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Oklahoma Sooners Football: Coverage confusion and OL issues top concerns for ISU game

What went wrong for OU versus K-State and what it means for the matchup with the Cyclones

NCAA Football: Kansas State at Oklahoma Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Iowa State Cyclones’ success versus the Oklahoma Sooners in the last three years has helped establish ISU as one of the country’s programs on the rise. In 2017, the Cyclones pulled off an upset in Norman as a 30-point underdog. Iowa St. played OU tight in the next two meetings, including a one-point loss a year ago that was decided by a failed two-point conversion.

With the Sooners reeling from a monumental collapse last week versus Kansas State, Saturday night’s game in Ames feels like a prime opportunity for coach Matt Campbell’s team to make its strongest statement yet against OU. Let’s take a quick look at two issues that emerged for the Sooners in the KSU debacle – the offensive line and defending the empty set – and how they may apply versus the ‘Clones.

Problems on the OL

After rewatching the KSU game a few times, my opinion on the play of the offensive line changed. Gabe Ikard knows far more about this than me, and he apparently reached the same conclusion:

Based on what I saw, different areas of the line failed at different points in the game. Early on, left tackle Erik Swenson struggled to hold his own with KSU’s dangerous edge rushers – both in terms of standing his ground at the point of attack and getting beat by speed moves. After subbing in freshman Anton Harrison for Swenson, most of the issues at tackle disappeared. I didn’t see any real problems with right tackle Adrian Ealy.

Much of what makes Iowa St.’s defense effective revolves around the ability of the Cyclones to generate pressure with just three defensive linemen. They’ve fortified their pass rush, too, with the return of edge JaQuan Bailey, who tallied 3.5 sacks against TCU. There’s reason to be confident that OU is equipped to handle Bailey following the personnel adjustment at LT, though.

On the other hand, the interior spots of the OU OL really cracked in the second half versus KSU. Right guard Tyrese Robinson was getting beat repeatedly, and his technique fell apart as the game wore on. A slew of holding penalties came as a result, wiping out big gains and putting the Sooners in a hole time and again. Left guard Marquis Hayes had a better day than Robinson, but that’s not a ringing endorsement.

Robinson is probably feeling some pressure this week with hyped freshman Andrew Raym sitting behind him on the depth chart. That situation may not hold if Robinson doesn’t turn things around quickly. Also, keep in mind that the Sooners are still waiting for word from the NCAA on the status of the appeal UCLA transfer Chris Murray for immediate eligibility.

An empty feeling

The Wildcats rang up two huge plays versus OU by going to an empty set in the backfield with a running back lined up wide.

Example one:

On this first play, WILL linebacker Brian Asamoah is manned up with Vaughn, the inside receiver to the boundary. K-State quarterback Skylar Thompson puts the throw in a spot where Vaughn can split the opening between Asamoah and MIKE LB David Ugwoegbu, who may be a step slow in reacting to what he’s seeing. Vaughn then jets past free safety Pat Fields en route to a 77-yard gain.

Sometimes dudes are just tough to corral in space. It’s far easier to understand how that happened than to excuse the shambolic tackling on this angle route to Vaughn coming out of the backfield:

Number two:

WILL LB Bryan Mead received undue criticism on this play from the peanut gallery, including me. Frankly, this just looks like mass confusion.

When RB Keyon Mozee (No. 6) motions out of the backfield to the boundary, Mead follows him out wide. The defense’s call is Cover 3, which means three DBs have responsibility for a third of the field on deep routes. (Note that Mead is apparently trying to signal something to Woodi Washington, who is playing his first game at cornerback due to COVID-19 concerns, prior to the snap.) Mead sinks into his short zone on the snap – he’s not following Mozee downfield because he isn’t supposed to.

Unfortunately for the Sooners, it appears that someone – and perhaps more than one person – didn’t get the call.

So is the issue here a flaw in defending empty sets, or does OU need to clean up some communication issues? Note that KSU went empty just one time in the game prior to the middle of the third quarter when the Wildcats were trailing by 21 points. If they came into the game looking to exploit OU by using five-wide alignments, they have a funny way of showing it. That sounds more like invention born out of necessity because little else was working for K-State to that point.

Iowa St. may try similar empty-set tactics on Saturday, although Breece Hall and the rest of the Cyclone RBs don’t present the same kind of threats as Vaughn at receiver. Of greater concern: the array of motions and shifts that ISU offensive coordinator Tom Manning deploys. Confusion in the coverage schemes will put the Sooners in peril of getting torched by ISU QB Brock Purdy.