Photo by David Stacy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
OU’s formations with multiple TEs could create even bigger matchup advantages this season.
The Oklahoma Sooners performed as expected in their season opener, blasting the hapless Missouri State Bears by a final score of 48-0 . The details of how OU roasted Missouri St. may be of more interest to Sooner Nation, given the level of competition.
On the offensive side of the ball, OU trotted out a host of personnel groupings and formations throughout the contest. The latest iteration of 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends/H-backs, two wide receivers) is already looking like a trump card. OU’s first drive of the game offered a glimpse of what’s possible with this grouping when coach Lincoln Riley put his mind to it.
The Sooners stuck with the same 12 personnel look for the drive’s first four plays:
RB Marcus Major (No. 24);
TEs Jeremiah Hall (No. 27) and Austin Stogner (No. 18);
WRs Theo Wease (No. 10) and Charleston Rambo (No. 14).
The image above captures OU’s setup on the first offensive play of the game. Quarterback Spencer Rattler lined up in the shotgun with Major offset to his left. An inline TE (Stogner) attached to the line on the right side of the formation, and three receivers split out in a 2×1 look. Hall is the inside receiver on the line of scrimmage to the left, with Wease outside of him and off the line playing X receiver. Z receiver Charleston Rambo is off the LOS to Rattler’s right.
MSU essentially has seven defenders in the run box, backed by a single-high safety. The corner across from Wease backs up just prior to the snap, leaving a huge cushion. With the offensive line blocking GT counter to the right, Hall engages the safety lined up across from him to create ample space for Wease to maneuver on a screen pass.
On the second play (above), OU flips Hall to the inside WR on the right side and keeps the inline TE on that side. This time, the Bears pull a defender out of the box and rotate him into space to the field side of the formation. That combined with a play-action fake to Major helps clear room for Stogner to run a drag route through the middle of the field, aided by two MSU defenders taking themselves out of the play.
Play three (above) finds Hall and Major in the backfield on opposite sides of Rattler. Stogner is now splitting out to the right as an inside WR. MSU essentially puts seven players in the run box and dedicates a nickel to covering Stogner, creating a situation where the D is rolled to the right side of the formation to match the passing strength.
OU’s call is a QB read play that involves Hall clearing the way for Major going right and Rattler reading the back side. The defense flows with Major, but Rattler keeps. The weak side defensive end gets an arm around Rattler, which is the only thing keeping him from a big gain down the left side.
Play four (above) is the one that will force defensive coordinators into early retirement. With the ball on the right hash, OU lines up in a 3×1 set at receiver. Stogner and Hall come out on the left side of the formation, with Wease outside of them. Rambo is alone to the right side of the line.
The play call itself is nothing revolutionary. The Sooners fake Power to the left to set up a play-action pass, and Major stays in to help with protection. The Bears bring four rushers and drop seven players into coverage. Rattler has ample time to let his receivers work deep. Anticipating Hall coming open towards the sideline downfield, Rattler directs a laser towards the front left pylon in a spot 30 yards away, putting the ball where only the Hall can reach it.
The play stands out for two reasons. First, Rattler makes a jaw-dropping throw while moving to his left. Second, how many H-backs out there can do what Hall does on this play? When the opposing offense is using players with the skills of Hall and Stogner in that role, it forces defenses to account for all players at all times in all areas of the field.
And since we’re already here, here’s a peak at the final play of the drive:
The Sooners go back to the old school on the goal line, lining up in the I formation with Hall in the backfield in front of tailback Seth McGowan. Stogner has his hand in the dirt on the right side of the line. A third H-back, freshman Mikey Henderson (No. 3), has replaced one of the WRs and attached to the left side of the OL to give the lineup some extra beef. Wease splits left to set up a one-on-one situation with the CB.
Obviously, this makes for a useful short-yardage formation. Don’t be surprised, however, if Riley occasionally springs the package in standard situations. Maybe pull the wideout in favor of junior TE Brayden Willis for even more heft.
Keep in mind that the trend across the Big 12 has been for defenses to deploy smaller personnel to keep up with spread offenses. Those defenses can usually account for one H-back in the offense’s standard offensive sets. Few teams in the conference have an H-back as good as any of the ones on OU’s roster, though. Imagine defensive coordinators trying to scheme against two – or more – of them on the field at the same time.