Under the Hood: Texas
Oklahoma heads into their annual meeting with Texas, seeming to have found their stride after a few minor hiccups with Iowa State and Army. A dominant performance against Baylor has the Sooners currently at No. 5 in the coaches poll. Meanwhile Texas has had their most successful start to the season in several years currently standing at No. 20. The game will be Oklahoma's first real test in their march toward a fourth straight Big 12 title and though Texas stands in their way their figures to be some interesting subtext between the two teams after the Longhorns surprisingly played Oklahoma tough the last two years, after surprising the Sooners with a win in 2015. In this edition of Under the Hood we take a look at Texas' 31-16 win over on September 22.
Against the Horned Frogs, the Longhorns rushed for 112-yards on 45 attempts (2.5 yards per carry) and completed 22-of-32 passes for 255-yards (8.0 yards per attempt).
It's not surprising that as you watch the Longhorns this season the better they seem to run offensively the better Sam Ehlinger is playing. The talented sophomore had his highs and lows as a freshman in 2017 and in 2018 has been a bit inconsistent from possession to possession but by and large has been vastly improved from his freshman season.
Ehlinger's most marked improvement seems to come in the vertical passing game where he had several nice tosses to Collin Johnson and co. to help stretch the TCU defense vertically.
If there is one area where Ehlinger is still finding himself it's his clock of when to get rid of the ball. He, at times, looks hurried and will rush to a decision - usually settling for a short pass that goes for little, no, or even negative yardage.
Some of this is understandable as his offensive line is something of a work in progress.
Leading the way for the offensive group is left guard Patrick Vahe who is, at times, a dominant force in the ground game and cleared out space time after time against the Horned Frogs. He can be a bit inconsistent in pass blocking but there should be little argument that he is currently their best blocker. Next to him at center is Elijah Rodriguez who was injected into the starting lineup when Texas lost their starting center, Zach Shackelford, in the preseason. Rodriguez is a player who has played various roles for the Longhorns and his lack of experience at center has shown at times, nowhere more so than in some of the physicality of inside play that Rodriguez often looks at odds with.
At the tackles are opposing scenarios where you have Calvin Anderson, the Rice grad transfer that Oklahoma heavily recruited, and redshirt freshman Samuel Cosmi. Anderson has played loads of football and while he was seen as an immediate difference maker he has had a rocky start to his season. Anderson has struggled with some of the pass rushers he has faced. Anderson also looked to be a guy that really wore down in the second half and at times got static with his feet.
Meanwhile Cosmi has a very bright future but as a young, and quite lean, offensive tackle he struggled at times, particularly with the power of TCU standout Ben Banogu.
The offensive line may still be a work in progress but the Longhorns have plenty of skill position talent led by their enormous receiving duo of Collin Johnson and Lil'Jordan Humphrey.
Johnson is your prototypical X receiver challenging defenders vertically and using his size to win contested jump balls. He is a name that should be familiar to Oklahoma fans after having some success the last two years.
The area where Johnson seems to have made a jump this year is his work in the short area passing, he does a nice job working back to the ball and creating some yards after the catch in 2018.
Meanwhile Humphrey is much more the Z receiver who can work vertically like Johnson but is extremely adept at finding softs spots in zone coverage and when he does he can do tremendous work after the catch. He is almost unquestionably Texas' danger man. It'll be an upset if he doesn't have a big play on Saturday.
At running back Texas really hasn't found their feet, highlighted by being the nation's No. 91 rushing offense, but Tre Watson is a capable receiver that Texas will even split out to get him out in space. Meanwhile Keaontay Ingram is an impressive freshman who has struggled with his health in recent weeks.
Against the Longhorns, the Horned Frogs rushed for 141-yards on 32 attempts (4.4 yards per carry) and completed 20-of-40 passes for 231-yards (5.8 yards per attempt).
While Texas is still finding their feet offensively they continue to filed a very sturdy unit under the leadership of Todd Orlando. The unit is currently the country's No. 10 defense in S&P+ - an impressive breakdown from SB Nation's Bill Connelly - and from the front to back they do plenty to impress.
Up front it's not that any one player stars for the Longhorns but they are a solid unit led by Charles Omenihu a long defensive end who has emerged from being something of a pass rushing specialist into being a complete edge. He, at times, flashes elite skills but too often can fade in and out of games.
One player who we came in not talking a lot about was defensive tackle Gerald Wilbon, the big defensive tackle showed a little a bit of ability in the passing game but really shined when he stuck his feet in the ground and stuffed the run. He isn't a star but is a player that can be a problem for Oklahoma's interior that is still working it's kinks out.
Malcolm Roach has long been a player for Texas but was unavailable in the TCU game. A dynamic defensive lineman the Longhorns use him in a variety of ways to put his athleticism in space to be a problem.
At linebacker Gary Johnson may be playing as well as any linebacker, and perhaps any defender, in the Big 12 at the moment. Johnson is a player that reads very naturally and when he sees run action to the outside has the ability to track down the ball on the perimeter of any offense.
The secondary is where Texas has recruited at truly impressive levels in the past few classes and not surprisingly they flash a lot of elite talent on the back end of their defense.
No one embodies that more than senior cornerback Kris Boyd. He blends great size and speed along with being a player willing to fight for the ball in the air. However, he did show an ability to have his aggression taken advantage of, as Jalen Reagor did on several occasions.
But make no mistake, Boyd, who even excels as a run defender, is as good a cornerback as Oklahoma will face at any point this season.
On the flip side of the field is DaVante Davis. Davis is a big and long cornerback who tackles well in space and is willing to fight through blocks on bubble screens and other perimeter passes.
Both corners are very good at breaking up a pass at the last moment but neither showed a lot of comfort to make a play when the ball is in the air.
The safety duo of Brandon Jones and Caden Sterns are highly recruited playmakers who compliment each other nicely. Sterns is a natural free safety who covers a lot of ground and reads a quarterback very naturally. Meanwhile Jones is at his best when he comes up and plays run and will tackle well near the line of scrimmage.
Matchups to Watch:
Marquise Brown vs. Kris Boyd
As mentioned, Boyd is as strong a challenge as Brown and the Oklahoma passing game will face this year. However, Boyd had some issues with dealing with Jalen Reagor's double moves and the speed that allowed him to separate. Unlike Reagor and Shawn Robinson if Brown is allowed to get behind Boyd and the Texas secondary, they aren't likely to get a chance to catch him in the field of play with Kyler Murray throw deep balls.
Neville Gallimore vs. Elijah Rodriguez
This is a battle that Oklahoma not only needs to win but needs to dominate. Rodriguez is a program guy that has moved around and done a lot of things for Texas but was never a dominant player. At center he can struggle with physicality and has the game of a tackle far more than an interior player. Gallimore needs to bully him from the outset and make plays in the middle of Oklahoma's defense, or at least free Kenneth Murray and co. to do so.
Tre Norwood vs. Collin Johnson
This is the other side of the coin, it's one that Texas needs to challenge and one that they need to win and if they do, it could be a real problem for Oklahoma. Norwood has been solid in coverage this year but he has struggled with his tackling and a big receiver like Johnson could draw an even brighter spotlight on the issue.
If I'm Oklahoma I...
...I know Oklahoma fans will want the Sooners to get real aggressive with Texas, and there is something to be said for that but they've got to be careful what they are doing behind their front. When Sam Ehlinger was having real success it was generally with he and his receivers finding the opening behind blitzes. When TCU forced Ehlinger to stay in the pocket and find success with several in coverage, he seemed to struggle with his choices and, as mentioned previously, would sometimes rush to a quick dump off, even if there was little opportunity for much to come of it.
As for how OU might get home with some pressure on Ehlinger without getting too exotic with blitzes - though they must be mixed in as well, obviously - TCU attacked Texas with some stunts and it seemed, at times, to really confuse Texas' big men. It's an angle that Oklahoma doesn't usually go after but one they've found success with occasionally this year.
On offense, what can I say that Oklahoma isn't already doing/trying/creating? One thing that should be said is that Texas' secondary had it's issues with TCU's receivers but generally once they'd seen something once or twice that play went the way of the Dodo as far as it's ability to have success.
In the end Oklahoma will have to choose it's spots defensively and realize that Humphrey, Johnson, and co. are going to make some plays.
Offensively, again, Oklahoma just needs to do what it's been doing and make sure run blocking starts to come together as so often in this game the team with the better ground game finds themselves on top.