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The Unstoppable Engine Behind Oklahoma’s Offense

The naton’s top offense gets its lethality from duality.

Getty Images - Brett Deering

You won’t find a more efficient quarterback in the nation than Baker Mayfield. While it sounds like conjecture, this is a proven fact. Oklahoma leads the nation in passing S&P+, and in success rate, at 142.6 and 138.2 respectively. That 142.6 is nearly seven points better than the second best passing offense, Wake Forest, while the success rate is five ponts better than number two, LSU.

It would be easy to chalk this up to Oklahoma’s Heisman contending quarterback, and while he’s absolutely crucial, the engine behind the nation’s best offense is far larger. The best proof of this is that Oklahoma’s rushing game is leading the country in S&P+, as it just slightly edges out Brandon Wimbush, Josh Adama and Notre Dame.

That’s right, Oklahoma has both the best passing attack, and the best rushing attack in the country. That doesn’t happen because of a single player. This kind of unprecedented efficiency and explossiveness is a result of massive amounts of talent being plugged into a dynamic system, designed to exploit anything a defense throws at it.

Oklahoma’s greatest quality isn’t their quarterback, or their solid group of contributors at running back, or their offensive line, or any of that, it’s the combination of all those things, and the unstoppable, dynamic offensive machine they create. There’s absolutely no sure-fire way to stop, or really even slow down the Sooners when they have the ball, we’ve seen that all season long.

Oklahoma had little to no trouble against the nickel quarters variation that Ohio State deploys, the attacking 3-4 at Texas and Baylor, or the base 4-3 we see at Kansas State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, in fact they scored more on those 4-3 teams than they did on any other power five foes. That isn’t just an indicator of some defensive struggles for those teams, it’s proof that Oklahoma’s roster is composed to beat any defensive system, and they do it in more ways than any other team in the country.


Base nickel defense run at Ohio State and TCU

In their only matchup thus far against a team that plays mainly nickel defense (this will change this weekend against TCU’s 4-2-5), Oklahoma had absolutely no issues moving the ball against a usually outstanding Ohio State defense. The nickel is designed to beat the spread offense, as it puts more speed on the field, with an addition defensive back, usually in the form of a rover or nickelback.

It sacrifices a bit of security in the middle by pulling a linebacker, but is almost always succesful at taking away the outside passing game, which Ohio State considered to be Oklahoma’s most dangerous offensive strategy. The best way to beat the nickel is by picking on the void in the middle left by the lack of a third linebacker, and exploit those linebackers with mismatches, either with a tight end or fullback, both of which Oklahoma has. The best nickel teams have great linebackers, and Ohio State doesn’t, a fact that Oklahoma knew, and absolutely exploited.

The Sooners tore Ohio State apart all night by attacking the middle, usually either with Dimitri Flowers (seven receptions for 98 yards and a touchdown), Jeff Badet (five receptions for 82 yards), or CeeDee Lamb (five receptions for 61 yards). They beat the Buckeyes with slants, drags, and an abundance of routes out of the backfield for Flowers, rather than trying to beat very good cornerbacks on the outside, and thus playing right into Ohio State’s scheme.

Using the threat of Mayfield’s ability to run, Oklahoma sucked Ohio State’s linebackers in with play action all game, and with how much success they had, it’s surprising the Sooners didn’t win by more in Columbus.

It’s impossible to say Oklahoma will be able to have the kind of success they had against Ohio State again this weekend against TCU, but if they execute schematically, it’s hard to imagine the Sooners scoring any less than 30.


The 3-4 defense run by Baylor and Texas

Outside of Iowa State (more on them later, I promise I didn’t forget you, Cyclones), no teams have caused more trouble for Oklahoma’s offense than Texas and Baylor this season. Obviously the former put up a better challenge defensively than the latter did (that’s what talent and depth will do for you), but both teams caused problems for Oklahoma for multiple reasons.

Firstly, both Texas and Baylor play very aggressively, which is fairly customary for the 3-4. They like to blitz a lot, and generally depend on that pressure to force opposing quarterbacks into making mistakes. With only four defensive backs and three down lineman, the 3-4 has plenty of holes, but when run well those holes really don’t matter.

Against Texas, Oklahoma struggled quite a bit against that blitz, but still had the firepower, mostly at receiver, to take care of the Longhorns. It’s up to receivers to win one-on-one battles in a 3-4, because safeties rarely bracket their coverage, and the Sooner receivers did just enough. Human mismatch Mark Andrews is really valuable in games like this, and much like with Baker Mayfield, defenses look to just minimize his impact, rather than completely take him away, though neither approach really works.

Even when Texas got pressure on Baker Mayfield, the wide receivers were able to get separation, and Mayfield is better than anybody on broken plays. With the talent they have at receiver and Mayfield’s arm talent, Oklahoma is able to create advantages that other teams just don’t have even against schematically solid defenses. While the Sooners aren’t necessarily built to dominate the 3-4, there’s not a team in America that runs it well enough to take away Oklahoma’s passing game.


The 4-3. Run by Kansas State, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State

The most common defense in college football is also the most basic. The 4-3 is used by more than 50% of all FBS schools, and for good reason: it’s pretty easy to teach, and doesn’t require a ton of talent to be run well (or at least decently). It’s easily the most balanced defense, and while it doesn’t really specialize in stopping one specific thing (like the nickel with the spread and the 3-4 with pocket passers), most 4-3 defenses are very hard to exploit.

The most consistent way to beat a 4-3 is with an efficient rushing attack, deep passes on the edge, and power concepts, with RPOs thrown in as well. If an offense can spread a 4-3 defense out, it’ll open up the power run, and Oklahoma has had more success doing this so far in 2017 than they have doing anything. Oklahoma is built to spread teams out and force safeties and corners to play off to protect against the deep ball, opening up the center of the field for intermediate passing and the running backs.

We saw this a ton against Oklahoma State on Saturday, as Oklahoma used Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and Dimitri Flowers to spread the Cowboys out early, with a 49 yard touchdown to Flowers and an 84 yarder to Brown. Those early chunk plays set the tone, and forced Oklahoma State to open up their defense, allowing Mark Andrews, Mykel Jones and CeeDee Lamb to gash the Pokes in the middle of the field.

Oklahoma State had no answer for any Oklahoma receivers (especially Hollywood Brown), and essentially had to entirely sell out to slow them down, which worked for a little while, but as they always do, the Sooners eventually adjusted. With the Cowboys spread all over to stop the pass, Oklahoma spent much of the second half punching Oklahoma State right in the mouth with Rodney Anderson and Trey Sirmon, as the two backs ran right into the empty field behind the tired defensive line.

There are three teams in college football that have the talent and depth needed to play a 4-3 against Oklahoma: Georgia, Alabama and Clemson. Count me in for any of those matchups playing out in the College Football Playoff.


Let’s address the elephant in the room. Oklahoma lost to Iowa State. The Sooners didn’t lose on a fluke, or because of bad luck, or any of that. Oklahoma was legitimately outgunned by Iowa State, and had no answer for the adjustments Iowa State made at the half. Firstly, the Cyclone frequently threw out a 3-3-5 nickel variation, and basically dared Oklahoma to run on them, which the Sooners couldn’t do, thanks in large part to an outstanding performance from their linebackers.

As the game went on, Oklahoma went away from the middle of the field and towards more traditional air raid schemes, abandoning the running attack and throws to their backs almost entirely. This allowed Iowa State to focus its energy on the outside, which the 3-3-5 excels in, and ultimately, with OU’s offense struggling, Iowa State was able to surge and pull out the win.

That’s pretty much all it comes down to. Oklahoma is at its best running RPOs, spreading the field, and using their edge talent to set up for their power runs and massive plays in the middle of the field, and against Iowa State, they went away from their bread and butter against an opportunistic defense and it came back to bite them. Since that surprising loss, Oklahoma has only increased its efficiency and offensive prowess, as they’ve averaged nearly 46 points and have topped the mark set the week prior each game.

The biggest question with Oklahoma’s offense is not a question of talent. There are no concerns about this receiving core, or Baker Mayfield, or the running backs, nor should there be. The lie consistently lets Mayfield do whatever he needs to do, and if Oklahoma falls again this season, it will not be due to a lack of talent or production. The only thing standing between the highest powered offense in the country and a playoff appearance is the very thing that makes the offense as good as it is. The system.

If Oklahoma abandons their option based offense, and tries to run a true air raid, they won’t win a national title o a Big 12 title, and they’ll probably lose to TCU. However, if Oklahoma sticks to its guns and does what it does best, the Sooners will be national champions in January. Guaranteed.


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