When the Oklahoma Sooners throw down against the Oklahoma State Cowboys on Saturday, two of the nation’s premier passing attacks will be on full display. These passing attacks are each manned by prolific veteran quarterbacks and feature formidable weapons at the skill positions. Stopping either of these units is nearly impossible, but containing them will be the key to victory. So how can the Sooners go about limiting the Cowboys’ aerial assault?
For starters, Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph owns nearly every major school passing record and currently leads the nation in total passing yards. That being said, a couple of teams have already provided the blueprint on how to limit his effectiveness.
Against TCU, Rudolph struggled going through his progressions if his first target was not open. Part of this was how well the Horned Frogs’ secondary was covering, but the other essential factor to this was the pressure TCU’s defensive front was able to get against OSU’s weak and depleted offensive line, as seen here:
Unbelievable interception from the defensive tackle on a screen as Rudolph went into cruise control. Pass wasn't close to Hill. pic.twitter.com/tbhVqrsOXG— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) September 23, 2017
If Oklahoma’s front seven can apply consistent pressure either on the edges or up the middle, giving Mason little time to go through his reads, the Cowboys should have a difficult time creating big plays in the passing game. It’ll be easier said than done this time around, as that offensive line is in much better shape health-wise than it was at that point.
In the game against Texas, Rudolph’s completion percentage was 12 percent higher than it was against TCU, but his 7.4 yards per attempt was the lowest it’s been all season. This is primarily because Rudolph opted for the shorter passing routes over the deep bombs that typically define the Cowboys’ offense. Oklahoma State wants to throw it down the field often, but this strategy is rendered quite ineffective if that part of their game is suppressed.
Now, it’s been one of the more discussed concerns among Sooner fans, so I won’t pile on too much, but the defense needs to put together a more complete game across the board. If OU isn’t going to position its corners at the line, then they cannot let OSU’s receivers get behind them. Stout coverage is the obvious key, but underneath tackling can make all the difference.
Speaking of receivers, there was talk about how deep and talented the Cowboys’ receiving unit is all off-season, and by all accounts they have backed up those claims with some tremendous performances. Take the Pitt game for an example of what they’re capable of:
Headlined by the big-play threat wearing 28, James Washington is really an all-around great receiver. He has excellent control of his body and his top-end speed in the open field is highlight material. The Cowboys also feature the big bodied Marcell Ateman, who uses his size to snatch the ball over the top of defenders and is a difficult matchup for undersized corners. The quick and agile Jalen McClesky is heavily used in the slot but does appear on the outside as well. Tackling McClesky is easier said than done, but it will be crucial. Finally, Dillon Stoner is young but has a knack for getting open and uses his hands well like a seasoned vet. Defending this bunch is a tall task, but the Sooners mustn’t be passive in their defensive approach. OU has to be smart, yet aggressive.
Against Texas Tech, Oklahoma switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense after the first quarter and saw results almost immediately. Utilizing a four-man front will be something the Sooners should go to once again this weekend because the increased front helps stymie the opposing run game. OSU will want to establish the run to open up the passing attack. If OU can dictate the game defensively by forcing Oklahoma State to shy away from the run, this should help the defensive backs in a big way, especially on longer conversion attempts.
Lastly, many times a good offense can be the best defense. In this case, the best kind of offense for the Sooners could be the kind that drains clock in bunches. TCU nearly doubled its time of possession against Oklahoma State, which not only kept OSU’s offense on the sideline, it also kept Mason Rudolph and company out of rhythm. It is highly conceivable for this Oklahoma team to execute such a game plan. Combining OU’s deep and powerful offensive line with its plethora of capable running backs should go a long way towards containing the offensive counterparts.
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