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Oklahoma Film Review: 5-1 If You Count Moral Victories

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma Film Review: 5-1 If You Count Moral Victories

I’m tired of moral victories. I’m tired of explaining away losses because of youth or injuries. The excuses are hollowed out more each year. Call it ‘Battered Longhorn Syndrome‘, but if this thing unravels, the parallels to Charlie Strong’s first year will be hard to ignore. Offensive line decimated by injuries? Check. (Occasionally) incompetent offensive coordinator whom no one wanted? Check. Stout defense that deserves better than the offense it’s stuck with? Mostly. Malik Jefferson’s improvement has been remarkable – so was Steve Edmond’s. But we have our quarterback of the future! There was a tweet the other day that I can’t find anymore (#freestringsays) that showed the funny results that come up when you put something like “Texas,” “QB” and “hope” in the search bar. Journalists since 2015 have been writing the same story about the Longhorns finding the QB who will lead them to the promised land. Someone probably wrote it about Tyrone Swoopes after the UCLA game.

This isn’t an argument against Tom Herman, just an expression of one fan’s frustration. The team generally seems to be better prepared, more determined and more violent. They’ve played with the intensity in every game that Strong’s teams really only brought against Oklahoma and Baylor. (By the way, Strong also lost his first game against Oklahoma by five points, 31-26.) But these are subjective measurements. I can’t celebrate them anymore. It’s time for objective progress.

Screens!

“Screens are an offensive lineman’s best friend.’’

– Tampa Bay center Joe Hawley

None of the offensive linemen come away with a passing grade from this effort. Tim Beck tried to help them in pass protection with tight ends and backs, but as you’ll see, even that wasn’t always enough, and you can’t max protect on every play unless you want to lose. So what do you do when your offensive line is just Walmart greeters for the pass rush? You tell them to run downfield and block somebody smaller. As a defensive lineman, when the pass rushing is coming easy, it’s really hard to tell the difference between when you beat your man and when he let you win.

Texas ran the same slow screen three times, and despite the offensive line’s best efforts, two of the three were huge successes.

The first screen came on the first play of the game. That’s what you call a tone-setter. Oklahoma spent most of the game with two deep safeties and played man coverage underneath. They handled jet and orbit motion by shadowing it and leaving everyone else in place. That removed a defender from the point of attack and could have resulted in an opening-play touchdown if the lead blockers could finish (or start) their blocks. Check out Collin Johnson’s crack block on the inside linebacker on the second play. Oklahoma had a busted coverage on that one — I doubt they intended to play a three-deep, two-under zone. The gain on the third play was negated by an illegal block. Go figure.

Blocking: Optional

I don’t need to remind anyone who watched the game why the pass protection needed help. OU took it to the tackles all game, but the interior was bad too.

There’s no reason to slow this down and critique it because they all sucked. Just know that you should be able to go out and find seven human beings of a certain size, then find three more human beings of roughly that same size, and the seven should be able to get in the way of the three for at least a few seconds. Not only is this clip stupid, but it also means Texas had three players trying to get open against eight defenders.

But enough with the negativity; here’s one where the blocking was inadequate but Texas scored anyway.

This is one of Texas’ go-to plays in short-yardage: inside zone from 11 personnel. They leave the 5-technique unblocked and read him, while Cade Brewer seals off the edge player. This play probably goes for a touchdown between Denzel Okafor and Patrick Vahe were it not for the linebacker shooting the A gap. He should have been blocked by Terrell Cuney, but again, I’m not interested in pointing fingers along the O-line unless I can point all five. The rest of this is just want-to.

Brewer!

This was a ‘yuge’ completion midway through the 4th quarter that put Texas inside the 10 and set up the go-ahead touchdown. Brewer looks like he might be a good one.

“If you really want play-action, you’d better pull a guard.” – Chris Brown

This play-fake and protection is a staple of Herman’s offense, but it’s more effective when paired with an actual run game. Texas also hasn’t really run power very much this season, which makes it a less convincing fake for smart linebackers. Oklahoma’s Will linebacker wasn’t fooled at all on this one.

Beck was trying to sneak Chris Warren out of the backfield on a throwback rail route. I love the design. The Z and H run a smash concept that Texas uses often, and the X is coming across the field on a deep post route. What makes it really great, though, is Brewer on the delay-release checkdown. I should probably praise the offensive line for the protection, but really it’s the play-fake that makes it work. The whole play just flows really well, and Brewer looks pretty good in space.

Throwback to the Throwback

Beck must have really wanted Brewer to get his touchdown, because he tried to go back to him on the very next play. (Herman said on Rewind that this was supposed to be a naked bootleg, but unless he has a definition of naked bootleg that I’ve never encountered, there’s no way; the routes are wrong for it.)

In addition to the screens, Texas had a great plan to try to slow down Oklahoma’s defense with the throwbacks like we saw in the previous video. This time, the play they’re faking is outside zone (which we also didn’t run, I don’t think; faking speed option may have been more effective). They’re hoping to get the whole OU defense flowing to the right so that Brewer can sneak up the seam on the left side for the easy six-pointer. The deep safety holds his ground, though, so Ehlinger has to improvise. He’s pretty good at that.

We Can’t Stop Counter Trey

Perimeter runs are a weakness of our base defense. We tried to mitigate this by playing more even fronts and slanting/blitzing, but we still got burned sometimes in our base look or guessed wrong on the blitzes. And sometimes, we just got beat.

We guessed right on this one but didn’t maintain gap integrity.

With the slant, the playside A, B and C gaps are closed. The linebackers can scrape over the top to meet the two pulling linemen, and a safety, Brandon Jones, will be there to clean it up. The problem occurs when Chris Nelson goes over the top of the tight end’s down block, opening up the C gap. Ideally, Malik Jefferson or Jones would recognize it and correct it, but that’s a tough play by that point.

Coverage Busts

The first OU touchdown wasn’t a busted coverage so much as it was bad technique, but it’s interesting to look at next to the other long touchdown pass because the route concept is so similar.

In case you were wondering, 5.02 seconds elapsed between the snap and the release of the ball. Kris Boyd is essentially in man coverage on the outside receiver. He’s beaten badly, but then he makes it way, way worse by trying to find the ball. He starts looking for it at the 25-yard line, and then continues alternating his eyes from the receiver to the sky all the way to the goal line. There’s a reason you don’t see championship sprinters look behind them to see how they’re doing — it makes you slow. If he’d just focus on the man, he could at least run through him and prevent him from catching the ball. Take the 15-yard penalty over the 54-yard touchdown.

Now compare that route distribution (post, deep out) to this one:

A problem that inexperienced secondaries can encounter with pattern match coverages is that it isn’t always obvious what the receiver’s stem is. Is the tight end running an out or a vertical route? Jones decides that it’s an out, which P.J. Locke can handle, and tries to get underneath the post by the outside receiver. In the previous example, the stem was more clearly defined — the slot ran 10 yards downfield before making the out cut — so Jones had no trouble diagnosing it as being his responsibility. This one’s fuzzy, but the result isn’t.

So Long, Mayfield

Baker Mayfield is very slippery when he’s running from anyone except the Fayetteville PD. He finishes his career against Texas with a 2-2 record and four interceptions. Here’s one.

OU’s got a good one in Trey Sermon. They like to swing him out on rail routes and had a lot of success doing so against Iowa State. But Naashon Hughes has done a good job this season playing under control and picking up routes like this. On the first play, Texas is in a Cover 0 blitz, meaning Hughes has to peel off if Sermon releases. This was a big play on 3rd & 5 with OU knocking on the door to a 24-0 lead.

The second play was even bigger. It’s 4th & 3. Oklahoma is trying to extend its lead right before the half, and Texas would be content to get to the locker room down by 13 points. Orlando dials up more man pressure, but he’s got a deep safety and has Anthony Wheeler drop out of the blitz as a spy/middle hook player. Like Hughes earlier, John Bonney is a blitzer unless his man releases on a route. He takes an incredible angle to intersect the route and comes away with a pick — Mayfield’s first of the season — that sets up Texas’ field goal, cutting OU’s halftime lead to 10.

When Jones and Gerald Wilbon apparently knocked Mayfield out of the game late in the third quarter, with Texas down by just six points, it sure felt like a turning point.

I really thought Jones was offsides, but he wasn’t. He got an incredible jump, though — he’s almost even with the tight end before he gets out of his three-point stance. It’s impossible to ignore his athleticism out there. Now he just needs to eliminate the mental mistakes and get better as a tackler.

Oklahoma’s trying to take a page out of Beck’s book, faking outside zone to the left only to dump it off quickly to the right. When they weren’t gashing the run defense or throwing on Boyd downfield, they were drawing up plays intended to force him into making open-field tackles. They really avoided Holton Hill — the only ball Mayfield completed on him was to Sermon (not even Hill’s original receiver on the play) after a long scramble and went for just four yards. It’s a testament to his abilities as a tackler that Hill still tied for second in total tackles.

Anyway, back to the clip. Texas seems to be running a fire zone. They defend the play well, although Boyd jumped the flat route and may have cleared enough space that Mayfield could have hit the out route behind it had he not had Jones in his face.

Texas really has to figure out the cornerback spot. If Josh Thompson is healthy and as good as the people who should know have said, he needs to get a look … but maybe wait until the Baylor game. The 2018 cornerback commits had better show up ready to go. Hill could be gone, and Boyd’s job should be up for grabs.

Right now, Texas is a 7-point underdog against Oklahoma State. We’re winless in five games as underdogs against them, and we’ve covered in only one of those games. But hey, we’re 4-1 against the spread this season. Anything’s possible.

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  1. cyncus1

    October 17, 2017 at 6:50 pm

    Out of all the articles and news columns regarding the Longhorns, this is by far my favorite!!!!! Can you please break down more of our Oline blocking scheme so we can see why we are not able to run the ball? Your example of Cuney not blocking the blitzer in the A gap is a great example. Thanks and please keepem coming!

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