Actually, let’s clarify that: OU’s offense played two starkly different halves. While the Golden Flashes flailed to move the ball against a suddenly OU rock-solid defense, the Sooners appeared stuck in neutral for almost the entirety of the first two quarters. OU finally put seven points on the board in the last minute of the first half, followed by a 26-0 thrashing of Kent State in the final two quarters.
Moving forward, it’s easy to look at the results from the second half and say, “Do more of that.” But what is “that,” exactly? Equally important, what went wrong for the OU offense in the first half against Kent State’s lightly regarded defense?
Kent State played most of the game in a “3-3-3” alignment along the lines of Jim Heacock’s popular defensive scheme at Iowa State. The defensive linemen set up in a three-down front on most of OU’s offensive snaps, with two interior linebackers behind them and a SAM LB hovering around the edge of the run box to the field side of the offensive formation. KSU played three safeties on the third level of the defense.
The Golden Flashes played with numbers inside the run box throughout the game. Although they showed five players in most of their pre-snap alignments, they brought extra run defenders from different places from play to play. KSU also made a point of trying to blow up anything OU ran horizontally, which helped stymie the Sooners in the first half. Here’s an example from the first quarter:
On this play, OU is using 11 personnel (one tight end and one running back). Receiver Marvin Mims starts the play flanking quarterback Dillon Gabriel. On the snap, Mims sprints to his right towards the field side of the offensive formation.
KSU’s SAM LB (No. 37) is clearly keying on the swing pass and doesn’t hesitate to vacate the hook/curl zone. He runs charges toward the alley where Mims will receive the quick throw from Gabriel behind the line of scrimmage. In doing so, he gets the jump on OU TE Brayden Willis, who’s supposed to be setting a block for the Mims to turn upfield, and impedes Mims’ path out of the backfield:
Meanwhile, the KSU safeties are rallying to the ball to drop Mims for a one-yard loss.
OU also seemed to struggle to adapt its blocking schemes in some cases to Kent State’s funky run fits. Take this play from the first quarter:
Once again, OU is using 11 personnel with Mims joining Eric Gray in a split backs formation. Mims runs a swing route to the field side of the formation, but the play call appears to be outside zone read with the offensive line flowing to the left. At the mesh point, Gabriel gives to Gray and then carries out the run fake. Gray follows the flow of the play left.
Lined up to the boundary, OU receiver Theo Wease starts his route down the left sideline. However, KSU is actually using boundary CB lined up across from Wease (No. 35) as a force run defender. The CB reads his run key and heads straight for the alley, with the high safety to the boundary taking away an inside route from Wease. Left tackle Anton Harrison engages the CB on the edge, leaving left guard McKade Mettauer to take on the 4i defensive end (No. 11) and center Andrew Raym to block the WILL LB (No. 33):
The result is less than stellar, as the DE and WILL combine to drop Gray behind the line of scrimmage:
All in all, it made for an ugly first half in which the Sooners came up empty on four of five drives.
The Sooners started cooking on offense in the second half. First, they shifted away from the horizontal plays that bogged down in the first half and began taking more of the easy throws the Golden Flashes were making available.
The first play of the third quarter offered a good example. OU starts the half in 11 personnel with Willis set as an inline TE to the boundary:
The KSU LBs shift towards the boundary to account for the TE, opening up a clean passing window between Gabriel and Mims, who is lined up as the inside receiver to the field:
With the safety across from Mims giving him a cushion of about 10 yards, Gabriel hits his star wideout on an easy hitch route for a seven-yard gain:
A few plays later, OU calls an RPO. The SAM LB keys on the run, giving Gabriel a wide open window to hit receiver Drake Stoops on a hitch that picks up six yards:
Additionally, it looked like OU changed up some of its run-blocking assignments. When the Sooners ran outside zone to the boundary in the second half, for instance, the tackle helped block the defensive end, rather than chasing out to block the incoming CB:
Take a look at how the blocks set up for Marcus Major on his touchdown run on the opening drive of the third quarter:
With Major heading right:
- Raym locks up the nose tackle;
- Right guard Chris Murray takes the WILL LB;
- Right tackle Tyler Guyton walls off the defensive end.
Wideout Jalil Farooq is stalking the boundary safety, so all that’s left is for Major to shake the CB:
When it comes to evaluating preseason games against overmatched opponents, it can be tough to draw solid conclusions without knowing what a coaching staff wants to do. For example, offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby noted during his press conference on Monday that he was “stubborn” about trying to establish OU’s ground attack and admitted he should have aired it out more early in the game.
That doesn’t exactly absolve the offense, though, for its malaise in the first half. Ideally, the Sooners could run their base offense well enough against teams like Kent State without the need to make adjustments.
What happened versus the Golden Flashes on Saturday was far from a disaster – OU won by 30 points, after all. It does serve as a reminder that the Sooners are still working through the early phases of an overhaul.