Back for another edition of our 'Film Study' series to breakdown OU's game this past Saturday against Tulsa. We'll certainly focus on the play of Blake Bell, but I also wanted to watch the defense and see if they were just as vanilla as many made them out to be.
Considering how little pressure it seemed they were able to generate, I'm going to keep track of two things throughout the game. (1) How many times OU was lined up in a 3-3-5 vs. a 3-4 formation and (2) how many times they blitz, which for the purposes of this exercise will quality as more anything more than four guys. Which obviously means if they have three down linemen and bring a linebacker, like they do frequently with Eric Striker, that would not count as a blitz since it would only be four guys rushing the passer. I realize that's a simplified way to approach things, but for the sake of not making this 10,000 words that's what we're going to go with.
Let's not waste any more time. As always you can following along if you'd like courtesy of the one and only huff99.
* Big fan of the opening play of the game with the jet sweep to Jalen Saunders who was coming across in motion. Something I'd like to see Josh Heupel do more of and not just to Saunders either.
* Just on this initial opening drive, I didn't give enough credit to the play of Tulsa linebackers getting off blocks and making tackles. OU's offensive line is opening up some pretty decent lanes, but the running backs aren't getting much more than four or five yards a pop.
* I have to assume it's something he has worked on with Heupel, but there are times where Blake Bell's throwing motion looks super awkward and over-the-top.
* 1st Qtr, 12:08 - 3rd & 10 OU from the TU 29. Bell's long run on the day, an 11-yard scramble, isn't overly impressive per se but he does show some good technique in keeping his head downfield for quite a while before tucking it and getting up field. Makes a nice cutback move on No. 54 for Tulsa then breaks an arm tackle before getting out into the open. Actually, and something I didn't catch live, could have pretty easily been a touchdown run if Lacoltan Bester doesn't lose his block on.
* Great job on Brennan Clay's touchdown run both on the part of OU's o-line to crash down hard to their right and Clay to recognize the cutback lane they created before dashing into the end zone. OU leads 7-0.
* OU opened in a 3-3-5 and following that play to Watts, immediately puts in Dominique Alexander and shifts to a 3-4 on the very next play.
* 1st Qtr, 8:44 - 3rd & 5 TU from their own 48. You really have to watch this play to truly appreciate just how good it was on the part of true freshman Stanvon Taylor. Tulsa tries to run the classic 'pick play' on Taylor while bringing his man underneath on drag route.
However, Taylor is so quick even though it appears above as though this is going to be an easy pitch-and-catch first down he's able to recover.
And close the distance quickly enough to tackle his man well short of the first down.
Very savvy play on the part of Taylor, something you really don't typically expect from a true freshman.
* First designed QB run for OU at the 7:25 mark of the first quarter on a zone read. Bell makes the right decision to keep the ball and not hand it off to Roy Finch, but credit Tulsa for playing it well and only allowing a two yard gain.
* OU has run more four wide so far in their first two drives than it feels like they ran in the previous two games. But Bob Stoops swears they weren't running a different offense, riiiiiight.
* The Jaz Reynolds big gain. First and foremost, credit to Reynolds for fighting off the bump coverage and doing so quickly on his quick slant route. I don't have to tell you that's a timing route and if you can't get off the bump, the entire play is pretty much ruined.
Working in Reynolds' favor is the Tulsa safety, who was playing over the top in double coverage, bites way too hard on the slant route before Reynolds extends it and runs right past him. Credit Bell as well for waiting that necessary split second before getting rid of the ball and even more so for hitting Reynolds in stride. Obviously you would have liked for Reynolds to have found his way into the end zone, especially because OU does not punch it in and has to settle for a field goal, but hard to get that upset with an 82-yard pass play.
* 1st Qtr, 5:18 - 3rd & goal OU from the TU 3. This is the play I was attempting to reference on the podcast Sunday night. Bell's primary read is Saunders out of the slot who runs an abbreviated out-and-up route, but also draws double coverage with absolutely no window for Bell to deliver the ball.
While Bell does not appear to look to any of his other reads, the video shows them all covered pretty well regardless. Now, to the point I am trying to make. Bell recognizes there is no chance to get the ball to Saunders and calmly throws the ball away ensuring at minimum three points. It's something that won't show up in the box score other than a simple incompletion, but it's a smart play and one an experienced quarterback makes instead of trying to force something that isn't there and possibly risking a turnover. OU leads 10-0.
* Corey Nelson has hands of stone. That is all.
* Frank Shannon with an ankle saving tackle on what could have been a potentially very long Trey Watts run up the middle.
* Speaking of Shannon, he again loses Watts out of the backfield which leads to a 25-yard pass play. And was really lucky he didn't get called for a horse-collar on the tackle he made.
* It's impossible to verbalize the difference in the pursuit to the football of this year's OU defense compared to last year's.
* I'm not going to waste anyone's time discussing the stupidity of either (1) the targeting call made on Gabe Lynn and/or (2) the overall absurdity of the rule in general. I will only point out, as I suspect many of you were already aware, there were two flags on the play (offsides on Jordan Phillips) so even if the penalty on Lynn were not called Tulsa would have had another chance on third down. As it is, they get another call in the end zone putting the ball on the one before Watts punches it in. OU leads 10-7.
* 2nd Qtr, 12:49 - 3rd & 5 OU from their own 49. I've seen some people say Durron Neal gets a touchdown here if Sterling Shepard doesn't miss his block down field and watching it now I really don't think that's the case. As for the play itself, it's a beautifully set up slip screen and Neal could not do a better job of setting up his blockers. He plants his foot in the ground and immediately gets up the field. But back to the Shepard block.
Above you can see what everyone is referring to as the man Shepard is attempting to block does eventually bring down Neal, but No. 4 is chasing down the play from behind and is well within position to make a tackle short of the end zone in my opinion. Still doesn't take away from it being a big gain and a very well executed play.
* Shortly after Shepard atones for the possible error exploiting a mismatch in coverage and makes a leaping catch in the back of the end zone on a good touch(ish) throw from Bell. OU leads 17-7.
* Shannon seriously struggling to match up with Watts on all these safety valve routes out of the backfield.
* 2nd Qtr, 9:06 - 1st & 10 TU from their own 47. Maybe I'm giving him too much credit, but it sure looks to me like Lynn completely baited Green into this interception. Still amazed there was no flag thrown on the tackle of Lynn as the Tulsa defender basically throws a flying forearm shiver to Lynn's head.
* Would have liked to seen Heupel try and take a shot into the end zone following that INT, but that's really just me playing armchair quarterback.
* Bell's size and thus ability to stand in the pocket and absorb a blow before releasing the ball is going to come in very handy as the season plays out.
* Gabe Ikard with the sack and then doesn't even offer a hand to his supposed best friend. That's cold, bro.
* 2nd Qtr, 7:24 - 2nd & 16 OU from the TU 29. I'm not sure how to even describe what Roy Finch does on this touchdown scoring screen pass. The move he makes on the defender at the six yard line is something I almost want to call a jump cut, but I'm not entirely sure his feet even touch the ground to make a cut. Is it physically possible to make a cut while in the air? I didn't think so, but I swear I just witnessed it happen. Really nice cut block from Ikard out in the open field by the way. OU leads 24-7.
* Taylor was so close to a pick six he could almost taste it. Comes back later and makes a really nice play to break up a pass on third down that could have extended a Tulsa drive.
* 2nd Qtr, 4:26 - 3rd & 8 OU from their own 43. Call me crazy here, but I don't think Shepard had to dive to haul in this long pass from Bell. I could be totally wrong, but I've watched it a number of times now and I think if Shepard keeps his feet he runs under the ball and can walk into the end zone. Looks like he might have even stumbled a bit at the very end which lead him to look like he needed to make the diving catch.
I point it out not to knock Shepard, but more so because I saw multiple people it was a somewhat inaccurate throw from Bell that prevented the touchdown. And from my vantage point, that's definitely not the case.
* Cannot overstate just how intelligent Bell has been with his decisions this entire first half (and as we know the entire game as well).
* Some pretty impressive technique up front from a true freshman in Matt Dimon. This kid is gonna be a good one.
* Watts is just such a great weapon as a receiver, especially out of the backfield but they line up him up at wideout quite a bit as well.
* Hatari Byrd VERY lucky Cody Green is the quarterback that he is because the wheel route he just missed should have been an easy touchdown.
OU leads 27-7 at the half.
* Through the first half, the theory of a vanilla defense appears to be an accurate one as by my count I've only got six blitz attempts called by Mike Stoops. Sooners have also spent more time in a 3-4 defensive formation, but maybe not as much as I initially thought. Again, by my count I have them in a 3-4 for just six actual plays so far.
* Nice play from Striker on Tulsa's first play of the second half to blow up a quick swing pass and while he doesn't wind up making the tackle his play lead directly to the loss of four yards.
* Again, Corey Nelson with the stone hands. Man, they just don't get any easier than that one.
* For a little guy, Saunders sure seems to break more than his fair share of tackles. Especially on this punt return for what should have gone for very little gain turns into a big one.
* 3rd Qtr, 12:40 - 3rd & 10 OU from the TU 35. It's just as important to note this throw comes on a third and long as it is the throw itself. Honestly, out of his (Bell) hand it looks to me like this ball is going to be wildly overthrown. But Shepard turns on the jets and runs under it perfectly in stride. Really pretty ball right up the seam. OU leads 34-7.
* Is it crazy for me to call Trey Watts one of the most underrated players in the country?
* Pretty sure I held my breath literally from the time Jordan Phillips was helped off the field until he returned a handful of plays later. That would have been a loss this defense would not be able to overcome.
* I will say there have been a number of occasions in this game where Bell has turned a potential sack into positive yardage. It isn't big yardage mind you, but even getting just a positive yard of two can make a big difference rather than taking a five or six yard loss.
* Jay Boulware won't be happy with the coverage on this Watts punt return. Way too much empty space in the middle of the field. Major credit though to Bester who was one of the first guys down on coverage and chased the play all the way down from the backside. That was pretty impressive on the part of Bester and while it obviously does not end up making a difference in the final score, it did say OU four points with the defense holding and forcing a field goal.
* Julian Wilson very lucky not to get a penalty call shoving Green to the ground well after the play was over.
* Money-cutt. I'm a big fan. I can't remember who came up with that in the game thread, so my apologies for not giving the proper credit where it is due. OU leads 37-13 early fourth quarter.
* 4th Qtr, 14:01 - 1st & 10 TU from the 50. Hatari Byrd comes up and delivers a serious blow. He's going to be really fun to watch for at least the next three years.
* Jordan James has the look of a pretty darn good receiver for Tulsa in my opinion. Big bodied kid, uses his size well, and has nice hands.
* 4th Qtr, 10:50 - 1st & 10 OU from their own 35. I couldn't have taken it 48 yards like Finch does here, but I could have got through the gigantic hole both the o-line and Trey Millard have created for him. That said, Finch's burst once he hits the open field is pretty damn impressive. The Tulsa defender had just barely enough of an angle on Finch to force him close enough to the sideline that a diving tackle attempt forces him off-balance just enough to step out of bounds.
* 4th Qtr, 9:39 - 2nd & 18 OU from the TU 25. Play-action just doesn't get much prettier than this pass from Bell to Saunders up the seam. Bell does a really good job selling the fake, pulling it back, and then putting just enough air under the ball to split the safeties and hit Saunders perfectly in stride. Like I said, really, really pretty. OU leads 43-20.
* As much fun as it is to watch Keith Ford blow dudes up, on a couple of his carries it's almost as though he runs towards the contact. Which can limit the yards that may otherwise be there and also potentially lead to an injury. The coaches had the same problem with Adrian Peterson when he was in Norman.
That said, at the 6:37 mark Ford just made No. 53 for Tulsa shat himself with a hit that literally put him on his backside. He (No. 53) promptly removed himself from the game. I'll bet you Ford and his teammates had fun with that one in the film room.
* Nice to see Neal getting so much action in this game. Always was a big fan of his coming out of high school.
* Oh my, Mr. Ford.
* Ford literally shoves off an attempted tackle on his first career touchdown run. Like to the point of the defender noticeably being forced backwards with a ridiculous Ford stiff arm. I mean......just, wow. OU leads 51-20.
* 2:20 to go in this game and OU currently has seven freshman on the field defensively. Not sure why the hell Corey Nelson is still in the game though.
That pretty much wraps things up. But just to put a bow on things, let's go back to what we were focusing on with respect to the OU defense in this game.
I'm sure I missed a snap or two, but by my count I had OU in a 3-4 formation 15 different times in this game. They used it almost exclusively on first downs and/or in obvious run situations (2nd & 3rd and five or less type downs). According to OU's official stats, Tulsa ran 64 offensive plays in the game. So if you do the simple math, that would OU in a 3-4 for less than 25% of the snaps their defense was on the field. Expect that number to increase significantly in two weeks against Notre Dame.
As for the vanilla game plan and a lack of blitzes on the part of Mike Stoops and the OU defense, that theory held up as well. Again, by my count based on the definition we provided at the outset the Sooners blitzed Tulsa on just seven of their 64 plays in the game or only 11% of the time. A shockingly low number and obviously a considerable factor in OU's lack of pressure on Cody Green.