The Oklahoma Offense

The time has come! It's bowl season, and the Cardinal has made a highly anticipated return to postseason play.

I for one am very excited about the trip to El Paso. What an opportunity to show the nation what Stanford football is all about by taking on Oklahoma in the Sun Bowl. This is an intriguing bowl matchup pitting a perennial Big 12 power against a rising Stanford program. Oklahoma is anchored by its stout defense, led by defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, and Stanford is most known for its power offense and Heisman Trophy runner-up Toby Gerhart. While everyone will be focusing on this strength vs. strength match up, I want to take a look at the other side of things: Oklahoma's offense against Stanford's defense.

Here is what things will look like when the Sooners have the ball:

Oklahoma's key offensive players:


#12 Landry Jones- Jones is a redshirt freshman who took over at the quarterback position after last year's Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford went down with a season-ending injury. Like many freshmen, Jones has had an up-and-down season. He has put up some decent numbers, but has struggled with consistency and accuracy, particularly when playing away from home. Jones has all the tangible skills one looks for in a quarterback standing 6-foot-4, 216 pounds, with a strong arm. He is fairly athletic, showing quick feet in the pocket, although he rarely runs the ball. Jones is a confident passer who will try to squeeze throws into tight coverage giving the defense a chance to make plays. His inexperience shows, as he is not very comfortable under pressure, and will make bad decisions when blitzed. He often throws late on intermediate passes, giving the defense time to react to the throw. He reminds me of USC's Matt Barkley as he has talent, but was probably not quite ready to take the reigns as the full-time starter this year. We cannot allow Jones to get in a rhythm early, as he has shown to be highly effective once he gets in a groove. For the year Jones has completed 231 out of 398 passes (58 percent) for 2,780 yards and a quarterback efficiency rating of 129.25. He has thrown for 23 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 12 games.

Running backs

#29 Chris Brown- Senior Chris Brown leads the Sooners in rushing this year with 745 yards on 170 carries for a 4.1-yard average and four rushing touchdowns. Brown stands at 5-foot-10 200 lbs, and is very quick back with good power. He also has good hands out of the backfield and is very effective in the screen game. #7 DeMarco Murray- DeMarco Murray is a junior running back who splits time with Brown in the backfield. Murray is second on the team in rushing with 708 yards on 151 carries for a 4.5 average and seven rushing touchdowns. Murray is a very versatile player who is also second on the team in receiving racking up 38 catches for 482 yards and a 12.7 average with four receiving touchdowns this season. Murray is a bigger back then Brown, standing 6-foot-1 and weighing in at 215 lbs, but still has good speed. Oklahoma will also line Murray up at quarterback in their "Wildcat" formation with Brown in the backfield in the same way that the Miami Dolphins use Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams.

Both are impressive backs who run with speed and power. They are reliable outlets for young quarterback Landry Jones and will have a big impact on this ballgame. Oklahoma will maximize their talent by keeping both backs on the field as much as possible, Murray will split out wide, and Brown wil line up at fullback to keep both backs on the field and keep the defense off balance.

The Sooners do a great job of getting the ball to their running backs in a variety of ways, including runs, pitches, screens and passes.

Wide Receiver:

#85 Ryan Broyles - Broyles is only a sophomore, but he is Oklahoma's most exciting player, and will be the "X factor" in this game. Broyles has twice as many catches as any other receiver on the Oklahoma team, tallying 76 catches for 964 yards with a 12.7 average and 12 receiving touchdowns. Although only 5-foot-11 and 175 lbs, he is an explosive player with big-play capability who is best with the ball in space. Oklahoma will take advantage of the crafty Broyles, by lining him up in the slot and matching him up with safeties and linebackers and letting him take advantage of the mismatch. He is both the big-play threat down the field and the consistent pass catcher on 3rd downs. Broyles is another versatile player who will see the ball on screens, reverses, and has even thrown a pass this year.

If the Cardinal can limit the production from Brown, Murray, and Broyles they will have a very good chance of winning this bowl game. These three players account for most of the offense from the Oklahoma team this season. The talent on Oklahoma's offense reminds me of a team like USC this year. From top to bottom, the roster is full of great athletes and fine ball players, but this year they have few real game breakers. These three players are the most explosive athletes, and the Sooners take advantage of that by getting them as many touches as they can.

Most of the time, Oklahoma will be seen in a spread formation using three or four receivers with the quarterback in the shotgun position. Even without their star quarterback, the Sooners have been a pass-happy offense this year. After Broyles, Oklahoma has eight receivers with at least 10 receptions and one receiving touchdown this year. Jones' first option is almost always going to be Broyles, but if he goes somewhere else, he spreads the ball around pretty evenly. The Sooners will try to establish a running game early, splitting carries between their two successful backs. Although they do run the ball well out of the spread formation, at times they will utilize a more traditional pro-style offense in running situations, and to use play action to get the ball down the field. Although Oklahoma insists on running their spread offense, they are very effective out of this more Stanford-style power offense.

For the Cardinal to have success on the defensive side of the ball, it all starts up front. The front seven will have to be able to stop the run and force Jones to air it out. If we cannot stop the run, we will have a hard time winning this football game. We have seen many spread offenses this year, so the Cardinal should be ready for what Oklahoma will be doing. Stanford's pass defense has not had a lot of success against the spread this season. We all know what happened when we faced Arizona earlier this year: the Wildcats were able to drive the ball down the field with quick short passes against our defense. Oklahoma has a different style than Arizona, because they are looking to hit a lot more intermediate routes in the 10-20 yard range. This gives the defensive line more time to get pressure on the quarterback, and the defensive backs more time to read and react to break on the ball. We must get pressure on this young quarterback, because he will make mistakes if he has defenders in his face all game.

I expect to see the Stanford defense in a lot of nickel in this game in order to get more athletes on the field against this spread offense. More specifically, I think we will use nickel back Michael Thomas to line up against Oklahoma's best playmaker, Broyles. Broyles will line up the slot and has an immediate advantage over safeties and linebackers. Think the Arizona State game, where we put MT3 on McGaha in the second half because he was getting open early on in the game against our safeties. This is a big challenge for the second-year player, going up against one of the best playmakers in the Big 12 conference. In my mind, this will be the match up of the game. Oklahoma will come to Broyles early and often, using him on pass plays, run plays, and screens. As well as slowing down Broyles, the Cardinal defense will have to be able to stop the run out of their nickel package. This is one of the tougher things about playing against the spread offense. With one less linebacker, Thomas and the safeties McNally and Howell will need to be factors in stopping the run game.

Oklahoma's offense has not been a quick-strike offense, and that works in Stanford's favor. If Stanford's offense can grind the clock like we have been doing all season we can keep the Sooners off the field and make them get into a quick-strike game, which has not been their specialty this year. Jones will attempt to get the ball down field a few times a game, and I expect him to test our corners on deep routes after watching the Notre Dame film. Hopefully, our corners have worked hard these past few weeks on playing the ball in the air. In order to win this game, we must limit the big play and quick scoring opportunities for Oklahoma. If we can make them drive the field, we can force Jones into making mistakes. Our defense must capitalize on Jones' mistakes and create some turnovers.

Oklahoma will be a tough opponent and this should be an exciting game. Stanford's challenge will be to stop the run, limit Broyles' production, and create turnovers on defense. This can be accomplished by our front seven remaining disciplined in their run responsibilities, and getting enough push to create pressure on the quarterback. The back four (or five in the nickel defense) will need to provide tight coverage, play the deep ball, and take advantage of their opponents' mistakes. I for one can't wait to see how our boys do.

See you in El Paso!

Go Card!

#2 Nick Sanchez starred at corner back for the Card in the '00s.

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