Scouting notes for Baylor v Houston and Oklahoma State v Tulsa

Ian Boyd

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This week in the Big 12 we have only two games, but both should be fascinating and significant.

At high noon, when Big 12 showdowns are commonplace, Oklahoma State will host Phil Montgomery's Tulsa and Baylor will welcome Dana Holgorsen's Houston. Between the four teams you have four current and/or former Big 12 offensive coaches. Phil Montgomery was Art Briles' right hand man at Baylor, Holgorsen installed Oklahoma' State's current offense for Gundy in 2010 then coached at West Virginia, Oklahoma State still runs a version of the Holgorsen offense, and Baylor has former OSU coach Larry Fedora.

Everyone involved will be looking to take shots and score lots of points, it's really a pair of proper Big 12 games even though Tulsa and Houston aren't in the league. Tulsa has really struggled under Montgomery, but they return quarterback Zach Smith (Baylor transfer) and top receiver Keylon Stokes. Houston arguably has as much offensive talent as most of the Big 12 and they've upgraded their defense as well with transfers. We'll know more after Saturday but it's possible that Houston would be amongst the top five of the 2020 Big 12.

With all these high-scoring, uptempo offenses taking the field, obviously space force units will be crucial in settling the matchup. So here's what I'll be scouting from everyone.

Baylor's defensive philosophy against Houston's power-raid

If @keganr is lurking he'll note that I borrowed his phrase for the Lincoln Riley Oklahoma offense. It has Air Raid roots but there's an emphasis on the power run game and play-action to create run/pass conflicts and boost the efficacy of Air Raid passing concepts.

I wrote on Houston here in the offseason and noted that the Cougars have adopted a similar approach, complete with GT counter as a big part of the approach.

Technically Baylor has offered a depth chart that looks like a basic, 3-3-5 similar to what Dave Aranda ran at LSU. It'd probably present as a tite front and shade into more of an Under front against trips formations. I'm suspicious though, because they have Ashton Logan listed as the starter but they took William Bradley-King as a grad transfer and I've heard they are not displeased. So I'll be looking for the Bears to remove one of the three defensive linemen listed as starters on the depth chart in order to run the 2-4-5 "peso" defense that Aranda loves so much.

Beyond that intrigue though is the more important question of how Aranda intends to handle Big 12 vertical passing concepts. Is he leaving underneath defenders to carry verticals 1-on-1? If Jalen Pitre is the starting nickel then chances are that he's not going to be the one left hanging, particularly with Marquez Stephenson playing in the slot. Are Ranthony Texada and the Baylor cornerbacks ready to go mano a mano with the Houston outside receivers?

Clayton Tune throws a good deep ball, particularly throwing to his first read like the Sooner offense also tends to afford for their passers, and Holgorsen will be happy to guide Dave Aranda to how things work in the wild, wild west. The peso doesn't really make a difference on the back end, you still have a mostly four-down front and then you're vulnerable to the 4-down RPO math problem and the fact that two safeties can't help over the top against all four receivers.

The Baylor passing game

There are two big questions here.

The first relates to Charlie Brewer. How's he looking throwing the ball? I've heard report that his arm strength is recovered, which is no shock as I'm sure he was dealing with some various maladies by the midway point of 2019 that have now resolved. But how's he looking now as a grizzled senior and fourth-year (basically) starter? The biggest key is whether or not he can hit the slot fade and the boundary fade. With those two throws in the arsenal and combined with these crop of receivers and potential upgrades at tackle with Connor Galvin healthy and Jake Burton on the right side...Baylor is in business on offense.

The second relates to Jorge Munoz, Baylor's passing game coordinator who followed Aranda from LSU and was given reign to add the LSU empty passing game to Larry Fedora's existing smashmouth spread structure. That will surely include weakside option on the back side of Y-stick with a slot fade. Baylor already had that in the arsenal and running back Trestan Ebner is one of the best receiving backs in the league. Here's how that looks, drawn up against the Cougar 4-3 defense playing the sort of trips coverage they used last year against Oklahoma:

Baylor weakside slop vs Houston stress.jpg

This is "stress" coverage, designed to protect a nickel who's not much of a man coverage defender from having to carry a vertical against a good slot receiver. He plays in the flat, and against Charlie Brewer and Baylor you're going to overplay the stick route if you're smart and make Brewer beat you throwing to the field flat.

But the real action is on the weakside, in this instance you have the running back running the option route isolated against the weakside linebacker. That's a throw that's right up Brewer's alley, once you know you have that 1-on-1 you're just letting the receiver break open and hitting him quick to the ideal shoulder to go pick up extra yards. Trestan Ebner is good running that route, but he's also smooth and flexible enough that if Baylor has a better weakside option they could flex Ebner somewhere else and have that receiver run the option. X receiver RJ Sneed perhaps?

But here's where things get extra interesting in this game. Whoever is in that weakside option space will be working against last year's nickel linebacker for Houston, Grant Stuard. After a very solid season as the nickel in 2019, the Cougars moved him to weakside linebacker for 2020 to make room for grad transfer Jovanni Stewart. Longtime readers will know that I've always loved Stewart for his role in the 2015 Katy Tiger defense, perhaps the greatest defense in Texas high school history. As a nickel defender he's comparable to Stuard in style with a little less size (5-9, 190 or so to Stuard's 6-0, 220) and more quickness. They're both space-backers, you don't want either tasked with flipping their hips and carrying Gavin Holmes or Tyquan Thornton down the field, but they both have the potential to be tough targets for something like weakside option.

If Charlie Brewer can stay healthier this season, the Bears have lots of weapons and increasingly good schemes to make the most of his accurate but limited arm. Houston is a tough opening test though, they'll make him throw wide and outside and they have speed at linebacker that's harder to exploit throwing underneath.

Oklahoma State's protection schemes

It's going to be next to impossible for most teams to cover up all of Oklahoma State's skill talent. I'm not sure exactly how they'll configure their lineup with Dillon Stoner, Braydon Johnson, and Tylan Wallace but I imagine we'll see an awful lot of this:

OSU zone:now screen.jpg

Either Braydon Johnson or Tylan Wallace can be effective here either as the outside guy, because they'll get healthy distance from the cornerback that will make the block easier, or as the target on the screen. Dillon Stoner is a terrific blocker from the slot. Tulsa plays the flyover defense, which will put them in a bind trying to fit gaps against a downhill zone scheme.

In particular, on this example, against the 650 pounds on the left side between Teven Jenkins and Josh Sills. You gotta be ready to close distance and eliminate space for Chuba Hubbard in the cutback lane off the left tackle, but then you're being pulled all the way outside to the numbers by the now screen to a 4.4ish type sprinter in Johnson or Wallace. This kind of thing will be a problem for teams all year, Spencer Sanders has a strong arm to create the kind of lateral stress Art Briles used to generate at Baylor.


If I'm facing Oklahoma State, particularly early in the year as an overmatched opponent, I'm not going to count on having sound answers that allow me to out-execute their skill talent in the RPO game. I'm going to try and move the focal point of the game to the trenches, in particular I want OSU to prove they can execute their base concepts against disguised blitzes with 1-on-1 matchups across the offensive front. They have a big outside linebacker named Zaven Collins that could be a problem for the 'Pokes lined up against the right side of their line, maybe even against Jenkins in isolation.

For every third down the Golden Hurricanes need to employ what I call "the Big 12 blueprint." A defense that will answer the challenges against the majority of Big 12 opponents.

Tulsa blueprint for OSU.jpg

The specifics of the blitz are whatever, what matters is that:

1) You throw numbers and stunts at the offensive line, ideally five-man pressures with one defender keying the running back and joining the blitz if he stays in to block. I think teams will be able to count on Oklahoma State using a lot of max protection early on with the tight end and running back staying to block which means defenses can be more aggressive about bringing six or even seven guys.

2) You bracket Tylan Wallace. If Oklahoma State can block well enough for Sanders to get past Wallace in his progression you're just going to lose and you need to accept that.

3) You spy Spencer Sanders. Last year Sanders was what is often referred to as a one-read quarterback that's really a two-read guy. First read is his favorite target, the second read is the scramble. The Spencer Sanders scramble is pretty deadly so you need to account for that as their second option rather than another receiver.

Oklahoma State's cornerbacks

The Cowboys are rolling with four-year starter Ro Williams and then converted safety Jarrick Bernard as the first team cornerbacks in this game. They also have Missouri transfer Christian Holmes whom I'm sure will see some snaps.

All three of those guys are probably pretty positionally sound, solid "don't get beat deep" cornerbacks. If Tulsa is going to win they need to repeatedly test whichever one draws Keylon Stokes. If they stay over the top then throw comebacks, dig routes, curl routes, whatever. Hit a couple of those and then work double moves and try to win deep. Oklahoma State has a lot of experience and athleticism at safety and linebacker and they'll be able to bring some pressure with Trace Ford and Amen Ogbongbemiga, maybe "crazy Cal" Bundage too.

But cornerback is the question mark and Zach Smith has a big enough arm to throw outside regularly to Stokes.

This matchup isn't really like the Baylor-Houston one where there's some doubt as to whether the Bears are actually that much better than the Cougars. Oklahoma State should be able to roll over Tulsa for a big margin. BUT, we might be able to see some early indicators on whether or not Oklahoma State can protect Sanders or cover outside well enough to make the most of an experienced and uniquely (for them) athletic interior.

That's what I'll be watching for at high noon on Saturday in the wild wild west of Flyover Football.
 

bHero

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Baylor seems like the most high beta team in the Big-12 this year. And I'll be very interested in whether or not Dana's gamble starts paying off. FPI thinks the'll be a top 30 team, S&P thinks about 40.
 
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travisroeder

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Baylor seems like the most high beta team in the Big-12 this year. And I'll be very interested in whether or not Dana's gamble starts paying off. FPI thinks the'll be a top 30 team, S&P thinks about 40.
Their skill talent --both offensive WRs and defensive secondary--are legit, legit. top half of the big 12 legit. Big question for them is like most G5 teams, how good will their play on the lines be.

This will be a great early test to see how much stress Aranda puts on the Baylor CBs. Houston WR Keith Corbin is about as good as any X WR in the Big 12. Stevenson is a legit threat to the field.

Ultimately I think Baylor's offense will be too good, but it will be a very competitive game. Could see either team winning by up to 3 TDs.
 

bHero

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Their skill talent --both offensive WRs and defensive secondary--are legit, legit. top half of the big 12 legit. Big question for them is like most G5 teams, how good will their play on the lines be.

This will be a great early test to see how much stress Aranda puts on the Baylor CBs. Houston WR Keith Corbin is about as good as any X WR in the Big 12. Stevenson is a legit threat to the field.

Ultimately I think Baylor's offense will be too good, but it will be a very competitive game. Could see either team winning by up to 3 TDs.
Dana's a tough cat to predict. Makes a lot of his games interesting. I liked his slant w/Wickline and the pulling inside run game... regardless, will be interesting to see how that's gelling (without Wick) and Aranda's answers. Dave likely learned a lot about defending spread & speed last year vs his time in the Big 10 /West Coast, very important experience now that he's going to face it every week. Lots of questions to watch for...

DC's gotta watch their back...

 
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btown1110

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The Baylor-Houston game should be pretty good. Baylor has a lot of returning experience on offense, very little on defense but still some talent and a solid coaching staff. Houston has elite WRs, solid RBs and probably a decent QB with a bit of a mixed bag on defense but should be able to pull something together over the season. Can they hold up against Baylor week one and get some stops/keep them from being crisp in the new system? Is Tune able to get the ball out quick enough to negate what is presumably a blitz on damn near every down? That's where the game is going to be played imo.

More on the macro side, Dana is usually good at getting his guys ready for early-season games while Aranda is in his first year as a HC. Should be a really interesting game.
 

bHero

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The Baylor-Houston game should be pretty good. Baylor has a lot of returning experience on offense, very little on defense but still some talent and a solid coaching staff. Houston has elite WRs, solid RBs and probably a decent QB with a bit of a mixed bag on defense but should be able to pull something together over the season. Can they hold up against Baylor week one and get some stops/keep them from being crisp in the new system? Is Tune able to get the ball out quick enough to negate what is presumably a blitz on damn near every down? That's where the game is going to be played imo.

More on the macro side, Dana is usually good at getting his guys ready for early-season games while Aranda is in his first year as a HC. Should be a really interesting game.
IF I had to guess today, I'd say BU wins by a TD, with a range of plus or minus 30 points.
 

travisroeder

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Very interested to watch Oklahoma State's secondary this week. Unimpressed by R. Williams and Bernard as starting corners, and while their safeties are savvy and experienced at this point, both are below avg athletes at the position for the Big 12. As you say, OKST should be too powerful on offense to matter, but will be interesting to watch their secondary.

I've said this in other places, but I think for OKST to be good enough to make the title game they need Trace Ford to go bananas. I don't think their secondary is good enough with a standard pass rush.
 
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travisroeder

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Aranda not trying to get whooped at home by an in state rival.
I don't know if this is serious or not, but this is so blatantly wrong. Baylor has every incentive to play this game.

Like, I know this is all jokes and stuff, but what's the accusation here, that Aranda faked test results to get out of a game? The Big 12 has protocols they've adopted that teams have to meet to play. There's no discretion, as far as I know.
 

apl817

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Very interested to watch Oklahoma State's secondary this week. Unimpressed by R. Williams and Bernard as starting corners, and while their safeties are savvy and experienced at this point, both are below avg athletes at the position for the Big 12. As you say, OKST should be too powerful on offense to matter, but will be interesting to watch their secondary.

I've said this in other places, but I think for OKST to be good enough to make the title game they need Trace Ford to go bananas. I don't think their secondary is good enough with a standard pass rush.
This is quite a take.....

KHP is no Ar'Darius Washington in coverage for sure, but really no one is. Peel is much better against run and controlling intermediate/middle of field, and they don't ask him to cover the slot, he is more of the SS enforcer type with ability to play over the top in some looks. Easily the 4th best Safety in the league.
 
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Inanehorn

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I don't know if this is serious or not, but this is so blatantly wrong. Baylor has every incentive to play this game.

Like, I know this is all jokes and stuff, but what's the accusation here, that Aranda faked test results to get out of a game? The Big 12 has protocols they've adopted that teams have to meet to play. There's no discretion, as far as I know.
Does anyone know if the contact tracing rules apply to players that have already had the virus?
 
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sherf1

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Ford with an early flash for a TFL.

Tulsa got good protection on 3rd and long but that was a weird route combo. Had a bunch of people near the right flat but short of the sticks.

Good start for Hubbard
 

sherf1

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Sanders has already taken about 5 hits on the first drive. Neither team looks sharp but OK State is leaning on the running game and tempo.
 

sherf1

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Man this game is making me appreciate our RBs in pass pro. All three had good moments blocking.

Both teams have already had their RBs whiff causing a sack and an incompletion that should have been grounding
 
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Inanehorn

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I’m a big fan of Gundy, but that was a turd. Ok st defense has some decent parts, but they weren’t overly impressive. The oline was bad, and I didn’t think the non-Tylan receivers were looking great even when Sanders was in. If Sanders is healthy, they can still be dangerous, but overall they’ve got issues. Starting next with WVU, rough game to put Sanders back in. I’d be surprised if ok st wins it.
 
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Ian Boyd

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I’m a big fan of Gundy, but that was a turd. Ok st defense has some decent parts, but they weren’t overly impressive. The oline was bad, and I didn’t think the non-Tylan receivers were looking great even when Sanders was in. If Sanders is healthy, they can still be dangerous, but overall they’ve got issues. Starting next with WVU, rough game to put Sanders back in. I’d be surprised if ok st wins it.
Really bad draw for Ok State to get the Stills and Cowan combo next week.

Even if Sanders can go that might just be an L out of the gate. Shame for Texas not to get them early in the year.
 

travisroeder

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This is quite a take.....

KHP is no Ar'Darius Washington in coverage for sure, but really no one is. Peel is much better against run and controlling intermediate/middle of field, and they don't ask him to cover the slot, he is more of the SS enforcer type with ability to play over the top in some looks. Easily the 4th best Safety in the league.
I don't think it is a hot take to say that KHP and Tre Sterling, while really good players, aren't great athletes. And the worry for me is with Ro Williams and Bernard at CB, I'm curious how they'll handle top flight passing offenses.
 
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