Expert Analysis: DBs vs. Oklahoma

The Sun Bowl was packed, and it was a perfect day for football in El Paso. Our boys fought hard, and had their chances to beat a very impressive Oklahoma team. However, when the final whistle blew, we were on the losing end of the score.

As we know, Stanford has not made it to a bowl since 2001. Unfortunately, my career as a Cardinal fell into these bowless years. As a former player, I am very proud of our team and very happy to see that our program is heading in the right direction.

There is never a single reason that a team wins or loses a particular game, because there are so many variables that go into a collegiate football game, especially a bowl game. But, there is one stat that stands out among the rest. It is very hard to win a football game when you give up 418 yards passing and three touchdowns through the air. I wrote going in to the game that Oklahoma WR Ryan Broyles was going to be the "X factor". He is a tremendous athlete and he really stands out on film. He plays in the slot, and the key matchup was going to be Broyles against whoever lines up on him, whether it be a linebacker, safety, or nickelback. Broyles won this matchup convincingly, as he was able to rack up 13 catches for 156 yards and three touchdowns on the day. Let's take a closer look at how Oklahoma was able to gain so many passing yards on our Stanford defense.

First quarter

The Sooners take over with great field position on Stanford's 30 yard line after Stanford QB Tavita Pritchard is intercepted on the Cardinal's first drive.

After two short runs and a false start penalty, Oklahoma QB Landry Jones hits WR Ryan Broyles for a 30-yard touchdown strike on 3rd and 10. On this play, it looks like Stanford is in a Cover 2 defense with two deep safeties. Broyles lines up in the slot, and runs a simple seam route down the middle of the field. Stanford's two safeties, Bo McNally and Delano Howell, are forced to widen with deep routes by the outside receivers leaving, the middle of the field open. It is nickel back Michael Thomas' job to get a collision on Broyles and keep him out of the middle of the field. Then, Thomas is supposed to turn and run with Broyles, taking away the inside throw, and forcing the QB Jones to throw the ball higher and to the outside, in turn giving the safeties more time to react to the throw. Thomas whiffs on his jam and is not able to stay inside of Broyles, making this an easy throw and catch for the Sooners' first score. (0-7)

Oklahoma faces 3rd and 11 on their next drive when QB Landry Jones is able to buy time with his feet and find TE Trent Ratterree on a 38-yard pass down the sideline. This is what we call the "scramble drill", as the QB scrambles receivers are taught to break off their routes and run down the field. On this play, Ratterree is able to find a spot in between the LBs and DBs to pick up a big gain. Give credit to Jones; it is very hard to keep everyone covered in a zone when the QB is able to keep the play alive that long.

One play later, on 2nd and 3, senior safety Bo McNally intercepts a pass intended for Broyles and returns it 55 yards down to the Oklahoma 14. The Cardinal defense comes out in cover four, and McNally becomes a free player as the slot WR on his side does not run a vertical route down the field. Bo does a textbook job of reading the QB's eyes and breaking on the football to force a huge turnover for the Stanford defense. Sooners QB Landry Jones has a lot of talent, but has been known to make mistakes, with 14 interceptions on the season. This time McNally makes him pay, as he sets up Stanford's first scoring drive. (7-7)

During the Sooners' next drive, Oklahoma is able to convert on a 3rd and 2 and a 3rd and 6 with passes to #24 Dejuan Miller. On the 3rd and 2 play, Oklahoma calls a perfect pass against our safety blitz. McNally blitzes from the right side, as Jones runs a bootleg to the opposite side, leaving the Cardinal with only 3 DBs in coverage. Jones is able to hit a wide open Miller for 22 yards. Then, on 3rd and 6, Jones is able to hit Miller on a 16 yard slant to pick up another first down. On this play, Stanford is playing cover 3 with a linebacker blitz. The cornerback Johnson Bademosi has to understand the down and distance. On 3rd and 6, he has to play more aggressive and protect the sticks by expecting a shorter route. Bademosi has shown the ability to turn and run and use his makeup speed to react if the WR happens to go deep. From film study, he should know that Oklahoma likes to run slants on third and 3 to 7. Also, in a zone blitz Bademosi should be playing inside leverage to take away the slant which is the fastest and easiest throw for the QB when faced with a blitz. Instead, Bademosi gives away the inside and backpedals too deep to allow an easy throw and catch for a first down. After a long drive, the Stanford defense tightens up and forces Oklahoma to settle for a field goal. (7-10)

Second quarter

Sudden change! The Stanford defense is back on the field after another interception from QB Tavita Pritchard. The defense holds, as Jones cannot find anyone on 3rd and 15 forcing a 3 and out!

After a Toby Gerhart touchdown, the Sooners come out passing with a 17 yarder to Broyles down the middle of the Stanford defense. On this play, Broyles is lined up in the slot and runs right in between linebackers Will Powers and Nick Macaluso. This cannot happen! Our linebackers should be hoping that a 5'11 178 lbs Broyles runs through their linebacker box so they can cancel his route by knocking him on his butt. Both linebackers stick out a hand to brush Broyles as he runs by, when they should sandwich him and eliminate his route from the play. Instead, Broyles is able to run down the middle of the field and catch a 17 yard pass in between the LBs and the safeties.

On the next play Jones is able to hit WR Jazz Reynolds for a 15-yard gain on a slant route. This time Stanford is in the nickel package playing cover 2 defense. Cornerback Richard Sherman forces Reynolds to the inside right where nickelback Michael Thomas should be playing in this zone defense. Instead, MT3 chases the slant by the slot receiver and winds up playing the same zone as linebacker Chike Almajoyi. This leaves an open zone in the middle of our defense as two of our zone droppers are covering the same zone. We are not playing disciplined in our zone coverages.

After passing the ball down the field, Oklahoma caps off a long drive with another touchdown pass from Jones to Broyles. On this play, safety Delano Howell is in quarters coverage and is responsible for the slot receiver if he releases down the field. This is not a good matchup for us. Broyles is able to run in between nickelback Michael Thomas and linebacker Chike Almajoyi without disrupting his route. If either player can hit Broyles and disrupt the timing of this play, Jones may not be able to hit Broyles in rhythm. However, Howell does not get any help from his nickelback or linebacker and reacts late to the route. Jones throws a perfect pass to hit Broyles in stride for the touchdown. Oklahoma is playing well, but we are making it too easy for them. (14-17)

Stanford shows some promise on the next drive by adjusting to what Oklahoma is trying to do. On 3rd and 8, Jones attempts to hit Broyles down the middle of the field on a seam pass. This time, linebacker Chike Almajoyi turns and runs with Broyles taking away the inside throw, and forcing Jones to make a perfect throw over the top of Almajoyi. Jones' throw lands just out of the reach of Broyles, causing Oklahoma to punt. This is the same route Oklahoma has scored two touchdowns on earlier in the game. Sherman blocks the punt and Stanford goes on top 24-17.

The Stanford defense stays strong on the Sooners last drive of the half with good pressure from the front 4 and solid coverage by the back end.

First half

Stanford did not play disciplined in their zone defense during the first half. The back four need help from the linebackers and nickelback in the short to intermediate passing game. The linebackers and nickel must be able to play their zones and disrupt routes to throw off the timing between the quarterback and wide receiver, as well as give the DBs time to react to the pass. Stanford is having a tough time containing playmaker Ryan Broyles from the slot position. We are making it too easy for QB Landry Jones, and now he has got into a rhythm. At the end of the second quarter, defensive coordinator Ron Lynn was able to make some adjustments that have helped to solve some of the problems of the first half. We need to get more pressure on Jones and force him into making more mistakes. On a more positive note, we were very stout against the run in the first half and have the lead 24-17.

Third quarter

Oklahoma starts the second half with three straight passes to WR Ryan Broyles. Obviously, they think they have a mismatch and are trying to get the ball in his hands as much as possible. These plays are nothing special, just using Broyles ability to catch the ball and try to make a play after the catch.

On 2nd and 3, Jones throws deep down the sideline intended for Jaz Reynolds. Sherman is running stride for stride with Reynolds in coverage, and times his jump perfectly to go up and break up the pass. Excellent coverage by Sherman on this play, but I'd like to see him come down with this INT. In Sherman's defense, Reynolds did a good job of becoming the DB and battling Sherman for the ball.

On third down, Jones completes a pass to Moses Madu for a gain of 19 yards and a first down. Nickelback Michael Thomas is lined up over Madu in the slot on this play. Thomas has got to know the down and distance and play differently because it is 3rd and 3. Thomas should line up on the first down marker, and expect the short throw so he can make a play on the ball. Instead, he backpedals too fast making it way too easy for Madu to run the "stick route." (The stick route is when the WR runs to the 1st down marker and turns around.) After the catch, Thomas takes a very bad angle and is not even able to make the tackle. Madu turns a 4-yard route into a 19-yard gain.

A few plays later on 2nd and 10, Jones finds RB Demarco Murray down the sideline for a 28-yard gain. On this play, it looks like the Cardinal are in Cover 2. Kris Evans is the corner, and he is responsible for the short flat area. He does a good job of sinking to protect the deep route, but he seems to forget about Murray in the flat. Evans should sink in between the deep route and the short route so he can break on either route after Jones throws the pass. Evans is too deep, and Murray becomes a very tough tackle in the open field, picking up 28 yards on the play.

On 2nd and goal, Jones ends the drive with a six-yard touchdown pass to Broyles. We are in cover 4, with cornerback Quinn Evans lined up against Broyles on the outside. Evans is filling in because Sherman came out a few plays ago with a shoulder injury. Evans needs to line up inside to take away the easy slant route. Broyles runs a slant route and gets inside of Evans, and as Evans attempts to react he slips and falls, making this an easy throw and catch. Safety Delano Howell could have provided inside help as well, but he got caught up on play action and although he recovered late, he was not able to make the play in time. (24-24)

The Sooners start their next drive with a deep pass down the sideline intended for #24 Dejuan Miller. Senior cornerback Kris Evans is in good position and battles Miller in the air to break up the pass. Evans is lined up in press coverage against Miller at the line of scrimmage. Although Evans misses his jam at the line of scrimmage, he is able to recover and ends up in good position to make a play on the ball. There is a little bit of contact as Evans and Miller jump for the ball, but no more than there is on every jump ball situation. The referees throw a flag on Evans for pass interference, but I think this is just incidental football contact.

As Oklahoma drives down the field, they are faced with 4th and 1 and elect to go for the first down. The Stanford defense stuffs the run in the backfield, forcing the Sooners to turn the ball over on downs.

After Broyles takes a hard hit from safety Bo McNally and the Stanford front seven provide excellent pressure on QB Landry Jones, the Sooners are forced to punt after just three downs on their next drive. Three and out!

Broyles returns a punt 42 yards to give Oklahoma excellent field position for their next drive. On 2nd and 10, Jones finds TE Trent Ratterree for a 38-yard gain all the way down to the two yard line. This was a play-action pass that fooled the Stanford defense, leaving Ratterree wide open. Bo McNally was the deep safety responsible for the tight end down the field on this play. McNally bit hard on the run fake, and let the TE get behind him for a big gain to set up a 1 yard TD run from Demarco Murray. 24-31.

Fourth quarter

After a Stanford field goal, the Cardinal defense forces Oklahoma to punt with another three and out.

The next drive is the most important drive for the Stanford defense. Oklahoma has the ball and the lead, so the Cardinal must force a stop to give the offense a chance to win the game.

Oklahoma intends to run the clock as much as possible on first and second downs, and then try to extend the drive by converting on third down. On the first third down situation, they run a perfectly executed middle screen to Broyles against the Stanford zone blitz. The Cardinal are caught blitzing up the middle, and a lineman is able to block nickel back Michael Thomas, giving Broyles a lot of running room as he picks up 21 yards on the play.

After picking up a first down on the ground, the Sooners face 3rd and 12. On this play, they send Broyles deep down the seam like they have done all game, and hit the outside WR on an in route in the space cleared by Broyles going deep. On this play nickelback Michael Thomas overruns his zone. He is in good shape until he runs out of his zone and allows the WR to cross his face back to the inside to find an empty hole in the zone. Thomas has got to be more disciplined in his zone drop, so the Cardinal defense can get off the field on 3rd and long.

The next third down conversion happens on 3rd and 4. This time Jones hits his big target Dejuan Miller on a slant route, picking up nine yards and the first down. Cornerback Kris Evans is in coverage on the play. Evans, who has played well since entering the game for Bademosi in the first quarter, makes a decent break on the ball and gets there just as Miller is able to make the catch, fighting for the ball on the way down to the ground. If this was 1st and 10 in the first quarter, it would not be a bad play by Evans. But at this stage of the game, someone has to buckle down and make a play. Evans should be way more aggressive against the slant route on 3rd and 4. Oklahoma has been using this play a lot, and Evans should be expecting a short throw on 3rd and 4. At this point, you got to take a chance and break up this pass to give your offense a chance to get on the field.

Stanford holds Oklahoma on its next 3rd and 10, and forces the Sooners to settle for a field goal.

Final words

We all know what happens next, as Oklahoma Kicker Patrick O'Hara misses the field goal, and Stanford fails to convert on 4th and 2 losing the ball game 27-31. This was a very talented Oklahoma team, and our boys fought their hearts out until the bitter end. The Stanford defense was able to shut down Oklahoma's running attack holding two very talented running backs (Chris Brown and Demarco Murray) to only 79 yards rushing combined. Unfortunately, inconsistent quarterback Landry Jones was able to get into a rhythm and put together a strong performance with over 400 yards and 3 passing TDs. The back seven as a group was not disciplined enough in zone coverage, especially the linebackers and nickelback, and made it too easy for Jones to find open holes in our defense for the intermediate passes over the middle. As I mentioned in my preview of the Oklahoma offense, the key matchup of the game was WR Ryan Broyles against our slot defenders, in many cases this was nickelback Michael Thomas. Thomas, who has been a solid player for the cardinal all year, did not have his best day, and Broyles got the best of this matchup with 3 touchdowns and over 150 yards receiving. Broyles and the rest of the Oklahoma receivers did the majority of their damage on intermediate routes between 8-15 yards over the middle of our defense. I would have liked to see our DBs and linebackers challenge Jones to throw more deep balls by playing more aggressive on these intermediate routes and forcing the ball to be thrown over the top, especially on third down. Jones did not have much success against our defense throwing down the field, and it was not a big part of their offense all season. At the end of the game, we just could not get off of the field on 3rd down. This is probably the biggest thing our defense will have to work on for next year. I would like to point out stand out performances by freshman linebacker Shane Skov for racking up 15 tackles, and senior Bo McNally for accounting for 11 tackles and a 55 yard interception return. Skov is a young player who needs to improve in pass coverage, but will be a star at Stanford for years to come, and McNally will be missed for his ability to make plays and his leadership. I would like to thank Coach Harbaugh, the coaches, and most of all the players for an exciting season. I am already looking forward to next year. Go Card!


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