Matty Brown kicks off a mini-series looking at some scheme and player takeaways from the Big 12 Spring Games.
In spite of Bob Stoops’s shock retirement this offseason, the Lincoln Riley-led Oklahoma Sooners are still clear favorites to repeat as Big 12 champions. They are a strong contender for that fourth college football playoff spot, and that’s largely thanks to their consistent depth. Their classes each year have resulted in them being the conference powerhouse, and the Spring Game revealed elements of their preparation for 2018’s potential starting quarterback; Kyler Murray.
A Texas A&M transfer, Murray impressed through the air – completing 9 of 13 passes for 144 yards and a touchdown – but it’s the added dimension he brings to the running game that flashed the most. Mayfield is no slouch running with the ball, but Murray is the fastest player on the team and has different levels of speed.
Transforming the Read Option
The added potency that Murray brings to a simple read-option play was on display. The offensive line leaves the backside defensive end, Addison Gumbs (#15), unblocked. This is the man that Murray reads. If he crashes and plays the running back, Murray will keep the ball and run outside. If the defensive end stays home to cover the quarterback keeper, Murray will hand the ball off to the running back.
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Murray executes this near-perfectly. He rides the mesh point excellently, forcing the defensive end to make a clear decision. The disguise from Murray is so good that Gumbs fully pursues the running back, not realizing that Murray has the ball.
As he surges downfield, Murray showcases not only his excellent athleticism but also his vision. He presses inside to throw off pursuing defenders before taking the ball further outside, where the strength of the blocks is.
Commanding Attention on the Inverted Veer
The threat of Murray’s legs will create extra room for running backs on option plays, as evidenced on this inverted veer play.
Murray again does a great job running this play. This time he is reading whether defensive end Kenneth Mann (#55) will go outside to the running back, or stay inside to get the quarterback. Once more, he does a wonderful job riding the mesh point and halting the defender. After the handoff, he also fakes as though he has the football.
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The main impact this has on the defense is the way it affects the safety, Tre Norwood (#13). Norwoood is the force player in this defense, meaning he is responsible for forcing any outside run back to the inside. Due to his preoccupation with watching the mesh point and trying to decipher who ends up with the football, the safety ends up getting crackback blocked by the outside receiver, Sam Iheke (#85). This seals him inside, leaving a huge amount of space for running back Trey Sermon (#4) outside.
A Great Scheme in Waiting for Murray
We also saw a cleverly designed play that would be ideal for Murray, even though it was run by the less dynamic Chris Robison:
This tailback screen/quarterback power run/pass option relies upon the QB reading the strongside inside linebacker (SILB). If the SILB does not go outside to cover the running back screen, it gives the offense three blockers versus three defenders on the perimeter. The quarterback will therefore throw the screen.
If the SILB goes outside to cover the screen, the advantage for the offense is in the box as it would be five blockers against five defenders. The quarterback will therefore run the football in this case. The weakside man on the end of the line of scrimmage is left unblocked, and the right guard and right tackle will pull. The right guard’s job is to clear this man out. The right tackle’s job is to pull and get to the second level, acting as a man for the quarterback to run behind.
In this example, Robison correctly identifies the SILB, Curtis Bolton (#18), coming down and outside to cover the screen. The beauty of this play is that the entire defense naturally flows toward the screen, yet the quarterback’s run is to the opposite side. Just look at the dilemma it causes for the left defensive end; Kenneth Mann (#55). Oklahoma’s elite offensive line does a fantastic job blocking this, and Robison rushes for roughly 15 yards. This is exactly the sort of play design we can expect to see for Murray in the future.
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Baker Mayfield decided to stay in school for one more season, but Murray may see action sooner than expected if Mayfield’s durability issues re-emerge or if Oklahoma is winning a game by a large margin. The true sophomore’s accurate and powerful arm, twinned with a scheme tweaked to utilize his mobility, is a very exciting prospect for the Sooners’ future. Their reign shall continue atop the Big 12.