The Big 12 can thank Tavon Austin for the implementation of OU's new 3-3-5 blitz. West Virginia's wide receiver donned his tailback hat in the Mountaineers' close 2012 loss to the Sooners and scurried for 344 yards rushing.
It was painfully evident the Sooners, with a 4-3 base defense, didn't have the athletes on the field to handle Austin, or any players of that quick, scat back mold — Lache Seastrunk picked up six yards a carry and three touchdowns last year, Joseph Randle had 113 yards and four scores.
Out goes a defensive lineman, in comes a defensive back — a hybrid 'backer/safety type — and, hello, Eric Striker. Mike Stoops' 2013 is much-improved thanks to those personnel changes and sits as the No. 2 unit in the conference, already having played the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 offenses in the Big 12.
"Their three d-linemen they play with are athletic and fast," Iowa State offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham said. "And obviously they're used to flying to the football. They've got team speed."
In the first half last week against Baylor, the Sooners blitzed 57 percent of the time on third-and-four or more, a clear passing down. Against the Cyclones, you can expect that number to swell, with Iowa State standing as a non-threat in the vertical passing game. Oklahoma will play lots of Cover 1 (single-high safety) and lots of Cover 0, too, which means Grant Rohach will have defenders rushing toward him all day.
Against TCU, Rohach 66 percent of his passes shorter than 10 yards — also including screens — but only 33 percent of his passes longer than that.
Let's take a gander at some of Oklahoma's looks from that Baylor game.
First, let's quickly run over the 3-3-5, which we discussed a bit when preparing for the Texas Tech game a month ago. A handful of big schools use it, like Georgia, and it was made popular by Charlie Strong at South Carolina in the early-2000s as a way to compensate for a lack of athleticism against the best of the SEC. Strong removed a hulking lineman from his base and inserted a hybrid safety/linebacker, who could play the run and the pass and move around much better.
Not often do teams with superior talent use it — it's kind of a gimmicky base — but that's changed some with Georgia and Oklahoma. It just fits Georgia's personnel better. For the Sooners, they had to to something after last season, and it works for them in a conference where offenses are trying to play in space.
The Sooners have a nose tackle lined up over the center, but what they do with their defensive tackles (considered big ends in a 3-4 base) do differs. Sometimes they'll each play a five-technique, to the edge of the outside shoulder of an offensive tackle. They can play a three-technique, off the shoulder of the guard. Or they can mix and match, as seen below, with the strong-side end playing the five and the weak side end playing a three-tech. Here, linebacker Eric Striker, the best blitzer in the conference, plays as an outside linebacker would in a 3-4, standing up outside the offensive tackle.
And here's the five-technique look, with three linebackers bunched near the A-gap. Two linebackers will hit it, and one will zip into zone coverage. Baylor threw an incompletion in the corner in the end zone.
A nice strong safety blitz below, resulting in a sack of Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty. Striker is pushed to the outside but Quentin Hayes finds a crack in the offensive line, the result of the front three crashing down, toward the left tackle. See how the center, No. 54, is engaged with the strong-side end, the running back, No. 25, has nobody to block, and the right guard, No. 67, is upfield and in no-man's land.
Last bit of play-art below. There's the three linemen playing five-techniques, the linebackers aligned in a fashion more similar to a 4-3, a single high safety and man coverage on the outside. This will be an incomplete pass to the short side of the field. It's an interesting defensive call. Baylor so often utilizes the far side of the field, with receivers split outside the hash and the numbers.
The blitz right here, two players into a position where they'd directly screw with Petty's line of vision toward that side of the field, is a stroke of Stoops brilliance. Indeed, that side of the field is where Petty turns first, only to move progressively to the left, where the receiver at the bottom of the screen was ultimately ran off his route.
Player to Watch
Aaron Colvin might be Oklahoma's best defensive player, but Striker, with his tremendous edge speed, is its most intimidating. The junior linebacker earned some notoriety with a hit on Case McCoy that flipped the quarterback (it was also flagged).
After six tackles in 2012, Striker has 35 total thus far with 6.5 for loss and 2.5 sacks for a total of 18 yards.
|Matchup Preview | November 16, 2013|
|Iowa State Cyclones|
(1-8, 1-3 Away)
|#22 Oklahoma Sooners|
(7-2, 5-0 Home)