(Editor's note: Previously in the "Scouting Mike Stoops" series, we analyzed the 2002 Oklahoma-Missouri game from Stoops' first run as Oklahoma's defensive coordinator. In this edition, we'll look at an example of his handiwork at Arizona that should be relevant to his second stint in Norman.)
The score in the Oklahoma State Cowboys' trouncing of Arizona in the 2010 Alamo Bowl doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement of the Wildcats' defense under Mike Stoops. OSU rolled to a 36-10 victory, and Stoops rolled back to Tucson with the heat way up on this seat.
A closer look at the game tells a different story. In fact, it should have Sooner Nation pretty excited.
OSU's offensive attack in 2010 was a model for the current era in the Big 12. Offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen, who left in short order for a job at West Virginia, and his frightening Air Raid scheme had lifted the Pokes to the top of the country in a number of key offensive categories. They ranked in the top 10 in scoring (44.2 points per game, 3rd nationally), total offense (520.2, 3rd), yards per play (6.9, 7th), passing yards per game (345.8, 2nd), passing yards per attempt (8.5, 10th) and rushing yards per attempt (5.39, 10th).
It would be a big stretch to say the Arizona D shut OSU down, but the Wildcats arguably did as good of a job of slowing the Cowboys as any other team they faced all that season. The Pokes were held near their season lows in every major offensive category. Four turnovers, one of which was returned for a touchdown, helped do Arizona in. In sum, OSU had three scoring drives of 30 yards or less and a pick-six that played a role in turning this game into blowout.
I went back and charted every OSU offensive play from the game to get a better feel for how Mike will likely scheme against today's Big 12 offenses. Some notes and observations, with a big shoutout to the crew at Mocking The Draft for the cut-ups.
*Arizona ran Stoops' patented nickel defense (four defensive linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs) essentially as a base set the entire game. On early downs, the Wildcats typically brought safety Joe Perkins (No. 9) into the box to fill the spot that would be played by a SAM linebacker in a traditional 4-3 set.
*OSU didn't list a tight end on the roster – at all – in '10. The Pokes ran one play with a player serving as a tight end the entire contest, the first of the game. The Pokes did run 11 out of their Diamond formation with three running backs lined up in an inverted wishbone behind quarterback Brandon Weeden.
Arizona adjusted by subbing in a linebacker for a defensive back and running a prototypical 4-3.
*Stoops reserved his exotic looks for clear passing situations, specifically third down and second-and-long situations. That generally meant switching out a defensive lineman or a linebacker for a sixth DB.
*For the most part, though, the Wildcats played it pretty straight in a Cover 2 defense with nickel personnel against OSU's heavy use of four-wide sets. The secondary primarily went with Stoops' patented "Double Palms" coverage, which keys on inside receivers to give the DBs their cues.
*The most salient observation from this exercise for me was what I didn't observe. Namely, Arizona held off on blitzing Weeden on all but obvious passing downs.
On the rare occasions when Stoops did bring pressure, he varied the looks in terms of angles and packages, including weakside cowboy calls, crossfires and a number of other exotic schemes. He also switched around between man and zone coverages in the secondary.
The strategy helped the Wildcats win third down by forcing Weeden to throw short of the first-down marker. OSU converted just four of 13 conversion attempts on third down.
Blitz-happy Brent Venables it was not.
*Check out this pitch-and-catch on a deep out route from OSU's 45-year-old field general to wideout Ben Bowling (No. 9).
Arizona forced Weeden to hit those kinds throws, which is really all you can ask for. Not much you can do about that, honestly.
*I'd be really interested to hear what happened here, of course. Looks like the safety could have missed a call from the boundary corner before the snap, but who knows?
*After watching this film, I can't emphasize enough what a godsend Stoops should be to OU's sloppy secondary. Arizona didn't have an all-star group of defensive backs, but they still managed to hold their own against the Cowboys' high-octane offense with strong, physical tackling, good recognition and solid fundamental play all around.
How often did you see this out of the Sooners last season?
I've been skeptical about the supposedly transformational leadership that Stoops would bring to OU's defense this season. Granted, it's just one game – but after combing over this film, my position is absolutely evolving. Considering the upgrade in talent at his disposal in Norman, OU fans should rightfully be excited about what's to come with Stoops back on board.