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The Puzzling Texas Defense: Different Week, Same Issues

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One week after being exploited by the West Virginia offense, the ‘copycat’ Sooners took advantage of the Longhorns’ exact same inadequacies.

Tom Pennington

As I watched this past weekend’s Oklahoma v. Texas game, I found myself saying, "Hmmm, that sure looks familiar." And no, I wasn’t talking about the performance of one of the nation’s poorest tackling secondaries. The more and more the game played out, I realized Oklahoma was successfully running many of the exact same plays West Virginia had run against Texas just one week before. It was as if a large portion of the Sooners’ game plan was, "Hey, Texas couldn’t stop this play/set last week. Let’s see if they can stop it this week?" As the 63-21 final score would indicate, Texas surely didn’t make too many adjustments.

Within college football, as in the NFL, there is a ‘copycat’ mentality ingrained in most coach’s philosophy. It makes sense, right? If an upcoming opponent was unable to stop a particular play or set in their previous match up, why wouldn’t other coaches try to exploit those same weakness? Whether it’s a lack of coaching, a poorly designed scheme, or simply bad execution, it is the job of a coaching staff to make weekly corrections to avoid being repeatedly exploited by the same shortcomings on a weekly basis.

After giving up 460 yards and 48 points to West Virginia, there were plenty of mistakes the Texas defense could have learned from. But after watching the Longhorn’s defensive performance against the Sooners, a game where Texas gave up 677 yards and 63 points, it seemed as if the Texas coaching staff simply burned the previous week’s game tape rather than learning from it.

Credit Oklahoma for taking parts of what West Virginia did well and implementing them into their own, well-executed game plan. Everything from West Virginia’s patented fly-sweep package to their newly-revealed Inverted Pistol package showed up in the Sooners offense against Texas. Just as Texas couldn’t stop certain packages in Austin, they once again failed to stop them in the Red River Shootout.

In last week’s piece, I discussed a multi-fake screen play West Virginia ran out of their Inverted-Pistol to start the second quarter last week in Austin. In ‘copycat’ fashion, guess what play Oklahoma called towards the end of the first quarter this week against the Longhorns? You guessed it, the exact same play, that almost produced in the exact same result.

The chart below sets the context for each of the screen plays:

Texas Opponent W. Virginia Oklahoma
Quarter 2 1
Time Remaining 15:00 1:46
Down 2nd 2nd
Distance 8 11
Defense Cover-2 Man Cover-2 Man
Gain 16 12

Below are side-by-side screen-shots of the two plays. As you can see, the only difference is West Virginia lined up in a Pistol-formation while Oklahoma ran it out of a Split-Back Shotgun-formation. Other than that, the design and execution were nearly identical.

(Click on the images for larger versions.)

The fake inside-zone action is the same:

The fake reverse action from the slot receiver is the same:

The strong-side leakage from the back that faked the inside-zone is the same:

And the clear path down the sideline is the same:

While I acknowledge these two plays were not necessarily game-changing by themselves, it does point to a much larger issue with the Texas defense. A huge part of coaching is not only game planning for the upcoming contest, but also cleaning up mistakes from the previous one. The above screen-shots are just one of the many examples where Texas was hurt by the exact same plays against Oklahoma as they were against West Virginia just a week before.

Texas now faces unranked, but high-powered Baylor before getting a breather at Kansas. After that though, the Longhorns face four-straight top-25 teams to conclude the season. If Texas wants this season to end up as successful as many preseason pundits thought it would, the Longhorns defense is going to have to clean up its ongoing inadequacies and play like the much-heralded unit many thought it could be. But after the last two dismal showings, how many people think that turn around will actually happen?