Oklahoma Recap 2021

That was an extremely interesting Saturday… a game where we were 23 point underdogs and virtually nobody was giving us a chance, we were in it until the very end. It creates some interesting talking points this week. It was truly what I call a narrative game as I call it. On the one hand, you had the positive fans sitting and saying “All we have to do is clean things up on penalties and special teams and we have the talent now!” to continue their belief in Frost and this staff. On the other side of the aisle, you had the doubters who are off the Frost train that would say “ya, but we’ve been saying that since 2018, why is it going to be different in Norman, Oklahoma?” I understood both sides, but was starting to lean towards the “if we haven’t seen it by now when will we ever?” crowd, especially after losing the first game to Illinois who had fired their coach from the year prior.

I always got so mad when people would say “well if we just cut down penalties/turnovers/time management” or whatever they would say. Hell, we even heard it this year against Illinois. My counter to that was we shouldn’t have to be saying that after losing to first year coaches like Tucker at Colorado or Bielema at Illinois. If we aren’t able to overcome those things to beat teams that fired their coaches the year prior, or worse yet if they are able to better prepare their teams in year 1… what are we even talking about? It was a stupid argument that I never understood. Don’t sit here and tell me “it’s a one point loss we are close” when we lose to backup QBs like we did at Purdue, or give up a double digit lead in the second half to Indiana, or any of the other number of times I heard that.

Ok rant over… I was more encouraged with the Oklahoma loss than I was with the Fordham and Buffalo wins. We played the #3 team in the country toe to toe, and we had our chances to win. Fordham and Buffalo just aren’t teams that we need to even be comparing ourselves to, let alone taking victories from them as building blocks. But playing Oklahoma within a touchdown with the penalties we had and miscues our team continually seems to produce, I actually was pretty happy. There’s two ways we can go with this however… is this like 2018 Ohio State where we play them close and close out the year strong with a springboard to 2019 that has everyone excited and thinking we are the favorites to win the west? Or are we going to have a let down against Michigan State next week and not build off what everyone is calling success? I don’t think there will be an in between, and it will be a hostile environment where Tucker thinks he has our number and trusts his strength staff over ours (remember his comments after Colorado took us to the woodshed in the second half?).

I said before the season we would be 6-6, but that counted Illinois as a win, with Sparty being a loss and Northwestern a win. I think now you have to steal one from Sparty to be bowl eligible. We can’t afford to slip to 2-3 in my opinion, because then you HAVE to beat Northwestern and they always play us tough. And i’ll try to keep my negatives short, but I don’t think Oklahoma was the #3 team in the country. They either took us lightly, or had a bad gameplan, or both. I actually liked what Fordham and Buffalo did to us compared to the Sooners. They just looked off and out of sync. But maybe we were the ones that created that? I think this Saturday in East Lansing will tell us a lot.

Lets go with the positives!

Let’s just talk about Martinez. I said before 2020 and 2021 that there was no QB battle with McCaffrey despite people claiming he should start, and that we weren’t bringing in a transfer QB as long as AMart was here. Many people had seen enough of him and didn’t think he was the answer. I got that, there was a pretty big sample size. In Norman I think we witnessed his best game of his collegiate career and quite frankly, you saw why Frost and Verduzco were so high on him and riding with him as their guy. The consistency needs to be there, but props also need to go to him for what he accomplished. His INT was a fourth down where he had to throw it no matter if someone was open or not, but he was so efficient and smart with the ball for the most part. If we get that Martinez against Illinois, we win. If we get that Martinez against Minnesota, Michigan State, or Northwestern, we win. Can we get it consistently? That’s been the issue. But again, you really saw what the kid is capable of and why our staff was so high on him. You just can’t have the ups and downs.

Our defense is crazy good. Oklahoma struggled against us and we limited big plays. You remember me saying “what will our defense do to defend the Sooners” in the preview? We went aggressive at times, then soft zone at times, but either way we gave ourselves a chance. We didn’t look outmatched at all in my opinion, and showed that we are a top defense in the B1G. We made Oklahoma look remedial on offense, which I believe is tough to do. Rattler and Lincoln Riley are really good at what they do, and Chinander went blow for blow with them.

Questions I still have

I still have zero clue about our OL. We couldn’t run the ball at all (save sameside runs, more on that later). Our best run play is a called pass where Martinez scrambles, that’s bad news. Further, we gave up 15 hurries, multiple sacks, and committed a handful of penalties on the OL. As I stated earlier, I think Illinois and Fordham actually had better gameplans defensively against us than the Sooners did, so how do we move forward from here?

Also, how the hell does Hixson go from 12 game starter in 2019, to not playing at all in 2020, to now needing to start against the #3 team in 2021? Piper has gone from someone I said would be a multiple year starter for us (which he already is), to just hanging onto his job. The regression that guy has done is concerning IMO. And we now have people advocating for one of our four star tackles to move to guard and play some other guys on the edge, i’m really concerned with our OL moving forward. Again, if not for Oklahoma giving us favorable looks, we could be in trouble. I don’t expect Northwestern or Michigan State to help us like that.

The RB room is a complete mess despite me really liking what I saw from Rahmir Johnson. That dude was on transfer watch for me, turns out he may just be our Ozigbo with Stepp apparently dead somewhere and Ervin more than likely out for the season. What I don’t understand is how the guy doesn’t play much at all, and becomes our main guy against #3 Oklahoma. In all honesty, not sure it’s their fault since our OL is struggling, but man we need someone to step up. We had 21 carries for 71 yards. Now what I did like is that Frost and Lubick stuck with the run even though it wasn’t necessarily working, that’s important. It would have been very easy early on to throw up the white flag and start throwing everywhere, they stayed the course. Something they hadn’t done much up until now.

Lastly, Betts and Manning need to get on the field. I understand we aren’t at practice everyday or know what’s going on with the classroom, etc., but these catches by Betts and Manning are why everyone gets so mad they aren’t playing more:

Remember when I bitched that we were widening out Vokolek to throw one on one routes to him? Betts is the guy that can win those against Oklahoma, we couldn’t even win those against Northwestern last year. And look at that catch radius from Manning, no offense, but Warner and other guys aren’t able to do that. I don’t know what it is, but we need to stop holding our playmakers off the field for whatever reason. If they are still practicing and on the team, play them. If you are kicking them off like Washington it’s one thing, but you can’t just keep saying “need consistency” then play them against Oklahoma. There’s a disconnect there, hopefully it’s connected now.

Return of the TEs!

We heard the announcer talk about how Nebraska didn’t think Oklahoma was a physical team, and whether it was that or Vokolek being back, our staff felt a lot better about getting 2 TEs on the field consistently. We were doing it before, but we weren’t building around it. Here, you see that we have Allen and Vokolek in at the same time, and it really helped our line blocking.

Heck, you also had them building off of plays with 2 TEs and getting these dudes involved in the passing game. I haven’t seen this all that often with Frost the past couple years, but it was a welcome comeback for plays to be set up for later on in the game:

We even decided to put Teddy Prochazka at TE for this game and got 3 TEs in the game when we wanted to hammer the ball into the endzone:

Sameside Run Plays

You started to see a concept that I know as “sameside” run for zone read teams. Let’s start with what the defense does… typically in shotgun, the linebackers “cross read” the backs. Meaning, the linebacker away from the QB has him, and the LB away from the RB has him. This is because typically the RB comes across the body of the QB for the handoff. Against Oklahoma you saw us run some “sameside” plays, which means the RB does a stutter step or two, and gets the handoff staying to the same side he’s on. If you are cross reading it really messes with the LBs reads/eyes and overall ability to play fast (my apologies for the video here, I tried to cut it off):

Oklahoma is outnumbered up top anyway, we are pulling our most athletic lineman Jurgens to kick out, and our backside lineman is going after the other LB. That play goes a really long way if not for a non-contact knee injury. Frost and his staff set that play up, and did a good job keeping it in their pocket until second half so they had to adjust on the sideline and didn’t have halftime to make corrections.

Concerns moving forward

As I stated earlier… I wasn’t impressed with Oklahoma. I thought their gameplan sucked, but more than that, i’m not sure they are as good as advertised. Tulane scored more than twice as many points as we did against them, concerning. And then Tulane followed it up with getting their doors blown off against Ole Miss 61-21. I really think Oklahoma will be losing a couple games this year.

Continuing that point, everyone was really excited about what we looked like offensively, but we still only scored 16 points. Frost and staff saved a ton of the Xs and Os for this Oklahoma game (sameside, multiple TEs, Vokolek screen, etc.). What’s going to happen now that all of that is on film for Sparty and Northwestern?

Can our OL figure things out against Michigan State? Sparty’s defense is currently the best scoring defense we will have faced to date, and they held a Miami team to 17 points (Alabama held them to 13). Michigan State will have a much better gameplan against us in my opinion, and it will be up to the OL to get a push. As playcallers, Lubick and Frost are at the mercy of if we can get a push to run the ball. We can get on them all we want for certain things, but if your OL can’t run block and is awful in pass protection like we’ve seen so far (per Rivals, some of our OL scored 0.0 on pass protection for the game) we are kind of dead in the water.

Extremely limited sample size, but Sparty is actually the highest ranked scoring offense we will have faced to date. While I don’t think they are as good as that ranking suggests (20th) this will be a test for our defense. A test I think we can win.

I think Betts has staying power, but Manning is a wild card. Really hoping we can keep both of them on the field for us, as it will make life easier for Martinez (probably not a coincidence he had his best game). Adversity is going to hit this year again at some point, can we circle the wagons?

With that said, teams aren’t even loading the box against us and we can’t run. We HAVE to get guys like Betts and Manning the ball down the field to keep it that way while our OL learns on the fly how to get better.

20 thoughts on “Oklahoma Recap 2021

  1. will read into it more, but the most maddening thing (aside from penalties, and boneheaded plays) are why some guys show up and then disappear for weeks at a time?? I agree with getting the playmakers on the field one way or the other…if they are on the team and in good standing (going to class, etc), then play them because we need Betts and Manning without a doubt. The most troubling thing of all is the OL…it is a mess. They look so much better standing there in the huddle than they did 1-2 years ago, but aside from Jurgens (who can get nasty), its like they are stuck in mud…both tackles got abused several times against the Sooners…lets not even go into the blocked XP fiasco…I also think you nailed it when you said these next three games will determine how the season goes…we have to have Sparty IMO….

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  2. On a positive note, I do like that we aren’t trying to be cute and are being physical in short yardage/goal line situations. I still would like to see Adrian under center more in those situations, especially with Yant or Stepp behind him just pushing him forward for the first down or touchdown.

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  3. I’m going to stay positive after that OU game and some of the comments from the recent pressers. I think we are actually really close. The coaches know it, team knows it, they just need a game to put it together and turn the corner. Agree this Sparty game is big. I think we have the weaponry to go up there and take a W. On the perimeter I don’t think they can match up. Betts, Manning, Toure and hopefully Martin should give them fits. With Allen and Voko we are better at running the ball. Problem is I just don’t know who is the RB next week. Stepp could pound some dents in Sparty. But can that Oline gel and take another step up? We’ll see. Couple of final thoughts, that D is salty and they are going to keep us in every single game. Also 2AM is playing like a man possessed, plays within himself, takes what the defense gives him for the most part and when the opportunity comes he is the most dangerous dude on the field. Keep that guy upright.

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    1. For sure, and this game in East Lansing is the game to show us all what we believe can happen. If we lose, Oklahoma was just another taste of what could have been and i’m getting a little tired of those. If we truly are who we showed against Oklahoma, a win should come to us this weekend.

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  4. I thought the Huskers had a chance at 7 wins this season. If they could improve in the areas that needed to be addressed and so far they haven’t. Inconsistency is the only thing in which the Huskers are consistent. This is in year four and no special teams, offense can still put up a ton of yards, but not enough points, penalties, some I can live with but most have been drive killers, etc.

    I thought the Illinois game would paint the picture for this season and I think it has (inconsistent, penalties, turnovers, poor special teams play and still had a chance to win the game!). Yes, I was happy that this team went toe to toe with OU, but still had the same issues as the pervious three seasons.

    If sloppy, poor play is enough to win four more games and get to a bowl game, I think Frost has another year. With Trev as AD and year 1 and no bowl game, does Trev decide to part ways with Frost? It would be different we saw consistent improvement, but there hasn’t much of that outside of the defense, since Frost arrived. I want Frost to succeed, but stop with the excuses and button up what needs buttoning up! Plenty of examples out there of coaches who have turned programs around in less than 3 years, some in as little as 2 years. So why in year 4 are we still seeing the same/similar issues???

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    1. I think that’s where i’m at…. I guessed 6-6 thinking we’d see some of the same issues, but leaned towards 7-5 if I was going to have to guess on one side of .500. The problem is, that 6-6 included a win against Illinois. This Sparty game will be really telling. For the entirety of this staffs tenure, we have taken one step forward and then one if not two steps backwards. Can we build on what happened in Norman? Because quite frankly how we played Oklahoma is the outlier, we need to have it be the norm.

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  5. What would you do with the OL moving forward? Dr. Rob spoke about how he wished that our scheme was more zone blocking based opposed to “shield” blocking. What is shield blocking? You have written about Duval and how his training hasn’t exactly helped with mobility and athleticism. Does zone blocking require more mobility than shield blocking?
    Also, has the S&C program had a negative effect on Piper, Corcoran and BB? They look slower than last year.

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    1. I’ve had a few people tell me we aren’t blocking inside zone correctly, and I more chalk it up to not being able to move people. Not sure what he means by “shield” but he might be talking about OZ blocking where you wall off your guys, and we are awful at that since we can’t move (except Jurgens).

      Inside zone blocking would be better for what we train for because it’s more north/south as opposed to east/west like outside zone, but we can’t move anyone. I think our S/C has made Corcoran, Benhart, Piper, Robinson, Rogers all look worse this year than last year. They are stiff and can’t move, but they look B1G now at least. That’s what we want, right?

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  6. The OU game was encouraging but the litmus test will come against the Big 10 schedule. The teams in the conference are far are more physical and play better defense.

    The defense played well enough to win and is the strength of the team. The offense has potential but they will need to play clean and get better production on the OL to have success. The special teams also needs to improve a lot to be successful.

    I’m hopeful that the team can improve throughout the year and show demonstrable progress.

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    1. That’s what i’m curious on. It was obvious we had the physicality advantage against Oklahoma, will we have that against teams in our conference? I need to see us do this more consistently, starts in east lansing on Saturday.

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  7. Your rant at the start. Was Frost UCF year dumb luck? Of did they have all the penalties too. Just scored a bunch against bad competition. Also you point about oline, no push whatsoever. The dlines are in the backfield at the snap. I would load the box and dare us to throw.
    For strepp any ideas what is going on? Feeling a transfer portal is coming

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    1. My Iowa friend always mocks us because he says “you guys brought in a guy with chronic penalty and culture issues to come clean up your penalty and culture issues.” He’s had the penalties and what not all the time. I don’t want to call it dumb luck, 13-0 is hard, but it does require some luck to go undefeated. Hell, even in 1997 we had to kick a football to Davison to beat a team.

      Stepp must have had a bad week of practice or something as he traveled. I have no idea what’s going on with our RB room.

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  8. Oklahoma’s DLine looked real small to me. Maybe they just are trying to optimize a speed rush for spread offenses in the Big 12. They had some legit rushers, but figured we’d be able to run on them more then we did. It seems their DLine would have a hard time against a talented, big OLine of the top teams like Bama and Georgia.

    I feel like we’re going to have to hope pass blocking holds up some b/c ater our games I don’t envision us running much on other teams. Maybe some Martinez designed runs, but we lack push up the middle

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    1. Yep, they were small and speedy. I think they just in the end had better football players to overcome our strength as they were able to “out athlete” us. I am real curious how Sparty will defend Martinez, and if our defense can hold up against the top rusher in the country. I think our defense will be fine, it’s up to our offense to score.

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  9. Thinking more and more about the sooner game as we near the msu game and I just can’t get over how bad we are running the ball. Our o line generates next to zero push. I don’t know if it’s scheme or talent or strength and conditioning? Or a combo of all? We certainly look the part (kind of…we look a lot better getting off the Bus than we have the last several years but still nothing like the athletes we had in the 90’s on the o line.). I truly believe it starts and ends with the o line and d line…it is nice to see Manning and betz make big plays here and there, but give me a nasty o line that can pancake people and give the qb time to throw and I’d be satisfied. I don’t understand the disconnect??? Frost knows what it looked like (the nastiness and physical ness of the true pipeline guys)…so why can’t we (in year 4 mind you), have some semblance of that? I was 100% all in on frost….and I can’t believe I’m typing it but I honestly don’t know if he can get it done here. Sad state of affairs. Thankfully our defense is solid…if we had a speed rusher on the end or olb, the defense could be elite imo

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