Oklahoma State head football coach Mike Gundy said several times during his Tuesday radio call-in show that football is a simple game. "It really comes down to the offensive coordinator taking with the defense gives you. A defensive coordinator can either load the box and use his safeties to take away the run or he can play his safeties back in pass coverage," said Gundy.
Gundy's inspiration was talk of Oklahoma State's 213-yard rushing output against Baylor, one of the team's best rushing totals in recent seasons. Baylor defensive coordinator Phill Bennett, normally a run-conscious defensive coach, played his safeties back a lot on Saturday to guard against home run plays by Cowboys quarterback Mason Rudolph and receivers like James Washington. Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich stayed with the run attack and it produced really well.
Now this Saturday Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer has to make some critical decisions against a new and improved Texas offense that features coordinator Sterlin Gilbert out of the Art Briles school of offense and the talent level known to be recruited and displayed at Texas that includes the likes of jumbo running backs D'Onta Foreman, who is 6-1, 249 pounds and has rushed for 288 yards and three touchdowns this season, and almost OSU Cowboy Chris Warren III, who is 6-2, 253 pounds and has rushed for 260 yards and three touchdowns this season. Add to that freshman every down quarterback sensation Shane Buechele and short yardage and close quarters quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, who is 6-4, 252 pounds. Oh boy, big ole Texans.
"You have to account for (Swoopes) when he is in the game and I would venture to guess that they have packages where he shows run and then passes it," Gundy said. "Buechele is a really good player and seems to fit the system that they're trying to execute. He's very accurate, mobile and has a strong arm. He throws the ball like a baseball player. They've had physical backs. It's not anything new for them. A very similar team to what they've had in the past eight to 10 years."
Spencer has a very similar opinion to Gundy, who sat down with the defensive staff and relayed some of his thoughts on the big plays for the Baylor loss last Saturday and how he'd like to see smarter decisions by the Cowboy defenders. Gundy said, for instance, when cornerbacks are in man coverage with no safety help they have to give up the short route, the curl or out, and then live to play another down. Those corners are likely to get a chance to show their improved football intelligence this Saturday, because from Spencer's comments it seems imperative that safeties will have to help some with stopping the run.
"They have the talent to do both. They can run the ball effectively and we all know the Baylor similarities to those schemes," explained Spencer. "If you give them some single looks, they'll take some shots at you, too. It makes them a tough team to game plan for when they can run it like they can.
"The biggest thing I've gotten from the film is that this is the most physical Texas team I've seen since I've been here. The way the running backs run and the blocking schemes, when they decide they want to run the power, or they run a counter, which is another way to run the power, they are really blocking well. They are finishing and the running backs are 245-250 pounds, so they're two of the strongest running backs our guys will probably face, and they aren't looking to go down. They want to put the shoulder down and go through you."
It will be a tough defensive chore. Yes, the linebackers and safeties must do a good job of video study, must gain some keys, and must have a good idea at pre-snap or right after snap of whether it is run, pass, or be ready for both. Texas includes a zone read concept in the scheme and plenty of pop passes for potential run-pass options. It's a real load.
"I noticed that they are running the ball real hard," safety Tre Flowers said. "I noticed their two quarterbacks. Swoopes has been in the game a long time and (Shane Buechele), he doesn't play like a freshman at all. They are a real good team and they can run the ball, and they are going to try and throw the ball. They are a good team. They are really big. Big and physical guys. It's going to be a tackling thing and I know we can do it."
A tackling thing, a mental thing, and a very physical thing.