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Oklahoma Offensive Success: A Preliminary Look

Though we are all anxious to see FSU's performance against Charleston Southern and don't want to overlook CSU, I think it's natural to begin to think more and more about the upcoming matchup with the Oklahoma Sooners. I decided to do a posting to discuss Oklahoma before we begin to concentrate on the previews in earnest next week.

For my first time to really do a larger posting (Bud kind of called me out, on women writing about football), l wanted to take a moment to start a discussion of Oklahoma, specifically on offense, by examine the following:

A) Though at first glance seemingly opposites, two possible reasons why Stoops and OU is successful on offense: Consistency & Change

2) What this could mean for the Noles in the looming match-up

D) What approach could FSU take in dealing with the effective OU machine?

Bob Stoops: A Creature of Consistency

While at OU, Stoops has to appear to consciously make choices to keep a high level of continuity on the offensive staff. Offensively after bringing Mike Leach in 1999 every OU offensive coordinator has been promoted from within the confines of the OU staff. The biggest advantage this has given the Sooners is consistency. For the most part terminology, concepts stay the same and the coordinators have an in-depth knowledge of personnel on both sides of the football. Through Leach, Mangino, Long, Wilson and Huepel/Norvell all of the OU coordinators are linked by a core system that one can make the intuitive leap has helped the Sooners maintain a level of consistency as Offensive Coordinators come and go and concepts get added and subtracted.

In fact, Stoops has been on record as saying about the Sooners offense, "We have remnants that go all the way back to '99. If Mike was here, he could still call the plays. There are plays we'll always have, but we've built everything else around it. All the run game. All the play-action. And fullback game."’

Bob Stoops: Agent of Change

As much as there has been consistency with the Sooners offense over the years, there has also been significant evolution and change beginning with the hiring of Mike Leach. Having gone against the quirky Air Raid offense at Kentucky while a DC at Florida and seeing how he was doing less with more, Stoops added Leach to his staff.

Before continuing, I encourage you to visit this nifty little article from Dr. Saturday (Chris Brown) as a refresher on the history & evolution of the OU offense (focusing on the running game). In particular, pay close attention to the descriptions and diagram of the inside zone, the outside zone (I’ll touch on this later).

It’s Stoops’ willingness to evolve with personnel while keeping its core skeleton of a system is what has set OU apart and arguably avoided the pitfalls that some of the other major programs have fallen into (Texas and Florida come to mind), trying to fit a square personnel peg into a round system hole.

As an aside, I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that not only did Stoops’ hiring of an offensive coordinator who had never played football changed OU’s fortunes but his success also helped shaped the Big 12 as well. Post hiring of Leach at OU, the use of spread formations (whether running or passing) became en-vogue throughout their regional footprint. The once bruising Big-12 had Ok State, Missouri, Texas Tech, Baylor, Kansas, Texas & Texas A&M all move more heavily to a version of the spread (whether Air Raid pass-happy, Read-option based or a hybrid of both) after OU’s success.

From implementing elements of the Air Raid, to adding zone plays, to increasing the tempo, the OU offense has evolved to challenge defenses. So what’s the next change/evolution on the horizon for the Sooners and what could this mean for the Seminoles when we meet in Tallahassee?

***

Diamonds are a Girl's (And Sooner Running Game’s) Best Friend

Late into the season last year, the Sooners offense unveiled heavy use of a wrinkle, an off shoot of the Nevada’s Pistol formation, the "Diamond" (Lining the QB 4 yards behind center, a running back lining up 3 yards behind the QB, adding a back to one side of the quarterback and second RB or H-Back/TE to the other side).

Want a closer look at OU's use of the Diamond in action? Here are two great breakdowns of the Sooners use of the formation last year against rival Oklahoma State: 

First, here’s a really exceptional OU Diamond Formation explanation vs. the Cowboys (who uses elements of it as well).

Second, here are some film edits of the Diamond in use from that same game

Remember the base zone plays referred to earlier? The Diamond allows OU to run some of the same plays with a little bit more misdirection if a QB has good ball handling abilities, which it appears Landry has become fairly consistent. Not to mention you can run some plays to allow the QB to hit short passes underneath to a RB on the move and in space – another staple of the general OU scheme dating back to Leach.

Though they didn’t originate the Diamond formation, its deployment by the Sooners is uniquely challenging. Follow the logic here for a second:

  • Because you can slide an H-Back or TE in the backfield you don’t necessarily know its coming based on personnel that initially comes on the field 
  • The pace they run their offense doesn’t allow for a lot of substitutions 
  • Lack of substitutions means you have to play with the personnel on the field and try to match the versatility of the formation
  • Pace also leads to fatigue, which makes opponents susceptible to not being disciplined and falling for the misdirection that that formation can provide and confusion can ensue

What this could mean for the Noles in the looming match-up?

I suspect that we’ll see still see plenty of multiple receiver bunch formations, as well as the Jet motion and an occasional shovel pass that have become OU staples.  But with an extra week to prepare, don’t be surprised to see Huepel/Norvell combination as OC, throw in some Diamond looks along wrinkles that go along with it. The Diamond is an example of how the OU offense has evolved and it’s something to keep an eye on as a possible wrinkle in the matchup with FSU that we did not really see last year.

What approach could FSU take in dealing with the OU Offensive machine and the possible changes or wrinkles they may provide? Perhaps Bo knows...

*** 

A "Corny" approach to defending the Sooners

I think the best illustration of one way that the Noles may attack the Sooners, is by mirroring the Bo Pelini approach used at Nebraska: Four athletic down linemen, linebackers with range and in some cases a linebacker/safety hybrid type of player who can cover receiving threats, general matchup coverage principles used by a secondary that has range and the ability to disguise exactly what coverage by the secondary the OC & QB sees.

Full disclosure, I’ve had some free time and with no real "film" on Charleston Southern and husband’s guidance we’ve watched some Nebraska vs. Oklahoma last year. Saw a lot of 4-3 with a mix of quarters and quarters to man coverage from behind and a lot of 4-2-5.

So as the adage goes, "You don’t stop the OU machine. You can only hope to contain it." Or rather, you decide what part of it you want to contain. Though Oklahoma beat Nebraska in the championship game, look at the numbers for a moment. While the Sooner had over 300 yards passing and 454 yards total offense, the Huskers "held" them to 23 points with OU needing a 4th quarter field goal to win it.  More importantly, down and distance is more telling. Oklahoma was 1-16 on third down conversions. Nebraska essentially, utilized personnel at LB and safety who could cover ground and stop the run and tackle the short stuff to keep it from being long as its first priorities, then really toughened their secondary coverage inside the 30s and not in the middle of the field and on obvious passing downs as its second. Pretty much the definition of bend but don’t break.

Here’s a link to the first half of the Big 12 Championship game from last year.

If you’re curious what Pelini did when OU moved to the aforementioned "Diamond" formation, move ahead to the 26:26-28:55 and the 54:49 marks

As close as FSU and Nebraska philosophically defensively, we’ll see how much our defense mimics what Nebraska does coverage wise, especially in down and distance situations. Personally, I think it comes down to three T’s:

A) Tempo - Handle the pace and difficulty substituting by have personnel on the field with tremendous range with the back seven defenders and depth on the front four to keep them fresh

2) Territory - Manage down and distance and OU gets closer to the red zone be more physical with receivers off the line. Basic boilerplate stuff

D) Tackling - As simple and basic as it seems, it is critical when playing against teams that get the ball to their athletes in space on the move. It’s not about making the "wow" hit. It’s about consistently being in the right position and making a secure tackle (Reid, Moody, Joyner, etc must be sound).

***

Summary 

What has made Bob Stoops and the Oklahoma been successful? You could point to a lot of things. Being THE state school in a football crazed region and having the facilities and money that come with it? Undoubtedly. Access to the talent rich DFW Metroplex in Texas to supplement recruiting? Absolutely. But OU football has had these before. Ultimately, the Sooners success has stemmed from a Head Coach who views his program as an organization with a core system but with the ability to adapt to changing times as needed. Its constant adaptation and evolution on offense is a perfect example.

With a whole summer to and a week off for OU to prepare for summer, I will be curious to see what the Sooners have in store and how FSU will choose to attack it.

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