Texas is almost the exact opposite of what most pundits thought they would be at this point. Texas was expected to have a rock solid defense and a good, though inconsistent, offense giving them just enough firepower to win 10+ games. The offense is devastatingly efficient, though certainly not explosive, but the defense is inconsistent and may even be a liability in certain situations. And the team that more closely meets the preseason expectations of Texas? Why, that would be Oklahoma. With Dick Clark dead, OU fielding a good defense that's actually getting better with each game, and Texas fielding a shockingly effective offense, I think it's safe to say the world is going to explode in December.
So, without any further ado, here's my breakdown of who we're facing, who we are right now, and how those two need to meet for OU to win.
As I expected, the loss of Kheeston Randall was much bigger than Texas fans wanted to acknowledge. Randall is the closest any Big 12 defensive tackle got to being elite last year. His replacements? Well, the future is bright for the Texas interior, but the present is not as shiny. Texas fans will tell you different, but the interior of the Texas defensive line isn't a strength. That may have as much to do with Manny Diaz's game plans as anything, but they've only looked good in spots.
Unlike Mike Stoops with OU's defensive line, the schemes Manny Diaz has been employing so far this year indicated that he, much like many UT fans, expected this d-line to be flat-out dominant. Whoops.
As most OU fans can attest, Mike Stoops has been shockingly conservative, and he has not asked his d-line to do anything it isn't capable of doing. Diaz has the linebackers attacking gaps, defensive tackles twisting and stunting, while trying to dictate to offenses where they will go. When your front 4 can take on 5 or 6 with ease, this idea is aggressive and effective. However, considering how incredibly complicated most Big 12 offenses are, that's kind of a terrible idea if your entire defensive line isn't flat out dominant. It's an even worse idea if your linebacker corps isn't at least above average.
The defensive end tandem of Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor is a pass rushing nightmare for anyone. However, Jeffcoat is a liability in run defense. He lacks Okafor's size, and once he gets up-field, he's out of the play. Delays to his side can be effective. When the linebacker corps behind him is as poorly coached as they are (more on this later), it creates a hole for offenses to run at. The abject failure of Texas to stop the WVU run game is, in my opinion, the primary reason for WVU's victory. In every other facet, Texas outperformed WVU. There is no reason OU shouldn't try to do the exact same thing, but we can do it our way.
At Boise, Chris Petersen's offenses run on the idea that if you can figure out what a particular defense will do in response to a particular play, you can add a little twist and turn something simple into something that scores six. We know that Manny Diaz likes to send his linebackers downhill into gaps, and we know that he'll need numbers at the point of attack when OU runs at Jeffcoat out of our heavy set with Millard and Aaron Ripkowski lead blocking for Damien Williams. Steve Edmond overmatches most teams' fullback, but he doesn't enjoy that same size and strength advantage against Rip or Millard. That means bringing Mykkele Thompson or Kenny Vaccarro down.
Which also puts Demarco Cobbs (who can be best described at present in name only), Edmond (not nearly quick enough), or Jordan Hicks (not healthy enough) on either Millard or Brannon Green out of the backfield on pop passes and curls.
Bottom Line: The weak point of the Texas defense is the linebacker corps. Even with Hicks back and healthy, Edmond, Cobbs, and the other Texas linebackers can be confused and washed out of plays. Both Damien Williams and Trey Millard have a propensity for ignoring arm-tackle attempts, and Texas' linebackers get into situations to attempt such arm tackles far too often.
2) Put the game on David Ash.
Texas cannot be allowed to establish the running game. If they do, this becomes a dogfight that we lose. The Harsin offense at Texas is predicated on establishing the running game to set up play-action passing. With Ash, most of those deep passes are underthrows that can allow the receiver to adjust before the cornerback can make a play. While we have adequate talent at corner to handle this and maybe even turn an underthrow into a turnover, we can't get into a situation where Harsin can get Javon Harris looking into the backfield when he should be providing help over the top.
Texas fans like to talk about how Ash has improved, and the argument is getting out there that Ash is a better QB than Landry Jones right now. Not that he'll be better, but that he IS better now. This is incorrect. Bryan Harsin has been building better game plans for his developing sophomore that treat him like a developing sophomore. Josh Heupel was building game plans for Landry Jones that assumed he would act like 5th year senior. Now that Heupel has reined that mistaken assumption in, the offense looks much better.
Bottom Line: Ash is not a guy who can win a game by himself against a better defense. Don't get me wrong, he's going to be that guy sooner rather than later, but not in this matchup. The Texas passing game versus the OU secondary is a matchup we're going to win decisively if we don't let Texas beat us senseless in the running game.
3) Take away the short passing game and man up.
I absolutely LOVE the matchup of Aaron Colvin, Demontre Hurst, and Tony Jefferson against UT's top three receivers. Love it. It favors us in no small way. Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis are improved, but not that much. The third Texas WR will likely be a guy more effective on jet sweeps than post-corner routes.
Ash's deep throw ball is still terrible. Do not let Texas fans/pundits con you into believing the underthrows are on purpose. When the ball is going more than 20 yards downfield, it's either on target or short. The only guy they've got who I think could just flat out blow by Colvin and/or Hurst is Marquise Goodwin, but Goodwin can be flat out abused at the line by a good jam.
They'll also blather on about Ash's clutch (CLUTCH!) throw on 4th and 5 against OSU. Two problems I have with that play: (1) It's clear that DJ Grant was Ash's target from the snap of the ball. (2) It wasn't a hard throw. It was a toss straight down the middle against precisely no pressure at all.
Bottom Line: The game Texas plays is power running and short/medium range timing passes. Adjustment, improvisation, and pressure are not ideas Ash has shown a grasp of yet.
4) STAY IN THE NICKEL.
We have the speed and athleticism at linebacker to play in a base 4-3, and Texas is one of the few teams we should do so against. So why is it not a good idea?
The Texas wide receiver corps is neither deep nor talented. Plus, Texas still doesn't have a true tight end. Johnathan Gray is not a guy (yet) who can beat arm tackles. Malcolm Brown is still not 100% (and he may not even be able to go), and Joe Bergeron is not a speedster by any means. So why wouldn't we going to with 4-3 base?
David Ash. That's why.
"Wait....wut? I thot u said he waznt good enuf to beet us by hisself?"
He's not. But that's no reason to help him along, either. If we leave Javon Harris out there as the lone deep man in three wide receiver situations where Jefferson ends up on a slot, Ash will eat us alive. Additionally, Harsin knows the no-huddle, too. He knows that OU's version of the Cover 2 can be manipulated to get linebackers covering slot wide receivers and tight ends on middle passing routes. I'm impressed as hell with Frank Shannon, and I think he's the middle linebacker of OU's future. That said, he's not a man I want covering DJ Grant.
OVERALL IMPRESSIONS (TL:DR)
OU can and should win this game. If Texas' defense (or Oklahoma's offense) had lived up to its preseason hype, we're signing a different tune.
We need to force Texas to win with David Ash having to go off script and without help from play-action.
We need to bait Jeffcoat up-field, get the Texas linebackers shooting into the wrong gaps, and run through the open space.
We need to get the Texas linebackers matched up on Damien Williams in the flat and Trey Millard/Brannon Green over the middle.