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Film Look: How OSU Can Exploit the Sooner Secondary

A formula for success against OU’s defense.



Oklahoma State is looking to rebound from its loss in Waco with an upset win in Norman this weekend. I wanted to take a look at what the Cowboy offense will need to accomplish to hold up their end of the bargain against the Sooners. Below I will discuss how the Pokes can exploit OU in the passing game by attacking multiple levels of the Sooner defense.

The Sooners decided to part ways with defensive coordinator Mike Stoops after their loss to Texas earlier this season. Assistant head coach/defensive tackles coach Ruffin McNeill has been asked to assume the role of interim defensive coordinator for the remainder of this season.

Although McNeill has made some slight adjustments to the scheme and has shifted around some roles for certain players, this defense is still very similar to what we’ve seen from Stoops in recent years. That being said, the Sooners will still show both three- and four-man defensive lineman fronts and they will run a lot of zone coverage in the secondary behind them, primarily Cover 3 and Cover 4. To have success against this type of defense, the Cowboys will need to stretch the field both vertically and horizontally, and attack multiple levels of the Sooner zone. This means a heavy dose of “Flood” concepts, shown in the image below.


As well as “Sail” concepts, seen in the following screen shot, and other routes which put the OSU receivers in favorable matchups against safeties or get receivers isolated on the backside in man coverage.


This could also be a situation where the Cowboys looks to utilize Cowboy Back Jelani Woods in the passing game, after a game against Baylor where he wasn’t targeted (although he was the focal point of the failed fourth down conversion). UCLA was able to find success against the Sooners with their tight end Caleb Wilson as he recorded four receptions for 92 yards including this long one in the first quarter.

We’ve seen the Pokes find Woods up the seam on occasion this year, as you can see below, but I think he needs to play a big role in the OSU passing game in Norman this weekend. This play is also an example of the Cowboys attacking the different levels of the defense, as you can see the underneath crossing route, the wheel route to the outside by the running back and Woods up the middle.

The Iowa State Cyclones also found success attacking the middle of the field with their inside receiver. It wasn’t their tight end by big wide out Hakeem Butler who found the end zone in the clip below. This play is another example of a high-low route concept as there are Cyclone receivers running short and intermediate routes, as well as Butler deep over the middle. These passing concepts put the defenders in a conflict forcing them to choose between the route in front of them or behind them.

Texas Tech showed another great example of this last week against the Sooners on the play shown here.

Now, for these route concepts to work, two things have to happen. First, you need to find some success on the ground against this OU defense and force their secondary players and linebackers to respect the run. If you can put the safeties in a position where they are forced to play the pass and help support the run, you can catch them out of position and bust some big plays. Second, Taylor Cornelius will have to be more consistent on the deep passes. I’m not saying he needs to hit bombs deep down the field all game, but for the idea of attacking levels to work, the defense has to respect the offense’s ability the stretch the field vertically.

The Cowboys have shown the tendency to run a lot of fade and deep go routes this season, and TC has decided to throw into coverage and hope his guy can make a play (which Tylan Wallace usually can) instead of going through his progressions and finding the open man. He did a much better job of this in the second half last week against Baylor, and it needs to continue against Oklahoma if the Pokes want to have any chance at a Bedlam victory on Saturday. Hopefully, we see a lot of plays like this and the Cowboys can keep themselves in the game.

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