I’ve been going back over the broadcast of last Saturday’s game trying to get some insights into what Josh Heupel was trying to do with his game plan. The most common question about the Sooners’ plan attack that I’ve heard: Where was the quarterback running game? After all, previous quarterbacks laid waste to Texas on the ground. Why didn’t OU follow suit?
We should start with a point of clarification: When we say Texas has struggled with running quarterbacks, we primarily mean that the Longhorns have had problems stopping the read option. For example, in Texas’ second game of the season, BYU quarterback Taysom Hill demolished the UT D on the ground, running for 259 yards and three scores. Here’s an example of poorly Texas handled the Cougars’ read-option scheme:
In this instance, BYU has called a standard zone read. Texas is aligned in a three-man front. Linebacker Steve Edmond (No. 33) is standing up on the strong side to the tight end’s outside shoulder. Hill's read is Edmond, who makes his intentions pretty clear right off the bat: He’s crashing down inside to play the give to the running back.
Hill makes the proper call, keeping the ball and racing around end. Just as Edmond has done, Texas safety Adrian Phillips initially keys on the give man, then takes a poor angle coming to meet Hill off the edge. Nickelback Quandre Diggs (No. 6) is playing man coverage on the slot receiver, and he turns his back to the play on the snap to follow his man and take away the screen pass. Consequently, Hill has plenty of free real estate in front of him.
Same thing going on here for the 'Horns versus the Cougs:
Now let’s take a look at a similar scenario from last Saturday’s game. To be fair, it’s unclear if the call is actually a straight give to the running back or a zone read. However, it provides a pretty good idea of how Texas planned to handle OU’s option game.
Texas is running a four-man front, which makes Reggie Wilson (No. 92), the strongside defensive end, Blake Bell’s read. Unlike Edmond in the BYU game, Wilson hedges on the outside, and Bell gives the ball to Brennan Clay (No. 24) Clay goes nowhere, though, as the right side of the Oklahoma offensive line gets whipped by UT’s defensive line.
Two key points in this instance:
- The read player, Wilson, essentially forces the ball out of Bell’s hands by staying outside; and
- The push from the Texas defensive line fences in Clay.
Similar example from later in the game, albeit Clay manages to get past the line of scrimmage:
In either case, Bell gets whacked by a talented defensive end if he keeps the ball.
To me, that's as much a matter of Texas having success taking away the QB in OU's running game as it is poor planning on the part of Heupel or poor execution by Bell.