TCU travels to Stillwater to take on Oklahoma State in a game that will go a long way toward determining the Big 12 champion. Mark Schofield looks at the surprising Cowboys, and how the Oklahoma State offensive concepts in use are contributing to success.
While quarterback Trevone Boykin leads a high-powered Horned Frogs offense, the Cowboys are no slouches, ranking 8th in the FBS in passing yardage per game (351.5) and 15th in total offense (502.9). Here are some of the concepts they use to move the football in their up-tempo attack.
Like most spread teams, the Cowboys’ offense is built around the run/pass option game, with the quarterback and the running back meeting at the mesh point. Should the QB keep the football and look to throw, here are some of the ways Oklahoma State attacks the secondary.
We begin with the spot concept, an offensive staple at all levels of football. The Cowboys run this both as it is commonly executed – with a flat/snag/corner combination – or they can add a tweak, as they do here.
Facing 2nd and 1 against Texas Tech, the Cowboys line up with 10 offensive personnel on the field and quarterback Mason Rudolph (#2) in the shotgun. With the football on the left hashmark they align in a 3X1 formation with trips left – the short side of the field.
The Red Raiders put five defensive backs on the field and use combination coverage: On the weak side, they show a Cover 2 look, with the safety splitting the difference between the WR and the right tackle and the cornerback in press alignment. Over the trips, they show man coverage, with the slot CB over the middle receiver in press alignment, the cornerback in off man coverage over the outside WR, and the safety shading the inside receiver. These three players use man concepts to cover the trips receivers:
David Glidden (#13) is the middle WR (and one of Rudolph’s favorite targets) and he simply slides toward the sideline on a flat route. Austin Hays (#88) runs the snag route cutting inside. From the outside Marcell Ateman (#3) starts along the sideline, so, rather than a corner route, he runs a deeper in cut to occupy the cornerback, while still providing the vertical stretch aspect of the spot concept.
As is the general rule in this scheme, Rudolph first checks Glidden on the flat route before coming inside to Hays on the snag:
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The Cowboys also run a two-man snag concept, often employed by Noel Mazzone, the current offensive coordinator at the University of California, Los Angeles. This design can be effective to attack the weakside of a defense in a 3X1 alignment, using the running back out of the backfield and the X receiver, or it can be used from a slot formation, as it is on this play. Oklahoma State lines up with Rudolph in the shotgun and 10 personnel in a 2X2 formation. Texas Tech shows 3-3-5 personnel, using Cover 3.
Here is how the two-man spot looks:
Glidden releases to the flat from his slot alignment, while Ateman runs a deep curl cutting inside. The press cornerback over the slot WR tries to split the difference between the flat and the curl, but Ateman does a good job of selling the outside CB on a vertical release, allowing him to gain separation on the curl cut:
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Rudolph makes a well-timed anticipation throw, and the Cowboys have an easy nine-yard gain.
Downfield Passing Off The Run/Pass Option
Oklahoma State also uses the run/pass option scheme to influence second-level defenders and open up options in the intermediate passing game. Here, Rudolph lines up in the pistol with 11 offensive personnel on the field, with slot formation on the left and FB/TE hybrid Jeremy Seaton (#44) in a wing slot alignment on the right. Texas Tech has their 4-2-5 defense in the game showing Cover 6:
Rudolph and running back Chris Carson (#32) meet at the mesh point, before the QB pulls the football in and looks to hit Glidden on a shallow crossing route:
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Not only does the run/pass look influence the backside linebacker toward the line of scrimmage, but the Cowboys also catch the Red Raiders in a blitz, with both the playside linebacker and the slot cornerback crashing toward the line. This opens up a big throwing window for Rudolph to find his favorite target.
Here is another smart design, with the offense lining up in a 3X1 formation using 11 offensive personnel. Rudolph and running back Rennie Childs (#23) meet at the mesh point, before the QB pulls the football and hits the single receiver (Ateman) running a skinny post on the backside:
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Oklahoma State also uses this concept with the crossing route coming from the direction of the run action. Here they have 11 personnel on the field, but with Rudolph flanked in the backfield by Carson and TE Zac Veatch (#86). The Cowboys have slot formation on the right, with Glidden the inside receiver. Oklahoma State shows a lead run to the right, with Veatch heading to the edge while the QB and RB meet at the mesh point. Meanwhile Glidden runs a crossing route cutting over the middle, away from the flow of the run action:
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Again, the run movement in the backfield sucks forward the two linebackers. Rudolph pulls back the football and finds his slot WR on the crosser for a big gain.
Oklahoma State also uses run/pass action to attack vertically, particularly on seam routes to the TE in trips formation. Here, Rudolph is in the shotgun with 11 offensive personnel on the field. Kansas has their 4-2-5 nickel personnel showing Cover 4:
Rudolph and the running back meet at the mesh point, with the RB heading to the right side of the line. But the QB pulls the football away and sees how the run action has influenced both linebackers toward the line of scrimmage. This opens up a big throwing window for the seam route run by TE Blake Jarwin (#47)
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X-Factor J.W. Walsh
Finally, a few words about Oklahoma State’s backup quarterback, J.W. Walsh.
The senior was the starting quarterback for the Cowboys in their season opener against Florida State in 2014 and has started a number of games during his career in Stillwater. However, Rudolph was named the starter this summer, and Walsh stayed at Oklahoma State rather than transferring. But because of his experience, as well as his improved mobility over Rudolph, head coach Mike Gundy and the offensive staff involve the senior in the offensive game plan each week, giving him a package of plays to run. Walsh has seen action in each of Oklahoma State’s games, completing 18 of 23 passes for 296 yards and 9 touchdowns with no interceptions. But he is also a threat carrying the football, with 35 rushes for 194 yards and 7 scores.
Here is one example of the element he adds to the Cowboys’ offense. Facing a 1st and 10 and trailing by 3, Walsh is in the pistol formation with 31 offensive personnel on the field in a full house backfield, as the QB is flanked by RB Jeff Carr (#20) and Seaton, with running back Raymond Taylor (#30) behind Walsh. Oklahoma State shows an outside zone run here, with Seaton and Taylor leading to the left edge and the QB meeting Carr at the mesh point. But as the defense flows to the outside, Walsh keeps the football and cuts inside:
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64 yards later he is finally dragged down at the 1-foot line.
Expect a high-scoring affair when TCU and Oklahoma State clash on Saturday. But with the Cowboys’ passing concepts and the X-factor of Walsh, they might have enough firepower to emerge victorious.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.
Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.
All video and images courtesy ESPN and WatchESPN.com.