The Oklahoma Sooners rarely get bottled up on offense the way they did last weekend by the Baylor Bears.
OU put up just 27 points in the win over the Bears. The Sooners haven’t seen a number that low on their side of the scoreboard since 2016. Meanwhile, they gained 4.6 yards per offensive play in the contest, their lowest average in a game since 2015.
Frankly, the last time the OU offense looked so inept, the LSU Tigers were rolling the Sooners in the 2019 College Football Playoff. LSU’s defensive coordinator in that game? Dave Aranda, who’s now the Baylor head coach.
Notably, the Sooners ran for just 76 yards on 31 attempts versus Baylor, which prevented the offense from sustaining drives. The Bears owed their success in large measure to their ability to stymie the foundation of OU’s rushing attack.
Under coach Lincoln Riley, OU has made its living in the running game from its famed GT counter concept: The center and the guard and tackle on the play side of the formation block down, while the guard and tackle on the back side pull in the direction of the opposite side of the line. Essentially, Riley has built a series of different run and pass calls off the blocking scheme.
In theory, the Sooners already should have had an idea of what Baylor would do to throw sand in the gears of their run game. Aranda clearly made it a priority for LSU to neutralize OU’s GT counter in the Peach Bowl last season. He did so by coaching his defenders to take the fight to OU’s offensive linemen.
Here’s how Dave Aranda coached his players at LSU to defend OU’s GT counter play pic.twitter.com/zVF0Whp8k8— Allen Kenney (@BlatantHomerism) December 8, 2020
In the play above, OU has first down and 10 yards to go from the center of the field at its own 25 yard line. The Sooners come out in 11 personnel (one running back and one tight end). H-back Jeremiah Hall lines up in the backfield with RB Kennedy Brooks flanking OU quarterback Jalen Hurts on either side.
Aranda has the Tigers ready to rumble, putting seven defenders in the run box with four-man front. On the outside, LSU is playing man coverage on OU’s split receivers with a single high safety.
On the snap, OU’s right guard and right tackle pull to the left. The center, left tackle and left guard block down to their right. Hurts fakes the handoff to Brooks, who runs away from the pulling linemen to the right with Hall as a lead blocker. Hurts keeps, looking to run left behind the pulling blockers.
LSU’s unblocked defensive end on the back side of the play charges inside, bouncing off of Brooks and chasing after Hurts from behind. Meanwhile, LSU’s JACK linebacker crashes down into the offensive backfield. Rather than waiting on the edge to catch a block from one of OU’s pulling linemen, the JACK slams into the pulling guard in the middle of the formation. Both inside LBs also loop to the right in anticipation of where the action is heading.
Aside from creating havoc in OU’s backfield, LSU’s edge players have essentially put Hurts in a vise. With his running lane dramatically narrowed, the OU QB is directed into the muck of the interior of the offensive line. He meets an LSU defensive lineman and an LB who drop him for a one-yard gain.
Baylor’s familiar plan
Aranda adopted a similar strategy for his Bears on Saturday. Let’s take a look at one example.
You’ll never guess what Baylor did on Saturday when OU ran GT counter… pic.twitter.com/zp6nihrosF— Allen Kenney (@BlatantHomerism) December 8, 2020
In the clip above, the Sooners are snapping from the left hash, with first down and 10 to go from the Baylor 49. OU comes out in 12 personnel (one RB, two TEs). Hall and Willis both line up as inline TEs. OU QB Spencer Rattler is in a Pistol formation with RB Rhamondre Stevenson directly behind him.
Prior to the snap, Baylor’s nickel shifts up to the line of scrimmage. This creates a five-man front with seven defenders in the run box for the Bears.
At the snap, OU left guard Marquis Hayes and tackle Erik Swenson pull to the right, as the right side of the line blocks down to the inside. Rattler hands the ball to Stevenson on a straight give, and the RB heads to the right behind the pulling guard and tackle.
The nickel comes down hard off the edge and dives at the legs of OU’s pulling linemen, chopping both down in the process. The Baylor ILB initially loops outside. With Hayes and Swenson on the ground, he finds his angle in the backfield to Stevenson unimpeded. Again, the key to Baylor’s approach is meeting the pulling linemen in the backfield to dirty up the running lane.
To be fair, shutting down practices for extended periods in the two weeks prior to this game limited OU’s capacity to install many schematic adjustments. Even so, Riley has been running OU’s offense for six years now, so he and the rest of the coaching staff should expect opponents are catching up to the flourishes that have made his schemes so deadly. Look for the offensive brain trust to come up with even more tweaks than usual this offseason in preparation for year seven.