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.