Kansas State
7) Texas
8) Texas Tech
9) Iowa State
10) Kansas

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Friday, October 14, 2016

Why I don't think Ohio State can win the title

Big 10 or national, specifically due to the limitations of QB JT Barrett. Read more at football study hall here.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Talking West Virginia and Big 12 defense with ESPN 102.3

Jeff Postus (@JPostusBGS) had me on the radio in West Virginia on 102.3 the Ticket to talk West Virginia defense and how to evaluate modern defense against Big 12 competition.
I've been thinking since that interview and have determined that some useful stats to measure Big 12 defensive performance should probably include points per play, TDs per possession, 3rd down conversion rates, and yards per play. Defensive S&P aims to evaluate many of these factors so it'd definitely helpful in this regard.

A good Big 12 defense is basically one that can force an offense to play left-handed when it matters without giving up easy, explosive plays as a result.

You can do those two things and still give up 20-30 points fairly regularly.

Michigan secondary, best in the nation?

I think so, and argued as much at SB Nation. Check it out here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Reviewing the Red River Shootout

I gained some respect for the Sooners in this year's Red River Shootout. Sure, the Longhorns came in with a terrible defense trying to execute a terrible plan and were blown away by the OU offense. Still, the Sooners did a very good job of scheming the Texas offense and offering the blueprint that future opponents will undoubtedly apply.

With Steven Parker, Jordan Thomas, and Obo Okoronkwo on the field there's probably enough firepower and athleticism on this OU defense to create margin for their offense to outscore every team in this league. With TCU's home less to the Sooners (and CB problems) and my current uncertainty about Seth Russell (especially performing on the road in Norman) I'm naming the Sooners my favorite to win the league this year.

Read my Red River Shootout break down FOR FREE over at Inside Texas.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Breaking down West Virginia's all or nothing D

I'm becoming a big fan of Tony Gibson. Over at Football Study Hall I broke down the reasoning behind West Virginia's unique style of defense, which is proving pretty effective once against despite having to replace nearly every starter in the defensive backfield.

With OU, Baylor, and TCU all having to travel to Morgantown this season if this D can have a strong year and Skyler Howard can keep plugging away, West Virginia could finish in the top 3 in the conference.

Detailing the success of Washington's D against the McCaffrey Cardinal

Read up over at SB Nation!

Their next challenge, which I'll preview some in my Football Outsiders "7th day adventure" column, is stopping the Oregon Ducks.

I'm not sure that will go as swimmingly as their game against Stanford went, because the cover 3 schemes that Washington seems to prefer this year face a stiff challenge in dealing with a good spread-option team with a running QB, as Arizona demonstrated two weeks ago.

While quarters teams can converge on the ball with two deep safeties, a cover 3 team that's matching the outside receivers and has a single deep defender trying to stay on top of everything faces a stiffer challenge in stopping an option attack. It's doable, but the Huskies didn't do it very well against Arizona. If they can shore up the play of their front 6 well enough to shut down Oregon I'm not sure who else will stand in their way as they aim for a Pac-12 title and playoff berth.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Monday morning check-up on the Big 12

Let's start by talking about the elephant in the room after week 5 in the Big 12, Texas got lambasted by Oklahoma State thanks to shoddy play on defense and shoddier work coaching and gameplanning for the Cowboys.

I'm stunned that Texas' defensive staff, which was supposed to be the strength of the Charlie Strong era, determined that the best plan of action for handling a spread passing team that mixes in tight ends in a half-decent, single-back zone run game would be to journey back in time to the 80's and go with a true 3-4 defense.

You can't play the 3-4 in the Big 12 unless one of your "outside linebackers" is someone like Eric Striker or Travon Blanchard, and unless you can cover up for them on the back end with multiple DBs that can play great man coverage. Even 3-4 teams like Stanford and Wisconsin regularly roll with the 2-4-5 when they have multiple OLBs they want to keep on the field against spread formations.

Texas went with the 3-4 instead, despite not being loaded with OLBs so good you can't take them off the field and despite the fact that the defense has played a different base package every week and blown multiple coverages every week.

Now DC Vance Bedford has been demoted and Charlie is basically rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. This is the fourth consecutive season that Texas has gone into the Red River Shootout with the program on the verge of falling apart. In the case of the last three years, the external threat of the Oklahoma Sooners galvanized the Longhorns into their best efforts of those respective seasons. God only knows what'll happen this time.

Speaking of challenges that galvanize a program, Oklahoma finally came through and took down TCU on the road in a huge win for the Sooners. I'll be breaking this one down later but from what I witnessed, this win was largely about the Oklahoma offense playing up to it's potential and the defense taking JUST enough away from the TCU attack to pull out a win.

The Sooners hardly look like world beaters, but if they can play decent defense from week to week and keep pouring it on opponents with Joe Mixon leading the way then they're as good a pick as anyone else to win the Big 12. Obo Okoronkwo is proving to be worthy of the featured pass-rushing role, which was one of my big questions about this team.

The Sooners don't really have any lack for athletes on defense, it's really just a matter of skills development in the secondary, overall deployment, and perhaps weekly preparation. If TCU could have traded defensive rosters with Oklahoma before last spring the Frogs would be locks to win the Big 12.

Baylor is still a potential Big 12 title winner and survived a scare in Ames, IA in which Matt Campbell figured out how to get after their defense. I'll have to take a look to see how he did it, but obviously it didn't matter thanks to porous Iowa State defense that Baylor ran over for almost 500 rushing yards.

There was a ton of consensus in the world of Longhorn football analysis that last year's Bear run game was the product of a phenomenal, veteran OL. Now the Bears certainly had some good players in that group, but I was always more than a little skeptical of the notion that the Baylor run game would seriously falter after plugging in four new starters. This scheme makes run blocking rather simple and Baylor has been plugging and playing in the run game for about a decade now.

Between that and the run game, they seem plausible contenders for the Big 12, especially if they get some help from other teams on OU's schedule so it doesn't come down to winning in Norman. The biggest problem is that Seth Russell looks really shaky in terms of accuracy, what happens if someone can load the box and play man coverage on the Bear receivers? Can anyone even do that?

West Virginia might be capable and they are easily the most shocking story in the Big 12 right now. Hat tip to Dana Holgorsen for getting Skyler Howard up to speed in his version of the Air Raid, hat tip to Joe Wickline for keeping a strong OL going, full bow to DC Tony Gibson who had to replace almost his entire defense from 2016 and has his new unit playing good, aggressive football.

Kansas State's young offense wasn't quite up to the challenge of taking on the Mountaineers defense in Morgantown and a special teams tackle by one WV kid was the difference between Holgorsen barely losing another game to Snyder thanks to a kick return. Holgorsen should find a way to make sure that kid is rewarded.

We'll dive deeper into West Virginia later this week, they get Oklahoma, TCU, and Baylor in Morgantown and face road trips to Lubbock (probably without Mahomes), Stillwater (CBs can't run with Shelton Gibson), and Austin (openly discussing firing the coach already).

Right now I'd say Oklahoma, Baylor, and West Virginia are your conference favorites in that order. The Frogs aren't going away but their deficits at cornerback are proving decisive, the Longhorns have folded like a cheap tent, the Wildcats are a year away, and OSU is a very solid team that lacks enough high-powered talent to pull this off.