Oklahoma State’s 37-20 win over the West Virginia Mountaineers in Week 9 of the college football season remains one of the most noteworthy games in the Big 12’s entire conference schedule in 2016. The Cowboys’ defense had its best performance of the year, forcing three turnovers for great field position that the offense was able to capitalize on, and, despite narrowly losing the time of possession battle and having 63 less total yards, they managed to come out with a win. Oklahoma State’s victory came in part from Run Pass Option (RPO) plays in the redzone that helped them execute on offense, with three of Oklahoma State’s four touchdowns being RPOs or RPO-like.
8:31 Second Quarter, 2nd and 3 on West Virginia’s 3. Oklahoma State 6, West Virginia 10
With the OSU defense providing the offense with great field position, thanks to a strip-sack of West Virginia quarterback Skyler Howard, the offense took full advantage with a perfectly executed RPO play. This play followed a 5-yard gain from an inside zone run, via a Gun Trips TE formation. This is important because the Mountaineers’ defense was likely fearful of another run at the time, but they also had just five players in the box on the preceding play where they gave up five yards.
They react to the Gun Ace Offset formation that the Cowboys line up in with a goal line formation, placing what is basically nine men in the box. Pre-snap, the defense clearly indicates that the pass coverage is going to be Cover 0. Quarterback Mason Rudolph (#2), prior to snapping the football, scans the box. On his fake cadence he glances to his right, towards number one wide receiver James Washington (#28). When the ball is snapped, the line blocks the play as though it were another inside zone. Rudolph does not even fake the handoff to running back Chris Carson (#32), showing this is a pre-snap RPO read. He immediately hits the slant to his left from Chris Lacy (#15) for the touchdown. Lacy ran his slant well, and cornerback Rasul Douglas (#13) could not break on the ball in time. Rudolph’s cunning glance to the right before the play may have contributed to this. He also will have used this to decide to hit the slant from Lacy, who was facing off man coverage, rather than the slant of Washington, who was facing press man coverage.
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0:19 Second Quarter, 3rd and 3 on West Virginia’s 3. Oklahoma State 13, West Virginia 10
Again this play follows a running play, in which the back would have scored had he not tripped over his own linemen. Lined up in a Gun Trips Near Offset, and with around 24 seconds left in the quarter and time ticking, Rudolph turns to Carson or his sideline, where he may be receiving a new signal. This has to be a response to the Mountaineers’ defense showing a potential blitz, having eight men in the box and moving their free safety, Jeremy Tyler (#2), over from the trips at the bottom of the formation.
The adjustment allows Rudolph to throw a screen to slot wide receiver Jalen McCleskey (#1). Perhaps Rudolph would have faked a handoff to Carson, but the snap from center Brad Lundblade (#71) is high and right. This ruins the timing for a fake handoff, and Rudolph has to deliver the ball, without the fake, to the open McCleskey. McCleskey, after Austin Hays (#17) and Jhajuan Seales (#81) take their assigned men out of the play, gets to the endzone before Tyler can make contact with him.
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5:21 Fourth Quarter, on West Virginia’s 6. Oklahoma State 27, West Virginia 20
Prior to the snap of the ball, Lacy faces one-on-one coverage at the top of the screen. Meanwhile, WVU have seven men in the box. Like the previous example, this touchdown is affected by a change at the line of scrimmage by Rudolph. Again, he turns to his running back, this time Justice Hill (#27), and looks towards the sideline. After a fake cadence, and a tap from Rudolph, Hill moves to the left of Rudolph from the pistol into the strong twins formation.
The ball is snapped and with Hill running across the quarterback as though the play is a run, Rudolph throws a beautiful fade to Lacy. This destroys the man coverage that Lacy faces, whilst also proving to be too quick for the WVU Cover 1, six-man blitz. Lacy uses his body and hands well to position himself and make the catch for the touchdown. McCleskey, in the slot, demonstrates that this play was originally a run play, as he goes to block the slot cornerback, as does the offensive line who run block.
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The Cowboys, now at 7-2 after beating Kansas State 43-37, have a fair chance of winning the Big 12 as Baylor fell to 7-2 as well. Oklahoma State’s spread attack, led by Mason Rudolph and dominant wide receiver James Washington, is good enough to keep pace with the high-scoring offenses of the Big 12. They just need their defense to continue to bend but not break.