It's not exactly rocket science to proclaim that the matchup Saturday between the OU offense and the Florida State defense will be strength vs. strength. That's not meant to discredit their respective other sides of the ball, both are very formidable units in their own right as well. However, the headliner will assuredly be the powerful Sooner offense vs. the loaded Seminole defense.
There is every reason to believe that with the wealth of talent Jimbo Fisher and his staff have been able to collect, on both sides of the ball really but the purposes of our discussion here specifically the defensive side of the ball, the Sooners will struggle at times to move the ball Saturday night. Now make no mistake, this likely won't be a defensive slugfest. Points will be scored. But OU will not move the ball with the same kind of ease they displayed in Norman last year. We, as OU fans, all know this team is just a different animal in the friendly confines of Owen Field. Add that to the fact that the Noles won't be in just their second game in a brand new defensive system and both factors weigh in the favor of a much better defensive performance from FSU Saturday night.
And they'll need to be better. Much better. Because while everyone is quick to point out, and deservedly so mind you, that this is a better FSU squad than 2010, this is also a better Sooners offense than the one that was a field goal shy of hanging half a hundred last year. Landry Jones has accumulated a significant amount of experience since that game and looked very sharp in the lone game OU has played thus far. The super-human Ryan Broyles is back as his main target. Kenny Stills isn't a true freshman playing in just his second college game ever. Dejuan Miller is still 6'4" 220 lbs. James Hanna has emerged as a legit threat at TE and compliment to Trent Ratteree. The offensive line looks to be improved, and will need to be against this d-line. A three (possibly four) headed monster at RB running behind a human battering ram in Trey Millard. That's not being a homer friends, them's just the facts as they say.
Wanted to take a little bit of a different approach this week, so we're going to break things down with some quick bullet points and expand on them as we see fit. If you'd prefer something more similar to how we've approached these in the past just let us know in the comments and we can go back.
The #1 thing I'm, and I think a lot of you, are looking for is more cowbell. Er, more Roy Finch. I was really disappointed with how little they used him against Tulsa, but have been reassured from my friends in Sooner Nation to be patient. Many are predicting that he'll be used much more extensively Saturday night and I am very much hoping they're correct. I hated the idea of moving him to the slot as soon as the coaches started talking about it, but it would be foolish to form an opinion after just one game and one in which they were surely holding things back. So I'll reserve judgment for now, but I think Finch could be something of an X-factor when it comes to the OU offense Saturday night.
I think it's a big game for him personally. He played h.s. ball in Florida (Niceville), about two and a half hours from Tallahassee and I'd expect will have family in the stands who he'll be looking to impress. While I expect Dominique Whaley and Brennan Clay to get most of the initial carries, we all know the coaches go with the hot hand at RB so if Finch is able to have some early success it could definitely alter the RB rotation. Not to knock the other two guys, but while he's smaller in stature than both he just brings that 'take it to the house' threat every time he touches the ball. In my own personal opinion, I think he plays a big role against FSU and makes a minimum of two "Wow!" type plays.
Triangle! Diamond Formation. The seemingly elusive mystical formation that is talked of frequently, but seen rarely. Oklahoma has had a considerable amount of success with said formation, but seems hesitant to use it at times for some inexplicable reason. Many, myself included, are hoping that Josh Heupel uses the FSU game for the Diamond's debut and the multiple threats it can bring to the Sooners offense. Not only is it the best method to utilize the multiple talented backs OU has on the roster, but based on the success they've had with it in the past it's incredibly difficult to defend. Seems like a no brainer right? Let's hope Heupel agrees.
Tempo, Tempo, Tempo. The pace at which OU attempts to run their offense is best described as frenetic. We've seen it have an effect on countless teams. Whether it's by drawing a free five yards for illegal substitution, getting a play off while the opponent is still attempting to get set, or creating mismatches to exploit it can create significant advantages for the offense. Like for instance, if they were able to get 5'8" Greg Reid matched up with 6'4" Dejuan Miller much like they were able to do last year.
The question heading into Saturday is how much the home crowd can play a role in affecting that tempo. Most of what is done between Landry and the WRs is done through hand signals both from the coaches on the sideline and between each other. So in that respect, I don't think the crowd noise will really effect what they do. However, the calls for the o-line are done verbally so if they are having to check with each other repeatedly to get the call then that could definitely slow things down. In addition, if they can't hear the snap count they'll have to go with a silent count which could obviously lead to false start penalties. Clearly the easiest solution for the Sooners would be to get up early and take the crowd out of it, but obviously we can't just assume that happens.
The Florida State secondary is loaded with NFL caliber talent who will undoubtedly be looking to prove that last year's issues were an anomaly. OU fans are well aware that their wide receiving corps are not lacking for talent either and even with the talent FSU has expect the Sooners wideouts to present a significant challenge. I wouldn't presume to know what Mark Stoops plans to do with Ryan Broyles, but I would have to think that much of what he does coverage wise has to start with #85. I know, ground breaking stuff right? What I'm trying to say is that whether or not he chooses to "sell out" to take Broyles out of the game, much like Texas did last year in Dallas, will have a big impact on how OC Josh Heupel chooses to attack the Noles defense.
Stoops said in his presser Tuesday that he thinks they're even better prepared than last year in terms of secondary options if a teams tries to take Broyles away. Shocking I'm sure, but I tend to agree and would look forward to Mark Stoops doubling Broyles all game. However, I'm sure M.Stoops is more than smart enough to try and both mix up and disguise his coverages. So I don't think we can count on any one thing in particular from a coverage perspective both on Broyles and just in general, but I do think OU can have success in the passing game just because they have so many options and different ways to use them.
A positive outcome for the Sooners in this game doesn't live and die on their ability to run the ball, but if they're able to do so consistently it sure makes things a hell of a lot easier. While the offensive line appeared to be improved in the Tulsa game, the front four they'll be facing Saturday night is in another atmosphere. This is arguably the most important point of this entire post when it comes to OU's chances of winning this game. I firmly believe that OU will have to be much better in the run game than they were last year in Norman because I don't think they'll have as much success passing the ball. Now that doesn't mean they have to run for 200+ to win, but I do think they need to crack the 100 yard mark and 150 or more would be even better.
Staying with the FSU front four theme, let's talk about pass rush/protection. Again, I'm not breaking news here but if the Noles are able to get pressure with just their front four then OU is in serious trouble. It would allow FSU to keep that many more guys in coverage or cause even more havoc by bring additional on the blitz and/or force OU to keep extra guys in to protect, thus obviously taking them out of routes they could be running. It's a serious concern for the offense and one we obviously won't know about until they kick things off Saturday night. That said, I think we'll know pretty early whether or not it's going to be a problem.
One thing that can help to neutralize the impressive ability of a player like Brandon Jenkins, and really just their pass rush in general, is the use of the short, quick passing game. It's something that worked incredibly well for Oklahoma last year and something I definitely expect them to try and use to help counteract FSU's considerable ability to get to the passer. I have no doubt that Mark Stoops knows this, but my faith in its ability to work lies in, sadly, the obvious. OU does it every game, everybody knows they're going to do it multiple times, and yet it continues to work. You can't just come up and play bump-and-run because both Broyles and Stills are such threats to beat you over the top. Now granted Landry needs time to get that throw off, but all they need is a step and the ball is out. If you play off, which FSU did WAY too much last year, the short stuff is like pitch and catch for OU. I know Noles fans have a lot of faith in M.Stoops, but his position this week preparing for this offense is not an enviable one. This I know.
OU defense vs. FSU offense soon to follow.