-The Beach Boys
God bless Chris Hall. The big junior center, playing in the Red River Rivalry before a hometown crowd, lit up the Oklahoma defensive line with nothing more than half a second of good timing. Let me explain…
Pre-snap, the most important thing an offense, especially the quarterback, offensive line and blocking backs/receivers needs to know is one basic, fundamental fact: How many are they sending?
From the snap of the ball, the defense will hard rush a predetermined, limited number of folks. Usually they will send four down linemen, but occasionally one or more linebackers, a nickel back, safeties and every now and then a cornerback. As few as one, as many as eight, usually four or five – the blockers and QB can only do their job correctly if they know down to the man how many defenders are rushing.
Saturday, the Oklahoma Sooners varied from their 4-3 base, occasionally using three down linemen and sending anywhere from none to three linebackers. They were well-coached, sent more than four defenders more than a third of the time and generally hid their blitzes well.
But like a hooker who can't wait for the cop car to disappear around the corner before she sticks her head inside the passenger window of an '83 LTD saying, "You want a date, Sugar?", the OU defense was aching to give up their sweet thing.
And Chris Hall was happy to take it from them. From the shotgun formation, Hall delayed the timing of his snaps with an artistic beauty, like Herbert Von Karajan conducting Beethoven's Third Symphony with the Berlin Philharmonic. Or Scraps the Wino working over a bottle of Thunderbird, take your pick.
Either way, that little half-second Hall waited just before hiking the ball caused the Sooners, time and again, to tip their hands about their rushing plans. OU's defense never was able to safely anticipate Hall's snaps, and as a result they were enticed into offsides penalties, false starts, herking and jerking at the line of scrimmage, showing their hold cards about blitzes and generally giving up "How many are they sending?" before they were ready.
In a game this evenly-matched with this level of talent, anticipating OU's movements -- even by half a second -- gave the offensive line a slight edge that gave Colt McCoy an extra second to throw that gave Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley an extra second to find the seams in OU's zone defense. Yes, the Horns gave up four sacks for 25 yards lost, but I don't think anybody expected McCoy to get out of this one with his uniform clean.
Because the blitzes had such little effect, the Sooners used them less and less as the game wore on. For the better part of the second half, the Bad Guys put little or no pressure on Colt rushing only four down linemen, giving Colt more time, giving our receivers more time.
And that was the difference in the game.
Don't get me wrong, there was plenty of good timing beside Hall. Jordan Shipley's kick-off return for a touchdown. Snuffing the fake punt. Earl Thomas' amazing, highlight-reel, diving interception in the second quarter. The three sacks of OU quarterback Sam Bradford, especially Sergio Kindle's I-tattooed-my-facemask-on-his-chest slobbernocker in the fourth quarter.
Our defense played well when the sideline called the formation in time, but they gave up lots of yards and points. At times we looked confused, slow and uncertain, especially when giving up the so-alone-we-hurt-his-feelings touchdown toss to huge tight end Jermaine Gresham in the second quarter. The defense played well enough to win, but our offense moved the ball consistently the entire second half, punting only in the first and last possessions of the half, the second punt by design while trying to run out the clock.
Overall, though, I have to be careful. I get very emotional at times like this. I'm not joking. Sunday afternoon, I walk around the house like a mook, telling my wife with misty eyes how much I love her.
For starters, I'm physically exhausted, and I tend to get very demonstrative when I'm worn out. This weekend took the starch out of my sails, not only from driving to and from Dallas, but also from the exertion at the game. I high-fived, fist-knocked and hugged complete strangers. I screamed at the big fellow right across the aisle from me; he screamed right back, each of us six inches from the other's face, completely overcome by sheer joy, exuberance, exultation and our common burnt orange bond.
Every muscle in my body tensed up. I yelled like a howler monkey until I shredded my voice. I'm no spring chicken, and I became so intensely physically involved in the game my back, legs and neck were sore Sunday morning.
So forgive me if I sound a little maudlin or overly sentimental. I could mention all the worn-out sports clichés about a team having heart, refusing to quit, guts being more important that talent, overcoming adversity, etc. It would all sound trite and hackneyed, like a first year journalism major's virgin attempt at writing something inspirational.
Problem is, every syllable of it is true.
Because I was not able to attend the National Championship game in January, 2006 (Mom had her stroke three days before the Rose Bowl), last Saturday was, without question, the best football game I've ever seen in person.
I have never been prouder of a group of young men. I'm sorry if that's not funny, witty, pithy or insightful. It's just the truth.
And as the team massed in the north end zone, baptized in the cheers of adoring fans, swimming in the pride and adoration that comes from competing at the very highest levels of their sport, I couldn't help but think of the second verse of the old Beach Boys' tune:
"We're all going places/Sharing each other/A celebration/Of being together/You need good timing/Good, good timing"
Jeff Conner's political and pop culture-infused Longhorn commentary appears regularly in the Inside Texas magazine and at InsideTexas.com.