When we last revisited the 2012 Oklahoma-West Virginia game, we looked at the stressors that the diabolical Dana Holgorsen applied to the Sooner D.
The Austin Pistol formation forced OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops to make some difficult choices regarding personnel in this game. Mike – infamously – decided to go with a bizarre grouping of four down linemen and seven defensive backs the majority of the time (34 of 39 plays).
The Sooners stuck with a Cover-2 Man Under concept. A defensive back was matched up with every designated receiver, while safeties Javon Harris and Tony Jefferson were tasked with supporting the run and helping in pass coverage over the middle of the field.
WVU rolled up 475 total yards in the 39 plays run out of the Austin Pistol for the game, an average of 12.2 yards per play.
Clearly, this didn't work well. Let's discuss why:
1. West Virginia's offensive line manhandled OU's front four.
Out of more than 80 offensive plays for WVU in this game, I can probably count on one hand the number of times that someone on the defensive line got any sort of penetration. Way more often than not, the Mountaineers were blowing Sooners back or turning them every which way they wanted.
2. OU was essentially playing four-on-five in the box against the run.
With the receivers spread so far out and Austin in the backfield, dimeback Julian Wilson was essentially functioning as a middle linebacker. On run plays, WVU's center (No. 74) would release almost immediately to the second line of the defense and take Wilson out of the play. That is a mismatch all day long.
With the defensive line getting beaten up so badly and Wilson a non-factor, the Mountaineers had plenty of room to operate in the box and set Austin up for big gains.
3. Tavon Austin and Tony Jefferson.
Tavon Austin was the sixth pick in April's NFL draft for a reason. He is a blur running in a straight line and slippery along the lines of Percy Harvin in open space. Holgo drew up a nasty plan to take advantage of both, and that tended to come at the expense of Tony Jefferson, OU’s star safety. Here’s an example.
WVU lines up in the Austin Pistol with dangerous wideout Stedman Bailey at the top of the screen matched up one-on-one against cover man Aaron Colvin.
Off the snap, the play looks like a stretch run going left towards Bailey’s side of the field. Colvin turns and runs with Bailey, putting his back to the action in the backfield (as he is supposed to do). This creates a potential lane for Austin to the outside. Jefferson reacts to the flow of the play and breaks to fill the lane.
The defensive line has done a decent job stretching Austin to the outside. Jefferson is in clear position to make the play in close proximity to the line of scrimmage. Then, this happens:
Fair or not, Austin probably cost Jefferson some major cash with this performance. Not Jefferson's best night.
OK, so we know why OU’s strategy in this case didn’t work. That begs a harder question: What should the Sooners have done differently?
Maybe put some more linebackers on the field? Personnel definitely seems like the most logical reason for why WVU was gashing OU’s D on the ground. It makes sense, then, that keeping Corey Nelson, Tom Wort or both in the game would help in stopping the run.
That also brings a new set of issues into play. For starters, that’s going to put a linebacker in coverage on Austin. Bad news.
Also, who’s to say that OU’s linebackers would have done fared any better against the run? Check out what happens to middle linebacker Frank Shannon here:
How about switching up the coverage schemes and going straight zone? Swell idea, but how much of that did OU do last season? Sounds like you’re begging for massive fuck-ups. And it’s not like there are no risks in going zone. Mike’s scheme actually worked pretty well in slowing opposing passing games last year. I doubt he picked the scheme from a hat, if you get my drift.
Cutting to the chase, I’m going to propose a simple theory: OU was powerless to stop this.
Oh sure, the Sooners could have crowded the box once they realized how Holgo planned on using Austin in the backfield. Dedicating more defenders to slowing the Mountaineers’ playmaker would have stopped Austin from going nuts on the ground.
But that’s just trading one set of problems for another. Focusing on stopping Austin would have left the defense exposed against WVU’s high-octane passing game.
I can’t blame Mike Stoops for not seeing the Austin Pistol coming. In this case Holgo came up with an ingenious way to take advantage of OU’s shortcomings, particularly along the defensive line.
Fans never want to admit this, but sometimes the other team has a really good game plan. I'd contend that short of finding some ringers for the front seven, the Sooners were destined for a shootout.