John E. Hoover: By playing the pass, OU defense left exposed
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
11/13/12 at 4:54 AM
Go to John E. Hoover's blogOriginal Print Headline: Stoopses show they are willing to change
It seems you can teach an old football coach new tricks.
How tiresome it has grown over the years hearing one coach after another talk about the importance of "stopping the run."
Really? The key to shutting down Mike Leach's pass-first, pass-hard, pass-fast offenses over the years at Texas Tech was to stop 12 or 13 running plays a game?
Yes, coaches told us.
Football has evolved. But defensive priorities, it seemed, never did.
Until last Saturday in Norman.
Facing Art Briles' pass-heavy Baylor offense - a direct descendent of Leach's - Oklahoma's Stoops brothers came up with a brilliant game plan: Instead of stacking the usual seven and eight defenders in the box (that is, between the tackles and within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage) the Sooners backed off and flooded the secondary with bodies.
Sounds painfully simple, right? Face a passing team, play a passing defense.
But football coaches can be a stubborn lot. Some things die hard.
The Sooners won 42-34 because Bob and Mike Stoops changed the way they think about defensive football.
"People are just too precise and good anymore throwing the football to live the old way," Bob Stoops said.
The Bears came into the game leading the nation in total offense. Quarterback Nick Florence led major college football in passing yards per game.
But facing the Sooners on Saturday - virtually the same OU defense, minus four players graduated to the NFL, that Robert Griffin embarrassed in Waco last season - Florence struggled.
Baylor ran 84 offensive plays, and on 50 of those, Mike Stoops called for either a four-man front (no linebackers) or a five-man front (one linebacker). There were another 31 plays where Stoops used a six-man front (two linebackers). A few times, the five-man front consistent of three linemen and two linebackers.
Facing five, six or seven defensive backs, Florence completed just 11-of-31 passes for 161 yards with no touchdowns. Florence came in averaging 377 yards per game through the air with 25 touchdowns.
Advantage Sooners. Big time.
Of course, there was a tradeoff. With so few big bodies, so few linebackers, Baylor "exposed some weaknesses in our defense," Mike Stoops said.
Bob Stoops called it "one of the few" times he allowed his defense to be restructured to forego the run and stop the pass. Only three times did the Sooner defense come out with the standard four defensive backs.
The Bears ran the ball eight times for 45 yards against OU's four-man front, 24 times for 112 yards against a five-man front, and 18 times for 87 yards against a six-man front. They also got two touchdowns and two 2-point conversions against the one- and zero-linebacker looks.
Florence ran some form of quarterback keeper 12 times. Half of those were when he looked up and saw zero linebackers.
"As I said after the game, I knew structure-wise, we would possibly be a little bit vulnerable to the run," Bob Stoops said. "And we were."
Still, that lack of success - which included a handful of missed tackles (give Baylor's shifty runners some credit for that) - is acceptable against a team like Baylor.
Simply put, would you rather give up the 4.9 yards per rush Baylor got this year, or the 13.9 yards per pass the Bears got last year?
The old coaching axiom goes that if an offense can successfully run the football, it can demoralize a defense. A defense that can't stop the run gets pushed around, physically and emotionally.
"We never could grasp the run game," Mike Stoops said Saturday night. "Any time a team can run the football on you, it's gonna be a long night."
That was true in the "old way," when 50 or 60 passes was the exception, not the rule. Controlling the clock, changing the line of scrimmage - those concepts seem quaint compared to modern priorities like protecting the passer and catching the football.
If you're Oklahoma, maybe it's OK to give up rushing yards against teams that throw the football like they do in the Big 12 Conference. Like Baylor. Or this week's opponent, West Virginia. Or, to a lesser extent, Oklahoma State.
"Everybody's attack is different," Bob Stoops said.
And now, so, too, is Oklahoma's defense.
Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops, right, and defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, left, talk on their headphones on the sidelines in the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game against Notre Dame in Norman. SUE OGROCKI / AP Photo