Key new space force cadets in the Big 12

Ian Boyd

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One of the hardest parts about offseason prognostication is anticipating which previously unknown players are going to emerge in an impactful fashion. I've been breaking down Big 12 recruiting classes for roughly the last half decade and have year over year updated depth charts for every team and I still lose track of which teams might have promising talent in the pipeline. It happens every year though, there's always a new skill player that takes advantage of solid infrastructure around him to emerge in a big way, particularly at Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. There's also often the guy that no one really knows much about who's emergence at one of the other Big 12 schools proves immensely consequential and helps them shoot up the rankings.

Here at Flyover Football though we often concern ourselves primarily with the new players at space force positions. An athletic new linebacker is exciting for a team, but an unexpectedly athletic cornerback or wide receiver is a bigger deal. If you have a star athlete in a space force position where 1-on-1 battles occur regularly, you've just gained a substantial advantage when it comes to winning Big 12 games.

There were a few players that caught my eye as I took in some games around the league.

Marvin Mims: Wide receiver, Oklahoma

Three catches for 80 yards and a score from the Oklahoma freshman. Trejan Bridges really blew it with his suspension offense. I think ultimately Mims will replace Rambo (in 2021) as Oklahoma's flanker, following the line of Sterling Shepard, Dede Westbrook, Marquise Brown, and now Charleston Rambo. Like most of the others, he's smaller at 5-11, 177 pounds but he is silky smooth on the field.

He blew by Missouri State for a 58-yard touchdown on a post route (power play-action) and just plays very fast. Maybe more interesting still was this third down conversion he picked up:


I'm not totally sure what this concept even is, but there's a number of interesting dimensions to it.

Oklahoma fade stop.jpg

This looks like a sort of double smash deal but with wonky alignments. Oklahoma is in 21 personnel with a fullback (H here, Jeremiah Hall), a tight end (Y, Austin Stogner), a running back (R, Marcus Major), and then X receiver (Theo Wease) and the Z receiver (Marvin Mims). They have Wease running a flag route but from the far numbers, Stogner runs a sort of delayed in, Jeremiah Hall is working a juke or shallow cross, Major runs a hitch, and it sure looks like Marvin Mims is running Lincoln Riley's favorite route, the slot fade. Interestingly, Missouri State plays man coverage outside on the far hash and plays cover 2 over Mims and the running back. They also have the jack linebacker drop and take away the shallow by, um, the fullback.

In other words, Missouri State is loading up their defense to stop the fullback, running back, and freshman receiver from running routes and picking up that third down...and they failed. They failed because Mims sees the deep coverage and stops on a dime in such a way that the dropping linebacker can't keep up and Rattler hits him with perfect timing. The Sooners have become so deadly and proficient with slot fades these days that they often run comebacks like this off the slot fade to pick up first downs at the chains. That's not new, what's surprising is the ease and timing of both Rattler and Mims here in executing it.

Also interesting from that game is the diversity of how they used Hall and Stogner. The former is a much better receiver than a fullback should be and the latter is a better blocker than you might expect from a flex tight end. They'd flex out Hall and have him run routes or block for screens, they'd block with Stogner or flex him out, it's a very multiple package.

Josh Thompson: Cornerback, Texas

One of my big questions for Texas in their move to playing a 4-2-5 this season under Chris Ash was "who's getting left 1-on-1 against vertical routes?"

Every Big 12 offense at this point, and particularly the one mentioned in the section above, is pretty darn good at finding the 1-on-1 matchup so they can throw the ball on a vertical route. If the offense gets into a 3x1 set (trips formation) they can really cause problems. A 4-2-5 defense can only shade safety help to two or maybe 2.5 receivers, someone is going to get left 1-on-1. Sometimes that's the nickel, which is a tough assignment. Especially for Texas where they're playing the 215 pound sophomore Chris Adimora in that role because of the run-stopping duties that also tend to fall to that position.

The better way is to ask one of your cornerbacks to be able to hold up 1-on-1 without help over the top. That's the route Texas took against UTEP and they left Thompson on an island fairly often. UTEP recognized it and took three notable shots at him, including this fade:


This is "solo" or "poach" coverage. The field safety is playing over the top to help the nickel and the boundary safety is opening to the field so that he can help over the top of the middle linebacker if that third receiver (from the sideline) goes vertical. This is a great coverage for protecting the nickel from slot fades without losing your help over the other slot. This is a terrible coverage for protecting your boundary cornerback from 1-on-1 deep shots, he could potentially be left isolated on a post (depends on the boundary safety and what's holding his attention) and he's definitely all alone outside of the numbers.

Obviously in this instance Texas won that matchup decisively. Thompson also broke up a backside fade playing in cover 3 and defended a post route in quarters playing to the wide side of the field.

At 6-0 and perhaps 210 pounds, Thompson is a big, powerful dude that is also uniquely fast. At a SPARQ event in high school he ran a 4.57 40 and posted a 40.4" vertical. In other words, he's explosive. He's come a long way at Texas in coverage, in their 2018 matchup with West Virginia Texas had to play Thompson in place of injured starting nickel P.J. Locke and Dana Holgorsen attacked him with motions to force him into the box against the run as well as slot fades to David Sills. Holgorsen was rewarded for that targeting and the Mountaineers won a shootout in Austin.

But if things are coming together for Thompson now as an older player, as tends to happen, it is a game changer for the Texas defense. If the Longhorns can bracket the other receivers with Caden Sterns and senior Chris Brown while trusting Thompson to hold up (big if) then they're going to be very strong on defense this season. This is perhaps the no. 1 thing to watch for in Texas' Big 12 opener against Texas Tech, who has legitimate outside receivers in T.J. Vasher and Erik Ezukanma.

Vandarius Cowan: Outside linebacker, West Virginia

This one was pretty easy to see coming. With the big, former blue chip linebacker healthy and back in the fold the Mountaineers emphasized more four-down defense and would put him outside of 3-technique Dante Stills.

Here's a two play sequence of how that pairing was working for them.



On that latter play they also bring linebacker Josh Chander off the edge against a running back. Eastern Kentucky survives that matchup but the Stills bros and Cowan collapse the pocket and then collapse their quarterback.

As I noted in the space force rankings, West Virginia might have the best base pass-rush in the conference. Pairing Cowan with Stills most snaps is absolutely brutal for offenses, it's really hard to double team two guys to the same side like that. As you can see above they're highly effective slanting inside and opening up the edge to be blitzed by a linebacker or a safety. It'll be interesting to see how those two look on a tackle-end twist stunt.

West Virginia's next game is the Big 12 opener against Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are going to have to defend their house and quarterback with a retooled offensive line working against what might be a pair of NFL pass-rushers. That game should prove very telling for the 2020 season, perhaps like the Baylor-Iowa State game in 2019 where the Bears showed the Cyclones who the real dark horse Big 12 contender would be.
 

sherf1

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Double teaming an opponents best receiver with a linebacker and strong safety is an uh....interesting strategy.

Think our ability to contain OU, while obviously coming down to the guys outside holding up well enough, will also be dependent on our ability to stop the run with the DL and MLB and basically let the DBs line up pass first. We can't have LBs on Rambo while Thompson is on a FB or whatever. But can we play the defensive matchup game without sacrificing run defense? Gonna put a lot on the safeties dropping down to clean up runs and stop big gains happeneing.

Noticed vs UTEP we showed both approaches, some plays had Thompson or Jamison on the innermost receiver in trips (coming from their opposite side of the field), while other times the boundary corner lined up close to the box and the field safety (Sterns) dropped down to cover the slot in trips.

Overshown really could be the key piece here if he can handle underneath coverage when forced into weird alignments by the offensive formation.
 
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Ian Boyd

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Double teaming an opponents best receiver with a linebacker and strong safety is an uh....interesting strategy.

Think our ability to contain OU, while obviously coming down to the guys outside holding up well enough, will also be dependent on our ability to stop the run with the DL and MLB and basically let the DBs line up pass first. We can't have LBs on Rambo while Thompson is on a FB or whatever. But can we play the defensive matchup game without sacrificing run defense? Gonna put a lot on the safeties dropping down to clean up runs and stop big gains happeneing.

Noticed vs UTEP we showed both approaches, some plays had Thompson or Jamison on the innermost receiver in trips (coming from their opposite side of the field), while other times the boundary corner lined up close to the box and the field safety (Sterns) dropped down to cover the slot in trips.

Overshown really could be the key piece here if he can handle underneath coverage when forced into weird alignments by the offensive formation.
Texas had 3 base coverages in that game and all of them left Thompson on an island against trips while helping the nickel and linebackers.
 
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sherf1

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Texas had 3 base coverages in that game and all of them left Thompson on an island against trips while helping the nickel and linebackers.
Yeah I think I was looking specifically at plays with all the receivers on one side of the formation. Some had the opposite CB come over with his receiver (like when Thompson made a tackle on 3rd and 2 run play from basically a slot position), while others had Sterns drop down and Thompson tucked in close to the LBs, over the TE to that side. Specifically one of the first UTEP 3rd downs where they threw at Sterns' guy but he ran the wrong route and went incomplete.

One other thing I noticed is it seems we're fully left CB/right CB otherwise? Or was it just a weird game flow thing that the ball was on the right hash a lot, kind of expected Jamison to be more of the island boundary guy.
 

stilesbbq

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Does mean OU vs Texas we can expect a lot of Thompson vs Rambo 1v1?

If so, wow.
 

sherf1

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Does mean OU vs Texas we can expect a lot of Thompson vs Rambo 1v1?

If so, wow.
Very likely we'll see how that goes and have the option to change and provide more help if it goes badly. You can't just give that to them anytime they want it even with a great CB, no mater who it is. The one good thing there is neither Rambo or Mims are particularly big guys, so that should allow us to use Thompson and Jamison interchangeably without worry that Jamison will be too small as against some guys #1 receiver. Might get beat either way, but being able to control the matchup that is isolated should be useful for Ash.
 
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falconsooner

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Hey Ian...long time follower of yours and posted a few times at your previous Big 12 site. Just has taken me awhile to get comfortable registering on a Longhorn board.:) Enjoying the content as always.

So far Mims has really helped to offset the loss of Haselwood and the Bridges suspension. He got overlooked nationally because of a 4.67 40 he ran at a camp so he got dismissed a bit. Turns out he had played in a basketball tournament 2 days in a row before running the 40 so had dead legs. He got to OU and they discovered he really is a legit 4.4 guy and very smooth.

Stogner and Hall give Riley a ton of flexibility. Plus they were missing Willis this game. There is a rumor that Riley has a package with Stogner, Willis, and Hall. Teddy Lehman (currently OU's color analyst) has talked about how as a defender that is a nightmare when you have those guys simultaneously in the game because they can go heavy power or 4 wide without changing personnel.

The OL situation is frustrating. OU had 7 OL out due to Covid (and Contact Tracing) protocols including the top 2 LT. Ealy didn't look near as comfortable playing LT as he does RT. Even though OU will have those guys back for KSU...they are missing valuable practice time while in quarantine. For this reason (and the Perkins suspension) many OU fans think Texas should have the advantage in the Cotton Bowl but OU will have a better shot at the Big 12 CCG (assuming both teams make it and are healthy) because our OL should be gelling, Rattler is more experienced and our suspended players will be back. Honestly, I'm not heavily emotionally invested this season. I'm just viewing it as a chance to get young guys experience to gear up for the expected 2021 run.
 

Ian Boyd

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Hey Ian...long time follower of yours and posted a few times at your previous Big 12 site. Just has taken me awhile to get comfortable registering on a Longhorn board.:) Enjoying the content as always.

So far Mims has really helped to offset the loss of Haselwood and the Bridges suspension. He got overlooked nationally because of a 4.67 40 he ran at a camp so he got dismissed a bit. Turns out he had played in a basketball tournament 2 days in a row before running the 40 so had dead legs. He got to OU and they discovered he really is a legit 4.4 guy and very smooth.

Stogner and Hall give Riley a ton of flexibility. Plus they were missing Willis this game. There is a rumor that Riley has a package with Stogner, Willis, and Hall. Teddy Lehman (currently OU's color analyst) has talked about how as a defender that is a nightmare when you have those guys simultaneously in the game because they can go heavy power or 4 wide without changing personnel.

The OL situation is frustrating. OU had 7 OL out due to Covid (and Contact Tracing) protocols including the top 2 LT. Ealy didn't look near as comfortable playing LT as he does RT. Even though OU will have those guys back for KSU...they are missing valuable practice time while in quarantine. For this reason (and the Perkins suspension) many OU fans think Texas should have the advantage in the Cotton Bowl but OU will have a better shot at the Big 12 CCG (assuming both teams make it and are healthy) because our OL should be gelling, Rattler is more experienced and our suspended players will be back. Honestly, I'm not heavily emotionally invested this season. I'm just viewing it as a chance to get young guys experience to gear up for the expected 2021 run.
All of that makes a great deal of sense to me. Ealy wasn't amazing, I guess they want to play Harrison there anyways. But Hayes-Humphrey-Robinson continues to be amazing and Brey Walker looks more capable as a back-up now.

I looked up Mims and the 4.67 was paired with something like a 37" vertical. I always trust verticals over 40 times for HS kids.

And welcome aboard!