Crucial themes for 2014 Texas-OU

Texas-OU. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Texas-OU. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Over the last few years, I’ve become something of an Oklahoma scholar. What started as me studying Texas’ main rival has turned into me watching most of their games, which means that I’ve become very familiar with their team and strategies.

Here’s the main themes I’m seeing in this football game that will determine how it goes.

When Oklahoma is on offense:

1. Malcom Brown will be the best player on the field

This will probably be true in every game Texas plays this year and it’s a major advantage. In this game though, he’ll be matched by the strength of the OU team.

Their guards and tackles are very good and very big, which will unfortunately blunt Texas’ advantage here just a bit.

2. Texas is going to attack the center, Ty Darlington

He’s a good player and he totally dominated WV, but he’s the smallest Sooner OL at 6-foot-2, 286 lbs. Texas is going to come after him in two ways. One is just by making him walk the Green Mile half the game and proving he can handle Ridge’s size and speed. Secondly is with the 3-3 fronts that can bring a lot of heat up the A-gaps.

Steve Edmond was born to play the role of blitzing up the gut in the 3-3-5.

We know this will give up some runs, but as long as the surrendered runs are of the 3-8 yard variety and mixed in with TFLs then it’s a great strategy.

3. No more nickel, Texas needs a Sam

Oklahoma will run some 3-wide and 4-wide offense to be sure and make sure that Texas can handle the inside run/packaged with outside screen plays. They love to move Bell out wide and have him block for a WR on those plays.

However, their best look is Pistol set with Bell at TE and big Ripkowksi at FB and then PA and POP deep lobs to Sterling Shephard.

Texas’ best defensive looks include Diggs at the nickel but those won’t work against these mega-sets by Oklahoma. Jinkens needs to step up and have a big game or else Tevin Jackson or Naashon Hughes do.

Bell, the Yeti, has not fully put it together as a an inline blocker at TE so there are opportunities for the Sam if someone wants to show up.

4. Trevor Knight: Enigma

Trevor Knight will sometimes stare down receivers, if you make him go through progressions his mechanics get off and his accuracy gets off, he can really hurt his own team.

Knight can also get out of the pocket and either rip off a long run or fire a bullet downfield, he can throw a brilliant pass downfield off a quick drop and throw, and he’s a major threat in the QB run game.

You could get one or the other from play to play. Ultimately, if OU can run the ball you’re going to see more of Trevor Knight the playmaker who destroyed Alabama. For that reason, OU might utilize Knight in making that happen.

This would be the game where you might see Knight get 10-20 carries to test Texas’ option D. If Texas can stop the run, you could see bad Knight.

Texas is going to have to prove they can handle a run game with lead blockers and QB option elements, which means savvy LB play. Be sure that Oklahoma will test this.

5. Lockdown Sterling Shephard

If Texas can play man-to-man coverage on Shephard without getting torched like every other team has, then they can probably control this offense and keep the game within reach. If not? Then the game won’t be close.

When Texas is on offense:

1. Eric Striker will be the best player on the field

TCU figured out that if you play super wide splits with your receivers that you can remove Eric Striker from the box and OU’s pass rush suffers tremendously.

Of course now OU will be looking to mitigate this problem and prevent other teams from removing their best player from positions where he can attack.

Still, Texas can look to spread out the Sooners early and see if they can keep Striker away from Swoopes. OU might respond in one of two ways. One is just to play their old 3-3-5 nickel D from last year with Striker aligning in the boundary so he can’t be taken out of the equation with spacing.

They’d have to take Grissom off the field, which is probably why they haven’t done this often. Another is to adjust their 2-4-5 nickel set to play on standard downs. So far they’ve used it on passing downs but they need to show a run-stopping variety that can allow both Grissom and Striker to stay on the field.

If OU adjusts their anti-spread D to get out of the 3-4 and play a package that allows Striker to attack the LOS then Texas will have to put some bigger bodies out there to help in protection or he will destroy everything.

Of course, by forcing Texas out of the spread that may very well handicap Texas’ O enough even if he doesn’t get pressure.

2. Jordan Phillips vs Texas’ young OL

Unfortunately, he might be the 2nd best player on the field when Texas has the ball. He’s a massive nose tackle with serious quickness and power. Word on the street is that Texas is going to play Taylor Doyle at center to try and keep him out of the backfield.

Texas has to control Phillips and run the ball to stay in this game.

Meanwhile, the Perkins-James right side has a chance to do damage once again. OU has one of the stouter run fronts in the league but they can be moved. Their front is designed like Alabama’s to control the ball and limit yardage to 2-3 yards a pop. Their LBs get to the ball well, but they aren’t thickset like the Tide LBs and can be driven backwards by a power back.

Texas needs Doyle to put in a classic RRS performance and the young pups to eat well. You know Brown and Gray will come into this game with their minds right because we saw it last year and we saw it against Baylor.

Give them creases and they can do damage in this game.

3. OU’s soft spot is deep coverage

Zach Sanchez is learning that corner is a pretty tough position when Aaron Colvin isn’t on an island on the other side of the field. Sanchez may also be playing hurt. Julian Wilson, the opposite corner, is pretty good for a 6-foot-2 safety that was converted in the offseason but he’s far from elite and struggles with quicker receivers.

The Sooners have been afraid to challenge routes with these guys and their deep safety, Ahmad Thomas, is young and also non-elite in regards to his range. Swoopes has to find Harris or Marcus deep against these guys to help the Texas run game and to hit the soft spot of this defense.

If not, the Sooners will play an 8th man in the box and bring tons of varied pressures until Swoopes and Texas cough up the ball and allow the Sooners to turn this into a rout ala 2011.

4. Texas needs to attack the middle with play-action

This would be the game for Texas to get the tight ends involved in the passing game. If that ain’t gonna work, then play Harris or Shipley in the slot all day ala 2008 because Texas has to attack the safety in the seam.

It also needs to be done with play-action or POP because these LBs are quick, get deep drops, and Jordan Evans is 6-3 with active hands. Swoopes doesn’t have the touch to hurt them up the middle unless they are first sucked in with run action.

5. Daje Johnson

Has to be involved. OU always plays aggressive defense and they really love to play aggressive defense against Texas, whom they tend to scout with great diligence.

A good way to get an aggressive defense to back up? Creating multiple stress points with a freak athlete. Get Daje heavily involved in the game plan, make sure Koenning gets him on the field and make sure Swoopes is looking for him.

This is the most likely way for Texas to get explosive plays that keep them in the ball game. Make it easy Watson, just give 23 the ball.

Prognosis:

Since this is a physical and emotional game, it usually comes down to who can impose their will in the run game.

Oklahoma has the players and the tools to really test Texas’ run defense. They have a big OL and love to run behind big RT Daryl Williams and FB Aaron Ripkowski and they have a lot of vertical passing game to Shephard off this that can put you in the ground quick.

Meanwhile, Texas has to do all it can to control OU’s great front players and hope that future stars like James and Perkins can make another leap.

Smart money is on Oklahoma. Several of the likely outcomes include the Sooners either turning over Swoopes and turning this into a route or winning by suffocating the Longhorn offense for four quarters while slowly turning the game into a rout with a solid offensive effort that begins to accumulate points.

However, there are potential outcomes where Texas can run the ball and keep it close.

Texas really needs to see the Swoopes who makes plays downfield by buying time to throw, doesn’t turn the ball over when he gets hit, and has clearly been studying Oklahoma’s defensive film with great attentiveness. If that happens? All bets are off.

Otherwise, this veteran OU team will be much too strong for Texas right now.