*Based on the scoring and yards gained in the national title game, it’s a little hard to take the "SEC defenses dominate spread offenses" storyline too seriously.
However, if you want to have any hope of slowing down spread offenses with mobile QBs like Deshaun Watson, you have to have quality depth on the defensive line and playmakers on all three levels on defense. While the Crimson Tide's DL got all the credit, it was the 'Bama linebackers and safeties that made big plays as well.
*Even with all that defense, it was 'Bama’s passing offense that won the game, making big plays downfield to set up three touchdowns.
For all the talk of the Tide's power running game – with all the big boy football clichés – and Derrick Henry, Clemson coordinator Brent Venables’ defense shut down Henry for basically three quarters. The Tide, however, found their passing attack and their little-used five-star tight end O.J. Howard.
*While the 'Bama passing game was making big plays, special teams play was making an even bigger difference. Hopefully, it’s a difference that is being noticed in the football offices in Norman.
OU has to get back to finding difference-makers in all areas of special teams. When was the last time OU blocked a punt? The two-year hiatus on punt returns has to end as well. On kickoff returns, OU has to get back to what was working in 2014.
*Finally, the two-game playoff is making quality depth and staying healthy a priority more than ever.
Oregon limped into the title game last year without its top three receivers. In the semis this year, the Sooners lost their best defensive lineman before the game and their best inside linebacker before the half. The final blow was losing their two best running backs in the third quarter. Clemson was able to get by with losing Shaq Lawson against OU, but the Tigers' loss of cornerback Mackensie Alexander certainly played a role in 'Bama’s passing success in the second half.
Overall, 'Bama had the best depth and the fewest major injuries. (I cannot recall hearing of a starter being out for 'Bama?)
Regarding the Sooners' recruiting, what does this tell you?
- OU signed two JUCO mid-term enrollees at guard. (OU coaches can be pretty confident Dru Samia/Orlando Brown have the edges handled and will be better in 2016.)
- OU has one verbal commitment from a JUCO receiver and is pursuing another JUCO WR.
- OU accepted a grad transfer WR from Penn State.
- OU has offered a JUCO LB despite great chances of landing a very good group of high school LBs.
- OU has offered some elite JUCO DL prospects late in recruiting despite not needing JUCO DL depth this year.
It looks as though the OU coaches think they are very close to being back in the College Football Playoff in 2016 and are working as hard as possible to fix the gaps in the squad. On offense, that's guard and receiver. It also means adding any difference-maker, regardless of recruiting need, such as JUCO DLs.
Overall, the mantra seems to be, “Don’t waste Baker Mayfield’s senior year.” The OU coaches appear to realize this two-year window can re-establish OU as a top 10 program and, along with improving facilities, boost recruiting momentum considerably. OU got lucky that Mayfield is this good, so it’s great to see this all-in attitude.
To beat a team like 'Bama, you have to surround your play-making, elite QB with weapons. A quick look around college football’s early preseason lists will show that OU will be one of a few preseason top 10 programs with a QB of Mayfield's caliber. (OU bowl game nemesis Clemson, Baylor and ND round out that group.)
Will this approach hurt OU after Mayfield leaves? Ideally the recruiting bump that OU is getting from the improved play on the field will help re-stock OU’s roster with talent and depth.