While there appear to be very few question for Oklahoma on the offensive side of the ball, the same might not be said with respect to the defensive side. Can the DEs replicate the performance they had against Tulsa? Can the DTs hold up and stop the runs up the middle? How much will they miss Travis Lewis? Is Javon Harris a liability in pass coverage? These are some of the questions surrounding the OU defense heading into Saturday night's game. While they'll face more explosive offenses later in the year (A&M, OSU), the Seminoles present some unique challenges and it starts with their talented QB E.J. Manuel.
Disrupting Manuel's rhythm. This will be key. What I've seen consistently from all our FSU visitors this week is that Manuel tends to struggle more with the shorter/timing routes while throwing an excellent deep ball. Kind of the exact opposite we're used to ironically. So with respect to what he does well, obviously getting pressure to prevent him from having the time to let those deep routes develop will be job one. FSU has two experienced tackles who Noles fans don't expect to give much up in terms of the pass rush and while that remains to be seen, if true that means OU will need to get pressure up the middle from their DTs or bring extra guys in the blitz. FSU has had some interior line issues through the first two games and have swapped their center and left guard this week, same two guys just different positions. So will we see DC Venables try and attack the middle of their line when they bring the blitz rather than the strength at tackle?
Stopping the run game. Things get much easier for Manuel if Florida State gets their running game going. It opens up play action, which forces the LBs to pause just that split second that he'll need to throw it over the top of them for big chunks of yards. What OU has going for it is FSU hasn't exactly been stellar running the ball through their first two games. They put up 92 rushing yards against La-Monroe in their opener and a much more respectable 170 against Charleston Southern, but it's Charleston Southern. Much like Oklahoma, expect to see FSU use multiple backs Saturday night and you can certainly expect Manuel to be MUCH more involved in the run game than he has been in their first two games. While the threat of a running QB should worry any OU fan, there is a plus side in that what we expect FSU to do with Manuel is a lot of what OU has seen in the past. What I mean by that is they'll use him in a pretty similar fashion to how Texas used Vince Young and Colt McCoy. Now Manuel is a much better athlete than McCoy, but probably not quite on the level of Young. So he's a definite threat, but it's not likely that he's going to have 100+ yards rushing unless things go very wrong for the OU defense.
Tomahawk Nation asked on Wednesday whether or not Oklahoma would respect the FSU receivers and I think it's a pretty simple answer. Absolutely. Now by respect do you mean they're going to give them a 5-7 yard cushion for fear of getting beat deep? Doubtful. Doesn't mean FSU can't get behind our DBs and beat them deep, but I certainly expect them to try. Early and often actually. Press coverage or bump-and-run is not really something Venables and secondary coach Willie Martinez employ on a regular basis. At times sure, but not consistently. Now maybe that changes Saturday night if they believe they have a distinct advantage in that matchup, obviously we'll have to wait and see. But if the Noles fans are correct in their assessment of Manuel, meaning that his weakness is the shorter/timing patterns then there is a chance we could see plenty of it. To throw Manuel and his WRs off their timing and maybe make him pull the ball back down on a play where the o-line thought they'd only have to hold their blocks for a three step drop and suddenly the ball isn't out like it was supposed to be.
The potential drawback to that strategy however is in the form of 6'6" 215 pound Rodney Smith. With that kind of size, a clear mismatch for just about any corner, but perhaps even more so for a guy like Demontre Hurst (who is listed generously at 5'10"). Fleming is slightly better at 5'11", but neither have th size to really compare to Smith. So positioning, timing on possible jump balls, and ball recognition will all be crucial when defending Smith.
The 50-front. I believe I've read some FSU fans expect Oklahoma to employ the 50-front defense they had so much success with late last year. I however do not expect to see the OU defense utilize this defense, other than in short yardage situations possibly. It's a defense that is more designed to stop the run and I just expect FSU to try and spread OU out more than go big and try and run it down their throat. Which if they do try and spread them out, will really play into what the Sooner typically try to do on defense. Essentially running a 4-2-5, though they'd NEVER admit to it, by playing Tony Jefferson at that Roy-back/3rd LB spot.
The safety play. I don't think there is much concern on the part of Sooner fans with respect to Aaron Colvin, but it's only natural to be at least a little worried after the game Javon Harris had against Tulsa. To be perfectly honest, I don't know enough about the FSU offense (so FSU fans please feel free to chime in) to know how much they'll utilize their TEs or throw to their backs out of the backfield, because that would really be the only opportunities to exploit Harris in coverage. He's very unlikely to be matched up on a WR, unless the defense is out of position, so if there are any coverage issues from him it will very likely have to come from one of those two spots. For the issues he had in pass coverage against Tulsa, he was excellent in the run game and I see no reason to expect any different this week.