Defensive-minded head coach Matt Rhule is trying to put his own stamp on the smoking crater of a football program that he inherited post-Art Briles. The Bears’ strength, however, still has a Briles-ish streak to it: They have a quarterback who throws a nice deep ball, and he is still throwing to receivers on the perimeter who can torment defenses.
In light of how opponents have attacked OU’s defense this season, the matchup with the Bears this weekend sets up as a stiff test Sooners.
The Brew Crew
Charlie Brewer emerged as BU’s top option at QB in the middle of his freshman year, taking over for the final five games of the 2017 season. Even though that stint included just one win, a 38-9 blowout of Kansas, Brewer solidified the position. It culminated in a strong outing to end the season versus TCU in which he completed 19 of 29 pass attempts for 301 yards, two touchdown passes and an interception. This season, the Bears have already tripled their win total from 2017, and the Big 12’s reigning co-offensive freshman of the year has picked up where he left off (64-of-102 pass attempts, 862 yards, six TDs, one interception through four games).
At 6-1, 202 pounds, the Lake Travis product isn’t going to draw comparisons to Bryce Petty. He nonetheless possesses the arm to put it on the money when his receivers go vertical. Brewer is also quick enough to elude oncoming pass rushers and get down the field in a hurry when he opts to tuck and run.
Mims and more
Equally concerning for OU, Brewer is throwing the ball to some speed merchants in the receiving corps.
The headliner is rangy junior Denzel Mims, who enjoyed a breakout game versus the Sooners last season when he caught 11 balls for 192 yards and three scores. Not only can Mims fly, he knows how to use his size (6-3, 208 pounds) to shield defensive backs and win balls in the air.
Senior Chris Platt also terrifies defenses with his speed. Co-offensive coordinators Jeff Nixon and Glenn Thomas take care to get the ball in Platt’s hands once he has built up a head of steam. That might mean catch-and-run routes, but also jet sweeps around end.
The Bears also found Mims and Platt doppelgangers in their freshman class to enhance their firepower. Tyquan Thorton (No. 81, above) lacks Mims’ bulk, but the rookie (6-3, 165 pounds) offers Brewer another lanky target with speed to burn. On the other end of the spectrum, the Bears deploy Josh Fleeks (5-11, 181 pounds) similarly to Platt in an all-purpose role.
The Jalen Hurd experiment
OU fans probably remember Jalen Hurd from a non-conference series with the Tennessee Volunteers in 2014 and 2015. He looked like an NFL-bound running back in the two games versus the Sooners, tallying a total of more than 200 yards rushing.
Hurd bolted from Knoxville in the middle of the 2016 season amid talk of a desire to convert to wide receiver. He got his wish in Waco, where he’s now playing after sitting out the 2017 campaign.
Watching Hurd this year, he still looks like a running back trying to transition to receiver. He’s not exactly a natural when it comes to catching the ball. That hasn’t stopped the Tennessee transfer from becoming BU’s team leader in both receptions and receiving yards through four games. While he’s arguably at his best after the catch in middle and short range, Hurd has shown he’s still a threat going downfield.
What OU might do
If you watched Iowa State’s Hakeem Butler tear up OU’s secondary two weeks ago, you understand what kinds of problems the Bears are bringing with them to Norman. It’s easy to envision Platt racing behind a cornerback or OU’s safeties sliding off Hurd and Mims as they try to bring them down in the open field.
Not all bad news for the Sooners, though: Baylor’s offensive line leaves a lot to be desired, and they will be missing starting guard Xavier Newman on Saturday. Brewer’s scrambling skills have come in handy, given his lack of protection this year. Meanwhile, JaMycal Hasty and John Lovett fall into the category of solid but unspectacular running backs.
Look for OU to offer plenty of help over the top with deep safeties and to play the vast majority of its defensive snaps in nickel personnel with Justin Broiles on the field. (He should be fresh after getting what amounted to an off day last week.) On obvious passing downs, Mike Stoops will most likely add a sixth defensive back to the mix.
A better question is how to keep the ball out of the hands of the BU receivers. That starts with affecting Brewer.
It would be great if Mike Stoops could count on his defensive front to take down Brewer before he has a chance to throw or harass him into mistakes. That hasn’t really been the case this year, though.
Consequently, Stoops has installed more expansive blitz packages this season along with a number of twists and stunts for his defensive linemen. You’d have to assume he will put those on display Saturday. Notably, since Baylor will be playing a second-string guard, that could open up opportunities to create pressure in the middle of the line of scrimmage.
Another option for Stoops would be using a spy on Brewer in third-and-medium situations. For example, the alignment pictured from the Iowa State game could easily enable WILL linebacker Curtis Bolton to track Brewer and allow MIKE LB Kenneth Murray to come off the edge on a blitz.
It’s probably fortunate for OU that the Bears are still rebuilding their defense. If this matchup turns into a track meet, it favors the home team. With how the Big 12 is shaping up this year, though, Baylor’s offense offers just a warmup for what’s to come later this season in conference play.