Thursdays in the Hubble: Charting space force matchups in week 7

Ian Boyd

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Charting the movements of the celestial bodies in the Big 12 is always a challenge. Most of the bodies are small, tiny even, and finding them to track their trajectories is difficult. This week is going to clear up the picture considerably because there are going to be several high speed collisions and the aftermath will tell a new story.

Within Texas things are really petering out, the schools that hired Air Raid coaches to run the programs might have the two strongest teams in the state (SMU and Houston). Baylor may not even play a complete season, TCU is floundering, and Texas fans have largely moved on to the real story (silly season!). But the Big 8 schools are still competing for a title and we have a big time matchup between two in particular.

Texas vs Baylor

These schools more or less have opposite issues. The Bears have a pretty strong infrastructure on defense and lack only an elite jack linebacker or lockdown corner to be surprisingly good on defense. Texas has managed to put things together on the edge with Joseph Ossai and out wide with cornerbacks Josh Thompson, D’Shawn Jamison, and Jalen Green. This is probably a no brainer but if you add Ossai and Thompson to the Bears then they become perhaps the best defense in the league, toss in nose tackle Keondre Coburn and it’s a fait accompli.

But Texas doesn’t have Baylor’s linebackers, not this year at least. DeMarvion Overshown is still a safety playing near the box, his interception of Spencer Rattler was masterful but his reads on split zone were amateur hour.

Similarly on the other side, Baylor has real weapons in Tyquan Thornton, RJ Sneed, and Josh Fleeks that are being wasted by Charlie Brewer’s inability to throw downfield and the inability of the offensive line to protect him. Sam Ehlinger has time enough in the pocket generally, although the Texas O-line isn’t dominating, but no Thornton to throw to outside. If Texas could trade Keaontay Ingram and a non-Sam Cosmi or Derek Kerstetter starting lineman for Tyquan Thornton, they’d be fools to turn it down.

Anyways, here’s how the actual space matchups look.

Texas’ solidity at left tackle helps against Baylor’s “creepers” which tend to rely less on having a great edge rusher and more on catching the tackles on slide protections where they can’t pick up a linebacker or defensive back coming free off the edge. The greater concern will be Baylor bringing the inside pressures on Texas’ guards.

On the edge, Texas’ lack of a go-to outside receiver is a killer against a solid trio of Baylor cornerbacks. The Longhorns had a pair of potential breakthrough options in Brennan Eagles and then surprisingly from freshman Troy Omeire who was far and away the best outside receiver in fall camp. Omeire then tore his knee and Eagles has been a no show when facing press coverage, leaving Texas with some undeveloped youngsters and a pair of grad transfers that were no. 3 or 4 options at their previous schools.

Overall, Baylor has a lot going for them in space against the Longhorn offense.

On the flip side, things are similarly defensive-heavy. Check out Texas’ favorite trips coverage this season under Chris Ash:

Texas vs Baylor trips.jpg

The matchups where Baylor has playmakers within range of Brewer, which here would be the Y receiver, Z receiver, and running back, are all contested. The strong safety can help on anything breaking in by the Y or Z and the running back or weakside option target has to work against Overshown (the “W” here). Baylor really needs to come into this game with a plan to win by running power-option.

And then Texas’ D-line and Joe Ossai working against the Baylor offensive line is another advantage for Texas.

It basically comes down to whether Sam Ehlinger is equipped, or at least not hamstrung enough, to make the difference for Texas. Probably he’ll come through barring a surprise from Baylor (like Gerry Bohanon) or complete collapse from Tom Herman. So...maybe 60-40 Texas wins.

Kansas vs Kansas State

The Jayhawks are in bad shape, Miles Kendrick was the only quarterback available against West Virginia and I’m not sure he’s even a D1 player. If Thomas MacVittie or Jalon Daniels are available that’s better, but neither are beating K-State.

This game is mostly interesting for Will Howard’s development. The Wildcats need him healthy and improving, not hitting a freshman wall, in order to stay in the Big 12 title hunt.

Oklahoma at TCU

I don’t think this one is as close as a lot of people think and the space force matchups are a major reason for my thinking.

Now, people have questioned what the issue at Oklahoma has been this season and I can demonstrate it very easily:

OU 2020 targets.jpg

There’s no CeeDee Lamb, Marquise Brown, Dede Westbrook, or Sterling Shepard here. The Sooners have lacked “put you down early” firepower in their skill talent positions this season. Lincoln Riley had to put Texas away with ground and pound and throwing to Stogner at the chains, which was effective but not how you want to win with a redshirt freshman quarterback who has thrown five picks on the year already.

So Oklahoma doesn’t have overwhelming skill talent on the perimeter their strong-armed quarterback can take easy advantage of and TCU happens to have a good cornerback tandem they can afford to play in isolation some outside the numbers. So where’s the positive for Oklahoma?

The Sooners need to attack inside, but they have the means to do so. TCU is weak along the defensive line this season and the Frogs’ best bet for stuffing Oklahoma would be with their 3-2-6 “flyover defense.” So how does Riley combat that?

21 personnel and creating a slot.

OU 21 pers vs TCU.jpg

The Sooners can motion either Hall or Stogner around to different spots to create opportunities to throw deep to the slot receivers matched up on safeties. They can also run a gazillion variations of GT counter that alternate between asking the fullback and tight end to block linebackers and safeties down the field or slipping by them on play-action.

The best way to defend it? Flyover defense, but I doubt Patterson will see things that way. He’ll see Oklahoma playing in 21 personnel as a good reason to leave four DL on the field to help control the box. But the only way TCU can play effectively in the 4-2-5 is to ask a lot of the safeties, which exposes them to risk on dig-post involving a slot or POP passes to a fullback you thought was lead blocking.

The other space force matchups are a big win for Oklahoma. TCU’s edge-rush has been a nothing burger this season while Adrian Ealy and Anton Harrison off another bye week are liable to be a great tackle tandem. Oklahoma’s cornerbacks aren’t as good this year as they will be next season given Tre Brown’s spotty play, but TCU hasn’t been great throwing outside anyways. Most importantly, TCU’s offensive tackles have been dreadful and Oklahoma has a nasty pass-rush thanks to Nik Bonitto and then the normal assortment of Alex Grinch pressures.

TCU’s offense absolutely plays into Grinch’s hands as a team that wants to spread you out in order to run the ball. Expect his movement and stunts up front to disrupt the Frog run game with tackles for loss and set up passing downs where the TCU protections come unglued.

West Virginia at Texas Tech

They say the Red Raiders are rolling with Henry Colombi in this game, I couldn’t really tell you why. I guess he offers more in the run game but I don’t know why that should matter.

One area I’ll be watching in this game is West Virginia cornerback Nicktroy Fortune outside in man coverage (when it happens) against T.J. Vasher and Erik Ezukanma. I don’t know if Colombi can push the ball out that far but if he can, this could be a telling matchup for how well Fortune might handle other opponents down the line.

In general, Texas Tech is a fantastic test of competency for Big 12 teams. They can’t really beat anyone but they will make you prove you can cover outside and that you know what you’re doing against tempo and run/pass conflicts. West Virginia does know what they’re doing, so I expect the game to go pretty well for the Mountaineers.

The only hangup I have is whether West Virginia can be explosive enough on offense to safely pull away and avoid being at risk of a few Texas Tech big plays stealing the game away. Their run game is useful for punishing defensive overplay and moving the chains but you have to throw it outside to score in this league. If the Mountaineers can’t throw it outside against Tech then they aren’t going to get it done against anyone else either.

Iowa State at Oklahoma State

I think this season will come down to Farmageddon and Bedlam serving as de-facto semifinals. That said, this game is also huge and could be repeated in the Big 12 championship game.

The space force matchups in this game are extremely compelling. For starters, this is a major test of the biggest question mark for the 2020 Oklahoma State Cowboys. When they are facing a “throw it” third down, what will they make of Iowa State’s rush three/drop eight defense? When the Cyclones are dropping into their 3-deep/5-under coverages with JaQuan Bailey and Will McDonald coming off the edges things get real.

You can’t just sit in max protect against Iowa State, they’ll blanket all of your options and eventually get home anyways. If you send four or five receivers into patterns to flood those zones, what happens if the Cyclones work out how to cover your first read? Is Jake Springfield and co. going to be able to keep either Spencer Sanders or Shane Illingworth upright?

Tylan Wallace and the Cowboy receivers are a problem, but this year Iowa State is particularly well equipped to just play cover 2 and make you beat them underneath.

I’m pretty sure this will go safely in Iowa State’s favor, but that’s not the end of beating Oklahoma State this season. Mike Gundy has a defense now.

There’s two big strengths to the Cowboys that both relate to their space force. The first is the secondary, where Rodarius Williams has made a major leap at left cornerback and hasn’t allowed anyone to get anything going against him. The rest of the OSU secondary may lack elite athletes but they don’t lack for experienced athletes who know how to play together. Having a lockdown corner paired with four savvy veterans is the equivalent of having an NFL lineman at left tackle leading four upperclassmen offensive linemen that know what they’re doing.

The other is their edge rush, which has benefitted massively from adding Calvin Bundage back from injury. They have a third down package that plays Cameron Murray at the nose, a defensive end (usually Tyren Irby), and then Cal Bundage and Trace Ford in some configuration to the same side so they can run twists and stunts off each other. The Cowboys can also blitz their other linebackers, Malcolm Rodriguez and Amen Ogbongbemiga. They’re a nightmare on passing downs, Bundage and Ford are elite athletes and there’s a lot of variation for defensive coordinator Jim Knowles in dialing up in who comes from where.

Pump fake Purdy is a better bet to survive then either Illingworth or Sanders but it’s a potent defense, comparable to Iowa State’s nasty third down packages. The Iowa State offensive line has also been decent on third down, Sean Foster and Jake Ramos is nothing special but nothing too bad either. They’re hard to get around and you can’t go through them very easily either, as opposed to Jake Springfield who can get his hat on the right people but can be overpowered.

Oklahoma State will aim to spread out the Iowa State defense and beat them underneath on screens and runs to explosive athletes like Wallace, Braydon Johnson, and the running backs. That’s mostly how they beat them a year ago. The Cyclones are a little better at safety and linebacker and the Cowboys less dangerous along the interior line, so it’s a pretty close matchup.

Iowa State doesn’t have the same level of explosiveness and need to scheme up opportunities for Breece Hall to keep the chains moving while landing some big shots in the passing game OSU can’t disrupt.

The ‘Pokes will man up Xavier Hutchinson with Ro Williams and then bracket the middle of the field against Charlie Kolar. Maybe the Cyclones can catch them a time or two but it’ll all hinge on getting a difference-making performance from Breece Hall.

It’s hard to see either team generating much of an advantage, we’ll have to see which quarterback protects the ball and makes a few off schedule plays that make the difference. I’m expecting a lower scoring game that comes down to turnovers and whether or not both kickers make their field goals. I’m giving the edge to pump fake Purdy, but OSU has the better skill athletes and will take this if the Cyclones don’t beat them with infrastructure in the box.
 

sherf1

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Good stuff.

Will be very interested to see how the TCU--OU battle goes.

The only consistent passing offense TCU got against Texas was Duggan getting the ball out quick, under pressure. A lot of it felt pretty unsustainable, but they got just enough obviously.

For all the praise TCU's safeties got from the announcing team they were had multiple times in the Texas game, so I'm assuming if Gary tries to lean on that as you expect in quarters they're gonna get beat up, but will probably make a play or two as well if Rattler gets greedy.

If TCU gets a bunch of big plays just throwing it up to Johnston I'm gonna be real salty.
 

travisroeder

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OU - TCU: I don't understand the line being this close. There's no way TCU keeps it close in this game unless Quentin Johnson or someone else on the outside goes bananas. TCU will get their big plays on offense, but as you say the matchup between their OL and the OU pass rush is not a good one. Bonito has looked really good this year.

ISU - OSU: Just excited to watch the game. I think you outlined it quite well. I'm betting it is a game that comes down to one big play, whether it's Breece Hall breaking loose from tacklers or Tylan Wallace going superman on a jump ball or screen.
 
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clayinva

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After getting Howard settled in , the most important thing for K-State is probably figuring out if they can get any production from wide receivers and maybe settling on an offensive line grouping.

I think Tech vs WVU is intriguing for the reason that if WVU handles TTU comfortably they're likely to play a spoiler role in the Big 12 race. If it's a really close game or Tech wins, WVU is still a threat, but they probably aren't going to knock anyone in the top 4 or 5 off.

I would not have predicted Iowa State vs Oklahoma State as the early marquee game for the conference, but there you have it. If Sanders can go I like Oklahoma State because he's the +1 threat in the run game that can break a defense. If it's Illingworth, I feel like the Iowa State D is almost as dangerous to a young QB as a vintage TCU D.
 
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