We’re back in action, everybody! After a short holiday break for Ralphie Report, I’m back to dump a bunch of Oklahoma State plays on you. After stuffing myself on some German cuisine, I watched the Bedlam rivalry game between OU and OSU to glean some info about our opponent. I’m also going to tell you what I see out of them and what it means for the Buffs. That was a short introduction, but these leftovers won’t eat themselves and you need to get to the good part and let me get out of the way.
Alright, first play of the game. Curtains rising, cold open. Oklahoma State just punches the Sooners in the mouth.
That’s how you start a game. The Cowboy offensive line just destroyed the line of scrimmage and the H-back paved the field with what used to be an Oklahoma linebacker. Every single lineman wins their individual matchup, and Justice Hill does not get touched until he hits the secondary. Only a freshman, Hill is a strong runner that hits the hole hard, but when your hole is this big, it’s hard not to gain big chunks. This is also a preview of a formation that Mike Gundy used a lot in this game. He likes a crowded backfield, to give Rudolph extra protection or safety valves, or to give the running game some athletic edge blockers and road-graders.
So, Oklahoma State often succeeded in this game by just running it up the gut. No trickery necessary. But they have the ability to disguise and manipulate the defense if they need to. Part of that is the quarterback run. Given how important he is to the offense, they don’t run Mason Rudolph as often as the Buffs run Sefo (not that Sefo isn’t important to the offense), but when he does run, he is sneaky effective
First, notice how crowded that backfield is. One of four players gets to keep the ball, and that puts a lot of stress on the defense to sniff the ball and attack it in a timely manner. Now, not to bag on the Sooners, but their defense was a sieve during the first quarter, and they got lucky with turnovers and penalties, or else this game could have been much closer. OK, back to the play. Rudolph keeps it out of the backfield, and given that he is the least likely runner, no defender accounts for him until it is too late. CU will have to be disciplined and reactionary in order to stop the OSU run game and offense.
This play showcases the main way that Rudolph can hurt you. He throws to James Washington on this route, one of the best receivers in the country. Now, this pass is dropped, but Rudolph does his job.
Again, crowded backfield. The lead blocker heads to the left with the perceived ball carrier, shifting the linebackers to that side and washing the line towards the weak side. However, the counter action is where this play is buttered. The Sooners are in man coverage, with the linebackers presumably responsible for the H-back and running back. The far receiver motions to the strong side of the field, which shifts the coverage responsibility for that receiver from the opposite safety to the centerfield safety near Washington. Given that the receiver is running a fake screen, the safety rushes to the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped, leading to a perfect scenario for Rudolph — single coverage on his favorite receiver with the middle of the field completely cleared of traffic. Clean pocket, open man, good throw. Everything but the catch. Given how often the CU secondary operates on islands, this play could prove dangerous for the Buffs.
Not much analysis to this play, just an example of perfect pitch and catch.
Can’t throw a deep ball much better than that, and the receiver, James Washington again, did a great job of tracking the ball. Rudolph has been compared to Sam Darnold by Coach Mike MacIntyre, but I think he’s more like Luke Falk with less accuracy and more legs. Which I guess is Sam Darnold when I think about it. Trust Coach more than me.
Another throw showcasing Rudolph’s NFL arm. This is a throw that few QBs in the country can make. And as someone who has watched the Broncos a lot this year, I don’t think that Trevor Siemian can make this throw either.
Man, that’s pretty. 20 yards downfield, to the sideline, on a rope with perfect timing. Hard to guard that.
Now, let’s look at some good news for CU. Oklahoma State’s defense is...not good. I wrote down in my notes from this game that their defensive front started the game very well (#92 in particular had a great game). They consistently beat OU up front and stopped many plays in their tracks. However, once the Sooners gelled up front, their weakness was exposed. OSU’s secondary cannot stay with many people. Now, Baker Mayfield is an amazing magician and Dede Westbrook will make anyone look silly, but the Buffs will have plenty of success against this soft coverage.
Oh boy, this play is not good for the Cowboys. The play action gets EVERYONE in the front seven, and they all get washed out of the play. The linebacker responsible for the man who caught the ball, #40, gets good penetration against absolutely nobody on the weak side of the rollout. After realizing his mistake too late, he turns around to guard the RB flat route, but by then the TE, #36, has been open for about 30 yards. Mayfield could have picked his receiver on this throw. You’ll notice on the bottom of the screen that the receiver is given about 10 yards of cushion. If he stopped his route at any time, Mayfield could have gained a first down. Instead he nearly gets a touchdown. Given CU’s propensity for the run-pass option, Sefo Liufau could do some damage on plays like this. Draw the D in, hit it long.
This play is a perfect example of the difference between OU and CU’s secondaries. Watch the DB coverage on the top of the screen.
The Buffs #MoneyGang will NEVER give a receiver that much cushion on a 3rd and 8. If Rudolph tries to throw that pass against Chidobe Awuzie or Ahkello Witherspoon, it’s a pick or incompletion every time. No jam at the line of scrimmage, no contact throughout the route, and a late break on the route and the ball. Just won’t happen with CU.
Another great example of a play that CU uses regularly and will have great success against the Cowboys. Watch this clip and imagine the pass-catchingest back outside of Pullman in the Pac-12, Phillip Lindsay.
Designed RB pass all the way. Trips on the other side of the formation clear out the middle of the field for Mixon to work in, and he lays a move on the hapless OSU linebacker. Lindsay 1-on-1 in space with a Big 12 LB? I’ll take that 10 plays straight, please and thank you. If Mixon doesn’t trip, that’s at least 20 yards right there. CU designs plenty of swing passes from the backfield trying to get this exact matchup from teams that don’t want to give it up. If the Sooners could achieve this without manipulating the coverage at all, imagine what Lindgren can do when he does manipulate the coverage. Sefo Liufau is given plenty of latitude at the line, and if he recognizes the defense trying to cover Lindsay like this, he’ll take the opportunity to pad his stats and give the Tasmanian Devil every chance in the world to make his man miss and go.
These clips help show OSU’s strengths and also how to beat them. Bedlam was a good game to watch, as it was most recent, but it was also an outlier in a few ways. Rivalry games are hard to judge objectively, as so much emotion goes into them, and it was pouring for a lot of this game. There was a good portion of the second half that was un-gifable because neither team could throw reliably due to the slick conditions. That played to OSU’s favor a bit, but they kept shooting themselves in the foot.
But back to their strengths and weaknesses. Rudolph is a surgeon if teams let him sit in the pocket with no pressure, and the Buffs must make it a mission to hit him early and often in this game. It is worth the two extra holes in coverage to send six guys after him every play. Get him uncomfortable. Their rushing attack is also balanced and dangerous. Their strange backfield formations get the RB to the right hole and then lend him an extra blocker to take out another linebacker. Josh Tupou will have his work cut out for him, but if he plays like he has all year, CU should be stout enough to limit the damage.
On the other side of the ball, it is much easier sledding for CU. This WR corps should abuse this Cowboy secondary, and the Lindgren formations will generate some easy opportunities for yards after the catch. I would look for a lot of play-action, especially out of the shotgun. This is the perfect game to attack the middle of the field. Get the linebackers to vacate that space and attack it. Given the need to sell the run and the space available, as well as the limited scouting material, this would be a great game to break out the gasp PASS TO THE TIGHT END. No one would see it coming. All in all, make OSU think before they move, and you will beat them.