Peering through the Hubble: Space matchups in the Big 12 during the RRS weekend

Ian Boyd

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We’ve done an awful lot of Red River Shootout content this week. I just published the Gameplan on the Inside Texas Member’s board, which is free for non-members as well. Me and Kegan Reneau also had a back and forth over the Red River Shootout that was surprisingly non-contentious.

There’s a few other games taking place this week though and plenty of space matchups to investigate in projecting how these games will go.

Last week it was noted that Texas held a number of space matchups against TCU, which bore out well save for in one area. The Horned Frog cornerbacks played a great game and didn’t give up much to Texas’ passing game. However, the Longhorns blocked the Frog pass-rush with relative ease and torched their vaunted safeties with empty formations. All for naught of course, as Texas gave away two key fourth quarter possessions first with play-calling and then with a misguided running back reach for the goal line on first and goal that resulted in a game-deciding turnover.

West Virginia predictably bottled up the Baylor offense, the Bears can’t utilize a “space force” on offense because their quarterback leaves them ground bound. Oklahoma State rolled easily over Lawrence without experiencing any of the malaise I noted often besets teams trying to play football up there. Kansas State whipped Texas Tech with more “Deuce Vaughn in space” and then there was the Iowa State vs Oklahoma game.

Oklahoma had advantages on offense on the perimeter and held up fairly well on the edges in the pass-rush. But Iowa State played a lot of cover 2 to negate the problems out wide and while Oklahoma performed reasonably well in pass protection they couldn’t beat the Cyclones in the middle of the field. On the flip side, Iowa State abused the Oklahoma secondary at most every position and PFPurdy did his usual routine in just barely evading disaster against the pass-rush.

Here’s how the matchups in space look for Week 3 of Big 12 play.

Oklahoma vs Texas

The Sooners are a much better team with freshman Anton Harrison at left tackle rather than Erik Swenson, at least their upside is higher. He’s a much better athlete overall. That said, I think it’s fair to say that Oklahoma’s biggest problems have occurred when teams isolated a good pass-rusher on big Marquis Hayes in space.


Joseph Ossai on a down to down basis is probably not going to wreck Oklahoma’s day. Stunting inside on passing downs is another matter. The biggest challenge for Oklahoma on offense will be in finding their top receivers down the field matched up on D’Shawn Jamison, Josh Thompson, and Caden Sterns for Texas. The Longhorns have been positionally strong this season on vertical throws, although they don’t always find the ball in the air. When they’ve been beat they’ve been beat by good efforts by receivers to go up and get the ball and good placement by the quarterback. One easy way to make sure the Sooners are in this game from start to finish is for Spencer Rattler to beat Texas’ defensive backs down the field and necessitate more conservative coverage than Chris Ash would prefer.

On the flip side, there’s a few important battles. Texas hasn’t been good outside at receiver when matched on cornerbacks, but they have been dangerous throwing to slot receivers. If the Longhorns play this game from spread sets make the space matchups that matter take place between OU’s nickel, safeties, and linebackers and the better Texas skill talents that’s a win. If they start landing shots outside because Tre Brown and Jaden Davis don’t play well, that works as well. The Sooners secondary is a target-rich environment right now.

Using spread sets and getting the ball out fast to slot receivers is probably the best option though because Oklahoma may bring Nik Bonitto and Ronnie Perkins off the edges for the first time this week.

Space matchups in this game are pretty even, the game will come down to infrastructure and coaching strategy.

Texas Tech at Iowa State

Every week the Texas Tech offense causes fits for their opponent, scores some points, but fails to convert enough in the red zone and plays terrible defense to take the L. This week their consistent sin of trying to play a 3-4 in the Big 12 and simply lining up linebackers in space came back to bite them in their inability to handle Deuce Vaughn. Meanwhile their own offense struggles to make the most of their own skill talent because of their limitations at offensive tackle and quarterback.

This week is going to be tough on both fronts. The Texas Tech secondary cannot make the most of a solid but still in need of improvement Cyclone wide receiver corps and their linebackers and safeties have little hope of covering Charlie Kolar. Their pass-rush is unlikely to fare better against Iowa State's improving protection than Oklahoma.

On the other side, the Cyclones' drop eight schemes and three-man rush are perfectly suited to avoid the run/pass conflicts and 1-on-1 matchups the Red Raiders rely on to generate offense. Last year a weaker Cyclone defense held Tech to 4.6 ypa and held their own on run defense to win 34-24 while PFPurdy and Breece Hall totally eviscerated the Tech defense. I just can't see this one going well for the Red Raiders.

Kansas State at TCU

There's some degree of uncertainty in this one. We don't know if Skylar Thompson will play, my suspicion is that he won't, and I also don't know the extent to which Will Howard can serve as a short-yardage/red zone cheat code for the Wildcat offense with his running ability. He clearly has some mobility, but as much as Thompson?

We do know how the space matchups look though.

TCU's offensive tackles continued to play pretty poorly against Texas last week and they're about to get another really tough draw from Kansas State. Wyatt Hubert, Khalid Duke, and then the multiple defensive end passing downs package the Wildcats have are all going to be big trouble for the Frogs. Against Texas, Max Duggan kept getting the ball out just in time before getting leveled by a Longhorn pass-rusher, he might be able to do the same again this week but it's a tough task.

Kansas State's secondary keeps changing every week. They held up pretty well against Tech and seem to be settling in on playing A.J. Parker in the nickel, big JUCO Justin Gardner (6-2, 191) at cornerback opposite skinny sophomore Ekow Boye-Doe (6-0, 168), and then with Jahron McPherson at strong safety supporting the run. Free safety keeps changing, it was originally McPherson's spot but he's played more strong safety and the Wildcats used Ross Elder initially against Tech before giving freshman T.J. Smith a shot after Elder was beat for two touchdowns.


He's 5-9, 185 and has insane range and brings a lot of pop. He made something like three or four massive, borderline targeting hits in this game after coming in and I think he may have cemented a spot as the starting free safety from here on out.

All in all I think the space force matchups are going to be tough for TCU in this game. Kansas State is hard to attack in the passing game and they have the players to make iffy protection become a game-deciding factor.

On the other side, things aren't that much better for the favorite. Kansas State hasn't been brilliant in pass protection at tackle but TCU hasn't been effective rushing the passer. Instead of pass protection, I think things will come down more to how well the Frogs cover spread formations that get tight end Briley Moore and running back Deuce Vaughn running option routes underneath on their linebackers. Outside TCU should have an edge with their cornerbacks covering the K-State outside receivers and that edge could grow larger with Will Howard at the helm rather than Skylar Thompson.

Like the Red River Shootout, I think this one comes down to which coach best gameplans the matchups to favor their own team. Overall I believe K-State has a lot of advantages but a great gameplan by Patterson could maximize their advantages at cornerback and then dueling a beat up Thompson or freshman Howard with Max Duggan. As it happens, Chris Klieman tends to gameplan strategies that favor his own team's strengths and weaknesses better than most of the other coaches in the Big 12 so I think the Wildcats will figure this one out.

We'll have a lot to talk about next Monday.
 

system poster

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If Bowman is still hurt and Colombi gets the start, it will be an especially hard day for the Tech offense since Colombi doesn't seem to have the game reps to fit the ball in tight spaces in the intermediate passing game or the arm strength to hit deep shots. Also, teams are apparently allowed to pretty blatantly commit pass interference and defensive holding in the Big 12 this year, which works to our disadvantage since we pass a lot and our defensive backs are never near enough to opposing receivers to interfere or hold--as Tech Hoops Guy pointed out on Twitter, zero pass interference or defensive holding penalties called in Tech's favor on 101 passing attempts by quarterbacks through 2 big 12 games.

If Thompson is out for KSU, which I would assume he would unless they've updated the initial prognosis they made during the game of a broken collar bone, I don't see how KSU will have much of a chance. They would have to stand on their head on defense because even with some good offensive weapons, Howard is pretty bad. Sure, he'll have a week's worth of first team reps going into the game, but TCU will have game film and a pretty good understanding of his limitations as a passer.
 

Ian Boyd

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If Thompson is out for KSU, which I would assume he would unless they've updated the initial prognosis they made during the game of a broken collar bone, I don't see how KSU will have much of a chance. They would have to stand on their head on defense because even with some good offensive weapons, Howard is pretty bad. Sure, he'll have a week's worth of first team reps going into the game, but TCU will have game film and a pretty good understanding of his limitations as a passer.
I just don’t know about this. K-State with a week to build around Howard is potentially much more dangerous than K-State sticking him in last minute.

There’s a lot they can do to scheme the run game with some wildcat with another guy and there’s a lot they can do with Moore and Vaughn to give him easy reads and hit big plays.

You could be right, but I think this staff has shown they’re awfully flexible this season.
 
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tholly

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The enormous crowd in Ft Worth will be more than the young KSt qb can handle:) I do think the frogs build off of the gift we handed them last week, and KSt will regress to the mean. Neither of these teams will be in the B12 title game
 

Ian Boyd

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The enormous crowd in Ft Worth will be more than the young KSt qb can handle:) I do think the frogs build off of the gift we handed them last week, and KSt will regress to the mean. Neither of these teams will be in the B12 title game
What if K-State is actually good?
 
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clayinva

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Assuming he wins, to even hope he keeps his word, you'll need KSt to be willing (and pro-active) to offer offensive money
Just extended him this year with a fairly substantial bump in salary; just short of $4 million per year but with some fairly decent incentives as well. That's not certainly the high end of coach salaries anymore, but it's somewhere in the 30-40 range which is at least decently competitive compared to where it was at the start of the season. Not sure what the buyout cost would be.
 
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Just extended him this year with a fairly substantial bump in salary; just short of $4 million per year but with some fairly decent incentives as well. That's not certainly the high end of coach salaries anymore, but it's somewhere in the 30-40 range which is at least decently competitive compared to where it was at the start of the season. Not sure what the buyout cost would be.
Buyout is $5 million next year, decreasing by $1 million each year thereafter. There will likely be another new contract in two years if things are going well.
 
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tholly

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My top priority this season is to watch a B12 title game without the sooners. So Im pulling for KSt and IaSt to win out with the exception of their game with Texas. KSt did surprise me in Ft Worth. Despite playing with their backup QB, they played smart and tough. Actually my top priority is getting a bad ass coach
 
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