How to attack the Sooner defense

The Oklahoma Sooners play very sound and conservative defensive football and they are a confident group. They are certainly good enough to give USC a lot of trouble. They don't offer a lot of variation on defense, it's a fairly basic 4-3 defense where they say "here we are, come and get us".

The Oklahoma Sooners play very sound and conservative defensive football and they are a confident group. They are certainly good enough to give USC a lot of trouble. They don't offer a lot of variation on defense, it's a fairly basic 4-3 defense where they say "here we are, come and get us". They don't really work hard to disguise their coverages. If you're good enough to do it straight up you're basically saying "our guys are better than your guys" and so far that's held up pretty good for them.

It's scary how similar the USC and Oklahoma defenses are. Colorado thought they could line up in the Big 12 title game and pound Oklahoma. That's not going to work. I liked Dan Cody the best but the guy who scares me is Antonio Perkins. He's a much better cover corner than the guys who replaced him. He has the ability to play good man defense. Just like the Oregon State corners, these guys are big and that presents a little bit of a problem for our guys.

If I'm coaching against this defense I would pay to see them stay so much with their basic look. If I'm going against a base defense that doesn't change much then I'm going to formation them with a lot of different looks. It may be the same 5-6 running plays and 10 pass plays but I'm going to run them from 30 different formations. I may go with two TE's and two WR's, I may go with three WR's and one TE or if I put Reggie in motion that's basically having four WR's and a TE. That is what will create your mismatches. Give Norm Chow a month to create a game plan and that is what you're going to get, he'll run a bunch of the same plays from different formations, that's part of his genius. There is genius in simplicity. Can it be simple enough for the players to grasp quickly yet confusing enough to fool the defense?

The first question I would have when lining up against the Oklahoma defense is, what kind of run game do I want to establish? Do I want to go with the power run game that needs a fullback or a quick run game with one on one zone blocking? If you can block one on one it allows you more options with other players. Let's say you want to motion Reggie Bush, that forces them to either go with a nickel package to put an extra corner on him or else you have to put a linebacker on him. If it was me I would tell my o-line to get on their blocks because we're going to the quick run game. It's only a split second difference in what you're doing between the power run and the quick run but it forces the defenders to make the reads that much sooner. If their linebackers get intent on coming up first to stop the run it makes it that much easier to play action.

One of the things Mike Stoops did with Arizona this year is he made a point of trying to stop LenDale White. It didn't work too well but that was his focus because he knew that if SC can pound you with White it forces the defense to bring the safety up. If they do that then Chow simply adjusts and throws the ball. As an offensive coordinator if you have a quarterback like Leinart who can assimilate what's in your mind it's the best thing you can have. You want your QB to see what you see. If your QB understands the concept of the defense he is going against he can understand how to beat it. That's where Matt Leinart shines is as an extension of the play caller.

If LenDale White can't go I don't think SC should change their run game thoughts because Bush and Desmond Reed offer different sets of problems for the defense. Last year in the Big 12 title game Darren Sproles of KSU gave them fits and he wasn't a big bruising back, he was a smaller shifty back like Reed. Those kind of backs give Oklahoma fits. The SC run game is pretty much between the tackles, not so much to the outside. That is partly due to the defenses people employ to stop the Trojan offense because most defenses look to protect the perimeter to slow down the passing game and that discourages running plays like the toss sweep. If Oklahoma stays in the base defense it could be a perfect time to go to that because you have Bush, you have tight ends who can block and you have quick guards with Matua and Byers (Drake isn't as quick to get outside).

The inside screens that USC runs so much probably won't work against this defense. They are designed to succeed mostly against all out blitzing teams so we may see more traditional screens from the Trojans in this game. A place to exploit them could be the middle of the field, the 16 yard deep routes to either the wide receivers or the tight ends. If you can establish a good play action pass that gap area between the linebacker and the free safety should be vulnerable. The Trojans will need to threaten deep early.

Our OL is now 12 games old, they aren't inexperienced anymore. I think what Tim Davis did this year, to go 12-0 with such a young line, that was simply amazing. I don't think anything Oklahoma does will confuse them. They might be able to stop the run early but a key for the Trojans will be not to give up on the run early even if it's not working.

Tom Malone is going to be huge. He has such a great ability to make them go the length of the field. Part of the strategy of the game has to be keeping the ball away from the Oklahoma offense and that great running back of theirs.

These coaches have a lot of respect and there shouldn't be a lot of trash talk in this game. Neither team needs to talk, they both handle themselves well and they prove it on the field. That's the way both teams have acted all year. It should be a terrific match-up.

Bill Cunerty is a former JC National Coach of the Year at Saddleback College and he also founded the West Coast Passing School in 1983.


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