Inside the Gameplan: Winning the RRS – Part II

Charlie Strong. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Charlie Strong. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Most Texas fans look back to the early 00’s as the worst era of the Red River Shootout for the Longhorns. It’s hard to really disagree that a stretch of five consecutive losses, including two blowouts, was a pretty rough time for Texas fans. However, this lost decade of Texas football hasn’t been much better.

The Longhorns are 2-4 for the 2010’s Red River series with two more blowout defeats to the Stoops Sooners already on the board. The recent 2-1 stretch has been much more enjoyable and entertaining and truly the only reason that Texas fans have much hope going against an Oklahoma team giving 10.5 points in the Vegas spread.

Texas has tended to win or lose the Red River Shootout this decade based on how they played on offense. The two wins are very easy to characterize and fit a broader theme of how this game has tended to be decided:

gp-rrs-2-names

I removed sack yardage to arrive at these numbers, so the eight sacks for 84 lost yards in 2011 are not reflected here. One thing that’s readily apparent from this table is that Oklahoma has failed to impose their will in the running game against Texas this decade save for in 2012 when they were up against a struggling, unsound Longhorn defense.

What hasn’t been consistent is the play of the Longhorn offense, who really only imposed their own will in the trenches in 2013 and 2015, incidentally the same two seasons in which Texas won this football game. The key to victory this year, besides not playing crappy, unsound defense that gives up hundreds of rushing yards like in 2012, will be Texas imposing their will in the run game once more.

Sizing up the Sooner D

This is a convenient weekend to be playing the 2016 Oklahoma Sooners’ defense. Their sturdier inside linebacker, Tay Evans just had to retire from football due to head injuries, their best DL Charles Walker is also out this week with a concussion, nickel Will Johnson is out with a concussion, and the Sooners are down to their second/third string DEs in their rotation.

With all these concussions it seems like perhaps the Sooners should look into whether their players are adjusting their helmets properly. Whatever is going on there, it’s a depleted Oklahoma defensive unit that will go up against the Longhorns’ explosive new Veer and Shoot offense.

On the bright side for Oklahoma, they’ve been working on solutions for this offensive system for the last several years and found a working formula a year ago in Waco that they’ll probably dust off for this matchup.

The biggest key to stopping the Veer and Shoot is being able to take away the vertical passing game without getting gashed by the run game. A year ago the Sooners resolved this issue by bracketing Corey Coleman, playing man coverage on everyone else, and keeping an extra man in the box to stop the run. With cornerback Jordan Thomas and strong safety/nickel Steven Parker on the field it’s very plausible that Oklahoma will be able to do the former, the biggest question mark is whether their depleted front can stop the run.

Here’s a glimpse at the likely OU line of battle against Texas’ standard sets:

gp-rrs-part-2

I can guarantee that the Sooners are going to be wise to Texas’ tendencies and will be keen to make Texas prove they can punish them via means other than play-action deep shots to John Burt or the power running game. This alignment would theoretically force Texas to beat the Sooners throwing the ball to the far hash mark against star safety Steven Parker.

Early in the game, you can also expect the Sooners to press the Texas WRs and bring big blitzes with the aim of taking Shane Buechele to the ground or otherwise making him prove he’s feeling up to beating them over the top with the deep ball while Obo Okoronkwo is charging at him.

Steven Parker is possibly the most important player on their roster, though many don’t realize it, because he can play man coverage on any slot receiver in the conference without getting toasted. They’ll line him up at strong safety in their 3-4 package (drawn above) where his coverage abilities allow them to be aggressive with how they use that Sam linebacker. In their nickel package they’ll take the Sam out, drop Parker down as a nickel, and bring in promising young safety Kahlil Haughton to play behind him.

John Burt. (Will Gallagher/IT)

John Burt. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Because the Sooners rely on Parker so heavily in coverage, Texas also has to be wary of the occasions in which they’ll break tendency and bring him on an edge blitz.

The weak spots in this defense are the second corner spot opposite Jordan Thomas (likely to be staffed by either freshman Parrish Cobb, formerly a Baylor recruit, or converted WR Michiah Quick), and up front where they are down three starters. The strategy I laid out above will make it hard to get after the second corner but there’s a lot of potential for Texas to put points on the board if they can establish the running game.

So what’s the plan?

“Cautious Mike” Stoops is going to be braced for the deep passing game, even if the Sooner pass-rushers have orders to try and eliminate the threat by taking Buechele down hard, as they did with Baylor’s freshman QB a year ago:

“What’s that? A 15 yard penalty for a crushing blow on a freshman QB? Oh darn!”

So what Texas needs is a way to run the dang ball without worrying about whether Buechele can punish the Sooners down the field for cheating numbers into the box. It so happens that there’s a senior QB on the roster who’s played very well in this game for the last two seasons, running the ball 13 times for 74 yards and two TDs. His name is Tyrone Swoopes and I suggest that Texas should give him upwards of 20 carries in this football game.

Spare me any concerns about Buechele’s rhythm or the predictability of the 18-wheeler package, there’s a lot on the line for Charlie in this game and finally, fully capitalizing on Swoopes’ raw power and athleticism is the best path to abusing a weakened Oklahoma defense.

There are simply no good answers on OU’s roster for something like this…

Or this…

Texas also has some option game in this package to mix in bubble screens or hand-offs to D’Onta Foreman:

I’m not saying start Tyrone Swoopes over Shane Buechele, but the 18-wheeler should be featured heavily in this game. Texas needs to force the Sooners to prove that they’re buckled in and ready to fight for this win. Making them prove they can tackle Tyrone Swoopes 15-20 times is the best way Texas can take it to them and look to impose their will on this game as they did in 2013 and 2015.

The Bob Stoops Sooners are and always have been a program of bullies. The key to beating them is to match their aggression by punching them hard in the mouth and making it clear that their aggressions won’t stand. If that happens, and Texas can play sound defense, then Charlie can make a strong opening statement in his case for retention in the wake of the Stillwater fiasco.