The Oklahoma defense goes into the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz. one of the top defenses in college football. And their task will be to stop a Boise State offense that is considered one the best and most creative in college football.
The Sooners are a confident unit, but not cocky and they look forward to the challenge ahead. Leading the Sooner defense is defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who in this reporter's opinion the best defensive coordinator in the country. Venables recently talked with OUInsider.com for the Two Minute Drill.
JH: What do you want for Christmas?
BV: "A Fiesta Bowl win (laughter). That is all that I need."
JH: What do you want individually for Christmas?
BV: "Great preparation for the Fiesta Bowl."
JH: No BMW? Or new sports jacket or anything like that?
BV: "Oh, I am not counting on that. I am totally concentrating on the Fiesta Bowl. These guys (Boise State) are good."
JH: Boise State quarterback Jared Zabransky has good mobility, but when he scrambles he is not looking to run is he? He seems to be just buying time to throw the ball down field isn't he?
BV: "He wants to throw. As a scrambler, he is a threat to throw it first. That is what worries you because you would much rather have a guy that would run. We played a couple of guys this year where there was a threat to run the ball on the perimeter, and that scares you. But when they can run as well as he can and then buy time with his legs to find guys down the field, that is very dangerous. That is where you give up a lot of big plays, and they got a lot of big plays against everybody that they played in every game this year. Most of it was coming off of the scramble drill."
JH: Is it a designed rolling pocket?
BV: "Some of it is and some other of it is just breaking down containment and scrambling for his life. Again, the guy has great legs and he finds a way to get out of the pocket, improvise and make plays on the perimeter with his arm."
JH: Isn't part of his success that he keeps plays alive?
BV: "No doubt. You go back and watch some of the Georgia game a year ago and they had a couple of early turnovers that really stunted a few early drives. There were drives where they were moving the ball and on a lot of their third downs, when Georgia was playing good coverage, he breaks it down and scrambles for 15, 20 and 15 yards a pop numerous times in that game against real good athletes.
"He is a great athlete and a great threat at running the football. They have some designed quarterback run game and the option game, so obviously they wouldn't have those things in their offense if they didn't feel good about him as a runner. On the year, Zabransky has positive yards in regards to his net rushing. As much as they throw it, I think that is a tribute to his ability to run the football."
JH: What kind of receivers do the Broncos have?
BV: "They both have good speed and good size. They have one guy with 35 catches and the other two with 33 and 26. Then they have a guy with 16, so they do a good job of distributing the football and using all of their weapons. They have big, strong and fast guys like everybody that we have played. They have very good, quality depth. And again, they do a good job of utilizing those guys in the right ways.
"They match-up big receivers on smaller DBs on the perimeter throwing fade routes, or maybe using their smaller 4.4 guy in the slot trying to create some mismatches that way. They all have good speed. Any more, you have to get a guy who is 4.45 or 4.5 and knows how to run routes and catch the ball to be effective, and that is what Boise State puts out on the field at receiver."
JH: Are they a good team at using various formations trying to get mismatches that way?
BV: "Yeah, they formation that way and they are extremely effective at running the football. They create gaps in a variety of ways at running the football and, obviously, Ian Johnson is the No. 2 back in rushing the football. He is averaging 6.5 yards rushing the football. We didn't see anybody this year that averaged 6.5 yards per carry. He breaks a lot of tackles and he has a great feel for the game. He has good vision and he is a good patient runner. He has good lower body strength and he can really accelerate.
"That obviously allows them to have balance in their offense. They get a lot of their big plays on 1st and 10 off of the passing game. They play pass and they get you in an eight-man front, then they get you in single coverage down the field most of the time. They get single coverage and their quarterback does a great job of placing the ball where it needs to be. You can have issues when it is your guy against their guy one-on-one. If you don't do that they are going to run the ball down your throat all day."
JH: I know a lot of teams zone block up front nowadays on offense, but aren't they very good with their zone blocking schemes?
BV: "They don't have to knock you off the ball as much as getting leverage on you and finding a crease. They are extremely effective and very well-coached. They know what they are doing and that is why they are very aggressive. They are very aggressive in their approach as a football team, very aggressive in how they attack you because they know what they are doing. That comes with the continuity that they have had there and the success they have had as well. They are very good and very aggressive."
JH: You have a month to get ready for an opponent, so will you come up with a few new wrinkles for Boise State?
BV: "First and foremost, you want to do what you do well. I think it is important that you don't out-think yourself and all of a sudden feel that you are going to invent the wheel. We really actually have only three weeks. And in regards to actual preparation time, it is two weeks. But it is understanding people's thoughts and how they run an offense, and the flow of how they call a game.
"We are looking for ways on how to break down a protection and see if it fits what you do. We are not going to re-invent the wheel or change what we do, but you look for small wrinkles here and there whether it is to stop the run or find ways to be more effective at pressuring the quarterback."
JH: When you play in the Fiesta Bowl it will be about month since your last game. Does some rust set in during that time? Or do you keep them sharp during practice?
BV: "Sure it does. The more amount of time since the last time you have actually played your last game and have been out there running and tackling is always a concern. You want to try to emulate as much as you can game conditions in practice. Obviously, it is advantageous for us having played a couple of weeks ago. I think it is important how we practice and finish out before we take a little time off for Christmas break.
"Once we get off that plane what our tempo is will be important. Again, we are going to be stressing the basics of the game. It will not be any real magical schemes and those kinds of things. It still comes down to lining up, running, tackling, covering and positions. Just good base fundamentals and techniques. You try not to out-think yourself and definitely not beat yourself by not having those things, because you will have no chance without them.
"Typically, what you see in bowl games is high-scoring affairs. Everybody is coming up with these new wrinkles and doing things that they haven't done creating explosive plays. People haven't been practicing against them because good defensive teams have good defensive recognition. And if you haven't been practicing it, then obviously you have some recognition issues. So you have to make adjustments on the fly. A lot of that is new wrinkles offensively, as well as poor fundamentals defensively because you haven't played against it. There is that fine line between beating your guys up and having them ready to play, and play well."
JH: You finished on such a good note, so are you confident that you will play well against Boise State?
BV: "I don't know about confident. We didn't think we played great the last two games. We felt like we played good enough. I don't know, Boise State is a good team and we are going to need to play better than we have the last two weeks in order to have a chance to win. Everybody in the country, outside of people who pull for the Sooners, are not going to be pulling for Oklahoma in this game. Not that that has anything to do between the lines, but again this is a team that has a very, very strong track record. They have good players and they are well coached. They have good schemes.
"I don't know if I am confident, but I like our group of guys and I like how we have practiced so far. I like our gameplan, but again it comes down to getting out there and executing the basics as much as anything else. If you are supposed to stay in the post, then stay in the post and don't run up on the fake. If you are supposed to play the A-gap, then play the A-gap. If you are supposed to play the quarterback on the zone read option, then play the quarterback.
"If you break down in any of those areas you are not going to have a chance. If we play with good technique, good fundamentals, play hard, come up with a few turnovers and don't give up big plays, stop the run, then it is going to be good. Thinking along those lines, yeah, I am very confident. If we can do those things I will be confident.
Venables not taking Broncos' offense lightly
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