Much as it pained me to do so, I took some time to go back and look at the game film from Saturday’s loss to see what went wrong for the Sooners. The answer, of course, is a lot of things, but there are also reasons to think this team will fare better against Big 12 competition as opposed to powers like Ohio State, a team that, for my money, will be a Playoff team this season.
Oklahoma has two weeks to sort things out. When they run this one back, here are some of the things they’ll be looking at:
It’s really hard to overstate how big the first-drive Cody Ford loss proved for the Sooners. Not only was he playing well and helping Samaje Perine break decent first-down runs, his injury and the subsequent commercial break killed the momentum OU had going on its opening drive. On the play he got injured, he and Dru Samia helped open a gap for Perine who broke for an 11-yard gain to the OSU 10. The next play, Perine was stuffed at the line of scrimmage.
Ford’s absence made between-the-tackles running almost impossible for Perine for the rest of the night.
Special teams was a huge part of the first quarter in this one. Siebert’s missed field goal was followed by a three-and-out for Oklahoma’s defense, but OSU punter Cameron Johnston pinned the Sooners at their own 11 with a booming punt from the seven-yard-line. When OU couldn’t move the ball, Seibert ended up with a mediocre punt from the back of the end zone that landed at the OU 45. Not his best night, on the whole.
The OSU offense really got in gear when they took that great field position to start the second drive. On 2nd and 5 from the 40, OU correctly guessed that the Buckeyes would take a shot and dropped eight guys in coverage. Still, Ahmad Thomas managed to get beat by Curtis Samuel out of the slot and J.T. Barrett just barely overthrew him in the end zone. Samuel’s blazing speed was on full showcase when, two plays later, he took a 4th and 1 handoff, got outside and scored from the 36. Thomas was again right behind him as he waltzed into the end zone.
Ohio State’s pre-snap motion effectively confused the Sooners on that play. First, Samuel motioned from the slot and lined up next to Barrett in the shotgun. Then, tight end Marcus Baugh shifted from the right to the left side of the formation. Thomas and Steven Parker, who were walked up in the box to guard against any inside runs, took a step towards the line when they saw Barrett was handing off, and that’s all Samuel needed to neutralize what should have been OU’s last line of defense.
Baker’s first pick happened on the next drive, when the Sooners really needed to respond with points. On that 4th-and-3 play, Ohio State had three D-linemen with a hand in the dirt instead of their usual four, with three linebackers standing up on the line of scrimmage. They ended up rushing only the down linemen, but Bobby Evans slid to the left and let Jalyn Holmes rush Mayfield untouched. That gave Mayfield about two seconds to get the ball away, which he did—unfortunately, he threw it right into Holmes’s raised left hand, and Jerome Baker caught the floating tipped ball.
Maybe a blown assignment, maybe a bad decision—either way, Mayfield’s next pick was much worse.
But first, watch Obo Okoronkwo ignore Mike Weber running by him. At first I thought Obo had been blocked by Marcus Baugh—but nope! He just wasn’t paying close enough attention.
When Baker threw his second pick, the second quarter wasn’t even halfway through and the score was 21-10 OU. The Sooners had been moving the ball more or less effectively, and they faced a 2nd-and-4. OSU had a standard 4-3 look, and Oklahoma had both Mixon and Perine lined up next to Baker. Once again, because of the O-line’s protection, Bobby Evans slid right past Nick Bosa and let him charge at Baker, unblocked. Baker didn’t throw the ball into his hand this time—he scrambled around him and stepped up to the line of scrimmage. At that point, he could have:
a) Run for the first down himself (and probably more).
b) Thrown the ball away.
c) Hit Geno Lewis, who was improvising and appeared to have a step on his guy 20 yards downfield.
Instead, Mayfield fired a bullet as hard as he could towards Jarvis Baxter. Now, I don’t know what Baker was looking at, but by the time Baxter actually entered the shot, he was being draped by Marshon Lattimore—owner of multiple Tulsa interceptions—and Lattimore was a step in front of Baxter by the time the ball arrived.
I could go on, but if I had to pinpoint OU’s problems based on this film, they would be:
- A combination of bad decision-making and bad protection for Baker Mayfield.
- A bad personnel fit for the defense OU is running (linebackers not large or fast enough for 3-4, corners getting burned one-on-one, safeties consistently in bad position).
- Poor special-teams play.
- An inability to disrupt the pocket via the pass rush.
It’s true that Mike Stoops’ defense is not as talented as last year’s group, but the man is hanging his players out to dry by insisting they play like Eric Striker or Zach Sanchez when they just can’t. There are ways to cover for their deficiencies—it won’t always be pretty, but Stoops can cut down on the explosive plays if he makes QBs more uncomfortable and gives his covers some over-the-top help.
I think Lincoln Riley will be alright, but he too has to adjust to new realities, namely that Joe Mixon is his new best weapon and he cannot be letting D-linemen charge headlong at Baker Mayfield without being touched. You know, the little things.
With any luck, OU will realize these things before they go to Fort Worth and start playing like the Big 12 title contender they are.