Oklahoma is an offensive juggernaut and they proved that against the league’s best defense in the previous meeting between the championship game participants. Oklahoma won decisively scoring 38 points in the process.
To win the game, there is not much that Oklahoma needs to adjust. In the first contest, they utilized their big play ability and played solid enough defense to dominate the time of possession and put the contest out of reach early.
So, the question is, can TCU make enough adjustments to increase their offensive production and reduce Oklahoma’s scoring ability? They can, but they will have to do some things a bit differently.
The Problem for the TCU Defense
TCU chose to bring pressure in an attempt to rattle Baker Mayfield. Good idea, but if you don’t get there, then there are multiple options for OU to hit the vacated zones. In addition, OU is the best in the conference at using the backs out of the backfield. They will clear the zones by running receivers deep and hit the back, or Mark Andrews, underneath with room to run.
OU exploited the TCU pressure to great effect in the first contest.
The pressure here comes from the trips side leaving man coverage at the bottom of the screen. OU runs a slant behind the pressure and there is no one in the middle of the field close enough to make a quick stop. Beating the blitz 101.
If TCU had left the middle linebacker in coverage then he would have dropped in to the passing lane and, at the very least, been available to help on the tackle. Instead, OU has a free runner who gains 46 yards and sets up a subsequent touchdown.
On this play TCU brings the pressure from the corner and outside linebacker on the weak side away from the trips. The back sets to block, then releases on delay in to the vacated zone. The balance of the receivers release vertically thus clearing the coverage out of the underneath zones. An easy loop pass and there is no one there to make the tackle.
This type of release is accomplished in multiple variants by the OU offense. TCU fed in to the play and OU used it to score and set up scores on multiple drives.
If TCU wants to reverse the script then they will have to alter their pressure scheme and perhaps abandon it altogether. Oklahoma has been defeated one time. Iowa State still managed to give up 31 points, largely due to the presence of the throw to the late releasing back out of the backfield. However, they slowed the OU offense in the second half by playing their patented drop 8 umbrella coverage.
Patterson and TCU do not like to play a patient defense. Instead they opt to try to force an offense to adjust to their tempo and create turnovers with speed and pressure. Iowa State opted to drop 8 and force Oklahoma to be patient in moving the ball down the field. While OU is more than capable of doing so, it is the most uncomfortable position for Mayfield and the OU offense.
On this third and long, TCU drops eight. The middle linebacker does not drop and creates a lane, but, if he had dropped in to his zone, he would have had an interception opportunity. As it was, the throw still had to clear two defenders before it reached its target. This forces a bad throw that is incomplete and ends a drive.
TCU uses the drop eight on third and long regularly. They will also go to it when the score dictates a pass centric play calling scenario. In 2016, against Patrick Mahomes and Texas Tech, TCU played drop 8 the entire game. It was effective and held the Tech offense in check.
For TCU to come out on top in the championship game, they will have to play more drop eight in the early downs against OU. They have to keep the game in front of them and narrow the throwing windows for Mayfield. TCU can do this effectively and I expect to see this adjustment.
In addition, the pressure package needs to be altered. Instead of bringing six from the edges or middle, TCU needs to bring a fourth or fifth pressure man on a delayed blitz. The advantage in the delay blitz is that the lined has defined its assignments and there will be a hole to be attacked by the blitzer. This will likely be the escape route for Mayfield to buy extra time therefore, the delay blitzer will force an early throw or get pressure for a loss.
Drop 8 and delay blitz. That is the formula to slow down the OU offensive attack.
TCU Has to Run Stubbornly
TCU chewed up yardage against the OU defense. But, failed at critical drive points to convert their success in to points. This is the short coming of the TCU offense which is largely due to an inefficient passer. TCU’s statistical downfall in the game against OU was their inefficient passing game.
TCU is at its best when they are running the ball and methodically chewing the clock. See the Oklahoma State game. Fortunately, OU provides the opportunity to accomplish this if you attack the proper areas of the field.
Oklahoma’s edge defenders and secondary struggle to tackle in space. In addition, the front has a strong tendency to over pursue to the play side which creates large cut back lanes and big play opportunities with misdirection.
Again, the Iowa State game is a model for TCU. Iowa State grabbed big yardage on cut backs by David Montgomery in the running game and through its horizontal passing game which isolated the OU secondary on the edge. TCU did some of the same thing in the first game.
First, we see a basic stretch run play that hits for 8 yards and a first down. TCU uses an unbalanced line on a regular basis and likes to utilize the angles created to get their backs out on the edge. This was one of several examples from the first game where TCU was successful running the ball to the edge on stretch plays.
Too often, TCU uses this play to attempt to set up a pass, or they abandon it before the play forces a defensive adjustment. TCU needs to use this play and other run plays to the edge to press the clock advantage and force OU to adjust before moving to the passes that are set up.
Kenny Hill is also a weapon as a runner against the Oklahoma defense.
Kenny Hill is a better quarterback when he is involved in the run game. He had a nice rushing day against Oklahoma as seen on the read option play above.
We see here an example of Oklahoma’s over pursuit. They freeze and pursue to the runner who had just hit them with the edge run we saw above. This allowed the blocking angles to take full effect and gave Hill open field to attack with his legs. In sequence with the stretch play, TCU threatens both edges and challenges the Oklahoma defense at its weakest points.
It isn’t sexy, it is conservative, but it cuts two ways against this year’s Oklahoma team. First, a stubborn adherence to the run will grind the clock and limit exposure to the Oklahoma offense. Second, there are yards to be gained and points to be scored against the OU defense by attacking its weakest point. I expect TCU to attack the edges more thoroughly in the upcoming championship game.
Finally, this is a creative use of the horizontal passing game. It is an easy throw for Hill and it gets the ball into the hands of a play maker quickly. The motion draws the defense to the inside and they lose a step in contain. A step against Turpin might as well be two steps against any one else.
The secondary is put in a position of making an open field tackle while flying to recover to their force positions. This is a struggle for most secondaries, but in particular for OU.
TCU used several horizontal throws in the first game, each being effective. However, it was not utilized regularly or with the frequency that indicated it was a part of the initial game plan. For TCU to be successful on Saturday, the horizontal passing game needs to be a significant part of the game plan.
If TCU will sequence its play calling to run to the edge with their power set, use the quarterback’s run ability with misdirection, and stretch the field with horizontal passing, then they may not have to take any uncomfortable shots with their quarterback for the entire game. Patiently attack and continue to attack. Then, when there is isolation or a defensive adjustment to crowd the box and force contain, take an easier shot downfield.
There are comfortable adjustments that can be made in the TCU game plan that give them the opportunity to even the score against Oklahoma. Iowa State presented a blue print for doing so and TCU would be remiss if they did not pull from that game film.
TCU’s speed on both sides of the ball gives them an advantage in space. On defense, the speed operates to rally to the ball when in drop 8, as long as it is played with discipline. A delayed blitz from a TCU linebacker is faster than it would be from many other Big 12 foes. On offense, the speed to the edge can force adjustment that open up the seams for big vertical plays while gaining clock chewing yardage in their own right.
Oklahoma will have an answer. TCU will have to remain patient on the heels of adversity and take advantage of the opportunities given to them. This game will be played in the 30’s, TCU just has to get their first.
In the end, if TCU is defeated then a very fine OU team will represent the conference in the playoffs. Not a bad result for a Big 12 fan. But, I never underestimate Gary Patterson’s ability and willingness to adjust and pull off an upset. A TCU win does not preclude them from reaching the playoff as their resume stacks up well with other two loss teams.
Either way, enjoy the game and look for some of the adjustments discussed.