As I mentioned yesterday in the aftermath of Texas’ 36-20 win over Oklahoma in the Red River Shootout, the story of the game to me was the Longhorns’ ability to dominate up front in the running game. With two key pieces missing up the middle for OU, defensive tackle Jordan Phillips and Corey Nelson, UT ran right at the Sooners’ depleted front, generating 255 yards on 60 carries.
Honestly, from the moment the Crimson and Cream D trotted out to start the season in a new 3-3-5 alignment, I had been waiting for this to happen. All defensive schemes require trade-offs, and with the 3-3-5, you’re asking to get trucked by a power running game. You could see the signs of it against Notre Dame, which ran for more than 7 yards per attempt versus an OU D that did have Phillips and Nelson in the lineup.
Texas had the personnel to capitalize on OU’s weakness up front. The only question before the game was if UT offensive coordinator Major Applewhite realized that:
texas should ride johnathan gray’s ass. chances major applewhite gets that?— Allen Kenney (@BlatantHomerism) October 12, 2013
Clearly, he did.
Texas’ dominance in the running game on Saturday underscored the impact of some lean recruiting years on the defensive side of the ball, particularly along the defensive line. Of the 24 DLs signed by the Sooners in the last five recruiting classes, nine of them either left the program or never made it in. The 2009 and 2010 classes, which would make up the players who would be fourth- and fifth-year seniors this season, saw six of 10 DL signees wash out. Add in the 2011 class, and the flameout ratio rises to eight of 14.
A few months ago, Bob and Mike Stoops covertly decided that Oklahoma would scrap its plans to run a 4-2-5 defensive scheme and implement the 3-3-5 instead. It’s more than reasonable to assume that all of the attrition up front played a role in a decision that was made so late in the game.
Yet, even in instituting a three-man front, Saturday’s loss showed that the Sooners remain perilously thin along the DL, not to mention the situation at linebacker. The lack of functional depth finally came home to roost.
Looking ahead, the good news for OU is that very few opponents left on the schedule this season are explicitly built to tax this defense with a physical ground game. Unfortunately, the margin for error with this roster is growing smaller, too.