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Key to the Game: Slow Down the Powerful OU Rushing Attack

The formula for success, relatively speaking, against Oklahoma’s vaunted offense.




Leading up to Bedlam this weekend in Norman, I’ve covered ways Oklahoma State can exploit the OU secondary, talked about how the Cowboys could attack Oklahoma in the running game and discussed the success the Sooners have had through the air (along with Murray’s scrambling ability). However, one thing I’ve yet to go over is the dominating Oklahoma rushing attack, which currently ranks second in the nation in yards per carry with 6.7, 12th in yards per game with 246.8 and 13th in touchdowns with 26.

Despite losing preseason All-Big 12 running back Rodney Anderson to a season-ending injury during their second game of 2018, the Sooners have managed to have one of the most productive rushing offenses in the country. The combination of Trey Sermon (6-0, 224), Kennedy Brooks (5-11, 205) and quarterback Kyler Murray (5-10, 195) have combined for 1,771 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground.

Lincoln Riley and Oklahoma’s objective in their running game is to attack in a variety of different ways. They will use inside and outside zone, counters, power, dart and traps to keep the defense on their toes. Below I’ll cover a few of the ways the Sooners have had success on the ground with Murray running the show.

GT Counter

On the GT (Guard Tackle) Counter, the backside guard and tackle both pull to lead block for the running back. The guard kicks out on the first defender he sees and the tackle leads through the hole looking to block a defender at the second level. Here we see the play result in an OU touchdown for Kennedy Brooks.

In the clip above, you also see Murray reading the unblocked backside end, who stays home defending against the QB keep, before he hands the ball to Sermon. With the pulling guard and tackle executing their blocks on the end and linebacker, along with the rest of the line blocking down and forming a wall, a huge lane is opened up for Brooks to burst through.

Zone Bash

Next we see Oklahoma have success with the “Zone Bash“. This is different from a typical zone-read play (which we will discuss below) because the backside defensive end is not the read here. Murray and Sermon both move in the same direction and use the linebacker as their read on the outside. Murray will either give the ball to Sermon on the stretch, or keep it himself based on what he sees around the outside.

Below, Murray sees his guard is able to get to the second level and seal the linebacker, and with Sooner receiver Marquise Brown engaging with the defensive back on the outside, there’s no one left to slow Sermon down on the stretch.

Here’s another example of this play in the following tweet.

Zone Read

The zone-read example I’ll show below is from last season, but Murray was in at quarterback due to Baker Mayfield’s brief suspension against West Virginia. As I mentioned in the bash explanation above, on this more typical zone-read play, Murray makes his read on the unblocked backside defensive end.

As the West Virginia end follows the running back on the zone run, Kyler pulls the ball back and darts past the end, the offensive tackle gets in the way of the only defender to this side, creating a huge running lane for Murray.

Riley draws up creative wrinkles off these plays as well. The video below looks like the zone-read play we just saw above, however this time when Sermon takes the hand-off, Murray follows him to the outside as a pitch man on the option.

In addition, the defenders have to be aware of the pass options off of these plays, or they will get burned selling out on the zone-read or GT counter runs. You cans see below, the Texas linebackers all bite on the zone run fake to Sermon, with two of the Longhorn defensive backs both moving towards the bubble route run by Brown, the slant route is left wide open for Murray to hit over the middle.

Defending the Ground Game

OU’s running game with the added wrinkle of RPOs is almost impossible to stop, but the Cowboys will need to do their best to slow it down. In last year’s Rose Bowl, Georgia was able to use different looks and a variety of blitzes to attack the Sooners and slow them down in the second half. They used stunts, loops and attacked from all different angles to disrupt the OU backfield and make Mayfield’s reads extremely difficult.

In addition, they stayed disciplined, got off blocks and were solid in their tackling, which allowed them to shut down plays like the one you see below that use a lot of misdirection.

Now, Georgia’s defense from a season ago was quite a bit more talented than this Cowboy defense, but I believe due to Knowles aggressive style, he can make the OU offense uncomfortable. If Knowles can pick the right spots to bring pressure and show a wide range of different looks, and the Cowboy offense can hold up their end of the bargain, Oklahoma State may be able to slow down this Sooner offense enough to keep themselves in the game.


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