The State of Oklahoma: OU Stumbles Against BYU

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Note:  Thanks to dimecoverage for all her help giving me information for this and also creating the graphic on the right.  She has been great.

I traveled to Austin for opening day, so being at the stadium, I was unable to watch the Oklahoma-BYU game live.  However, people in the suites above us were watching the game on a TV and I was getting periodic updates from the fans around me, so I was aware that Bradford got hurt and I knew OU lost before I left our game.  My friend I'm staying with recorded the game, and I was eager to get back and look through the game and see what happened.  I skimmed through it Saturday night and watched the whole thing more carefully Sunday night, and boy, was it fascinating.  I know I said I would continue with unit previews this week, but such a game deserves attention.

Let me say a few things on the outset

-When one of our players goes down with injury (or any player, for that matter), and the Godzillatron focuses on you, please don't put on a big smile and wave and cheer.  One of our guys is down there hurt while you're gleefully waving, if you didn't notice.

-When I heard Bradford got hurt, I was not happy at all; I actually winced.  Many fans around me started to cheer at the news and chant, "OU sucks."  I agree OU sucks, but I think it's classless to celebrate over a serious injury, especially if it happens to a good kid like Sam Bradford.  Last I checked, he hasn't threatened anyone with a screwdriver yet.  Sorry if I offend anyone who was at the stadium and participated in that celebration, but I found it distasteful.  We're better than that at Texas.

-Since this post will focus on OU (obviously; Brigham Young is not in the state of Oklahoma), I will talk almost exclusively about the Sooners' failures and mistakes rather than what BYU did well.  That doesn't mean I want to minimize the effort BYU put forth in this game.  They deserve credit for the win, and I am not trying to hint at the contrary by talking just about Oklahoma.

-On a similar note, while OU's injuries were obviously huge (Bradford and Gresham), BYU's starting runningback Harvey Unga could not play, and they also lost starting linebacker Matt Bauman early in the game.  BYU also had plenty of their own dumb mistakes, as it was a sloppy game overall.  Thus, while it is perhaps doubtful OU loses with Bradford and Gresham, BYU didn't exactly have a perfect, sunny day either.

Anyway, there's a lot to talk about in the game, so let's get started.  Last week, I previewed the game, and while I hoped BYU would win, I didn't have very much faith it would happen.  I listed several things that I felt had to happen for BYU to win, so I will take a brief look at those:

1.  Pressure Sam Bradford:  They did.  More on this later.

2.  Keep the ball away from OU:  It happened in ways I did not expect, but BYU did keep the ball roughly fifteen minutes more than OU.

3.  Turnovers:  I thought BYU had no chance if they turned the ball over more than OU.  Well, they did it four times and still won.  Go figure.

4.  Stop the run:  OU had some success on the ground but never really got it going.  Overall, BYU is probably very happy with OU's mediocre 3.8 yards per carry as a team and 129 rushing yards.

5.  Hope Brent Venables does something stupid:  OU's defense didn't dominate and they did make mistakes, but at the end of the day, you have to put much more blame on the offensive side of the ball.  OU fans are much more angry at Kevin Wilson.

6.  Good ol' fashion luck:  Well, you can definitely say that OU played poorly (or some of their units did...) and committed a ton of penalties, but BYU didn't exactly win the lottery.  I wouldn't call the Bradford injury a "lucky" occurrence either.  Again, more on this later.

Therefore, of the six things I said had to happen for BYU to win, only half of them did.  If I were to predict the score of a BYU victory, I would have said something like 37-35 or something, not 14-13.  What the heck went wrong, then, for OU?

"The Best Offensive Line We've Ever Had.  Honest!" - Bob Stoops and Kevin Wilson

Their offensive line went wrong.  Very, very wrong.  I knew, like most everyone who didn't buy into Stoops' and Wilson's stupid hyperbole, that OU's offensive line was a big question mark for this team.  Nonetheless, as my preview states, they definitely have talent there to turn to.  Therefore, despite my skepticism concerning the O-line (especially with Brody Eldridge at center), I was shocked how bad OU's line played.  As much as I laughed at Stoops' and Wilson's insistence that this player or that player is "the best we've ever had," I expected them to have this line much more prepared than what they showed on Saturday.  Stunning.

The problem with the line wasn't so much the physical act of blocking, although they weren't always very good at that either.  The problems were stupid penalties and a lack of recognition and adjustment to blitzes.  I'll go down the line and talk about each starter.

RT Cory Brandon

Football is a team game, but if you're looking for a goat, look no further than right tackle Cory Brandon.  Brandon's performance was so bad, even I began to feel sorry for him.  Not only was his blocking mediocre, he committed an astonishing six penalties (two declined).  It was quite an inauspicious start for him and the OU line, as he committed two of the three false start penalties that killed the first drive and caused a three an out, and it didn't get much better than that.

After the first drive, here are some notable things on Brandon's performance that I caught when I re-watched the game:

-On Murray's costly fumble at BYU's goalline, Brandon was called for holding anyway and would have nullified the run. 

-On a failed third down play on OU's fifth drive, Brandon missed a block and looked lost.  Trent Williams' chop block would have nullified the play anyway, but it was worth noting.

-On OU's eighth drive, Brandon was practically run over by the BYU DE, who hit Bradford as he threw the ball.  Bradford still completed the pass, but it was called back because Brandon held on to defender as he fell on his back.  This was the drive OU ultimately lost Sam Bradford.

-On OU's second drive of the second half, a run for a first down was called back due to a Brandon hold.  The Sooners would go three and out again.

-And finally, to make sure the spotlight is on him, Brandon committed a false start on OU's last drive that pushed the Sooners back even further.  The 54 yard field goal, as we all know, was no good.  Game over.

Cory Brandon was supposed to be a solid starter, having experience as a backup before this year.  Instead, he was the worst guy on the line, and I wonder if he's going to keep his job.  On a few plays, I saw backup Brian Lepak take the right guard spot as Jarvis Jones slid over to right tackle.  Jones wasn't great either, but if Brandon is starting and plays like that against Texas, Sam Acho is going to kill him.

RG Jarvis Jones

Injury problems seemed to doom Stephen Good, so Jarvis Jones got the start at right guard.  Jones was nothing special, and he committed a stupid personal foul that forced OU's second straight three and out on their second drive.  OU would get lucky as BYU muffed the ensuing punt, but that was the fourth penalty by an offensive lineman already in the game.  I noted some bad blocking by Jones on a play during OU's second FG drive, but BYU was called for pass interference anyway.  Jones was half-decent but again, nothing special.  Considering Brandon's atrocious game, I wouldn't be surprised if Good or Lepak takes this spot back as Jarvis Jones moves over to right tackle.

C Brody Eldridge

Brody Eldridge really struggled.  Not only did I note some poor blocking by Eldridge on the drive Sam Bradford got hurt, he could not figure out where the pressure was coming from.  What was so bad about the Bradford injury was that BYU ran the same zone blitz a couple plays before with the same exact results:  Cougar linebacker Clawson runs in and whacks Bradford pretty much untouched.  In the third quarter, they dialed up a similar blitz, and Pendleton ran in free and smacked Landry Jones as he threw the ball.  OU probably should have kept a runningback in the backfield to pick up the blitz, but it didn't seem the line itself was making any adjustments.

LG Brian Simmons

Simmons was also supposed to be solid, but he too is at fault for slowing down some OU drives.  He had a false start on the first drive, and he also had a personal foul in the second half.  Still, Simmons and Williams were much better than the other side of the line, if that's saying much.  I didn't see him get run over or beat, but I also didn't see any good push.

LT Trent Williams

Trent Williams was pretty solid, but he did get called for a chop block (declined) and he got confused on the zone blitz that ultimately injured Bradford.  I didn't see any time Williams was physically beat, and Jan Jorgensen, BYU's best end, was pretty quiet most of the game.

So, what now?

Although players shoulder a good deal of responsibility, I have to put a lot of this on the OU coaches.  The offensive line looked unprepared and confused, and that starts at the top.  Instead of feeding the media garbage about how they had no worries about the line and how many players were the best ever at OU, they should probably have sent subtle challenges to the players instead.  Like I noted, the problems weren't being physically overmatched; the problems were stupid and undisciplined play.  The line accounted for 10 called penalties, which just isn't going to cut it.  BYU had experience problems in the offensive line as well, and while they too made mistakes, it wasn't on the level of OU's gaffes.

As I said, I can't simply call the Bradford injury bad luck:  If you let your QB get hit like that, especially one not known for his mobility, he's going to eventually get hurt.  On his last drive, Bradford was knocked down three or four times after the throw.  BYU only registered one sack, but they were able to bring pressure to rattle both Bradford and Jones.  Bradford himself played well, but the penalties never allowed him to get in a rhythm and the hits eventually took him out of the game.  It was a sorry performance, and it's no stretch to say that the OU offensive line potentially sabotaged the team's season with that kind of egg-laying. 

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What changes can we expect?  While it would seem that moving Eldridge back to TE would be smart, I think he's staying put, despite the lesser blocking from the other tight ends (their TE Hanna got beat on a second and goal run that resulted in a loss).  Kevin Wilson said he will not "throw anyone under the bus," but he hinted at changes, and it might be the aforementioned removal of Cory Brandon from the starting rotation.  I really don't know at this point, but something has to change, or Landry Jones is going to end up like Bradford.  The Sooners may have only gave up one sack, but Bradford got hit plenty of times before he ultimately exited the game.  As you can see on the right, Bradford mightily disagrees with Wilson's sunny assessment of the offensive line in the preseason.

The Rest of the Team

WR - The biggest question mark on offense is probably the wide receiver position for Oklahoma, which I will discuss sometime later.  For now, it is enough to say that while you can't pin much blame on these guys for the loss, they didn't exactly help.  Caleb Brandon provided some production with 4 catches for 52 yards, but that was about it.  Their supposed deep threat, Adron Tennell, failed to snag a ball on the first drive (granted, it was a difficult throw to handle) and also dropped a first down pass on third and long on OU's second drive.  It was clear that Bradford didn't have any go-to receivers, making the absence of Jermaine Gresham all the more glaring.

RB - Chris Brown and Murray actually ran the ball decently, but they were not always consistent and Murray coughed up the ball twice, particularly the one he lost in scoring position.  Murray had a couple impressive runs, but with the O-line having as much problems as they were, it was difficult for either of them to truly shine.  While Brown averaged 4.2 yards per carry and Murray averaged 5.8 ypc, OU as a whole finished with a paltry 3.8 average.

D-Line - The vaunted OU defensive line was pretty stout all day, but they did not dominate to the degree that one would expect when facing an inexperienced offensive line that BYU had.  Adrian Taylor made some plays but I noted several times he got pushed aside at the point of attack, and I came away underwhelmed with his performance.  Jeremy Beal played well as did English, but they did not bring consistent pressure by themselves and also found themselves out of position on some runs.  The only "wow" performance of this group came from Gerald McCoy, who blew up several Cougar plays in the backfield.  Still, while they didn't smother the BYU line as OU fans probably hopes, at the end of the day, they brought some decent pressure and held BYU to a low 0.8 yards per carry.  You can't blame these guys.

LB - The linebackers generally looked solid as well, save a few mishaps in coverage.  Ryan Reynolds had a good day, recording 10 tackles, a sack, and an interception, while Travis Lewis racked up 13 tackles.  Keenan Clayton had the other interception and he snagged the ball with his hands in an impressive manner for an LB.  The only problem was that they, nor the secondary, defended BYU's tight ends well, and on BYU's fourth and four conversion, Hall zipped the pass to Pitta right between Reynolds and Clayton.

Secondary - The secondary seemed largely untested by the BYU receivers, but they did not look great to me.  Dominique Franks had an error in coverage that let Jacobson get loose behind him for a big gain, and they lost Jacobson on the go-ahead touchdown.  Furthermore, as mentioned above, the tight ends of BYU had some success, with Andrew George catching 3 balls and a touchdown pass and Pitta grabbing 7 balls for 90 yards.  Tackling in the back four was also mediocre.  This is definitely a defense that is much stronger in the front.

Oklahoma's Season:  Endangered

When Andre Ware predicted that the Sooners would lose four games, everyone (including me) laughed at him.  We knew OU's line was a weakness, but FOUR games?  Come on.  One injury later due to that offensive line's ineptitude, his prediction doesn't seem as far-fetched as it did then.  I wouldn't call him smart; nobody could have predicted such an injury to Bradford, but it does go to show how fragile and unpredictable a season can be.  With Bradford out, losing to Miami has become a big possibility.  If he returns against Texas as expected, they will still be underdogs, and if he doesn't, they will almost assuredly fall to the Longhorns.  Finally, they must face Okie Lite in Norman, and while Bradford will be back by then, the Cowboys would love nothing more to smack him around if that offensive line doesn't improve significantly over the season.  That's four potential losses already without even mentioning road games against Kansas, Nebraska, and Texas Tech.

When Bradford returns, it will be interesting to see how this injury affects him the rest of the year, both mentally and physically.  He's a fantastic quarterback, but coming back 100% from such an injury will be tough.  It may even be possible that his first game back will be against Texas, a horrible opponent to return against.  Right now, frankly, it's not looking good for the Sooners.

When I previewed the offensive line, I noted the high stakes of their play, considering Bradford's limited mobility:

These are the stakes:  Keep Bradford upright and a national championship is within reach.  Fail in this regard and the Sooners' best result is probably a BCS at-large berth or possibly even worse if the defense does not improve as expected.

I thought their O-line play would only cost them losses against Texas and probably Oklahoma State.  Now we're looking at a totally different season.  Bradford is out a few weeks, Gresham is still a mystery, and the entire offense just went from scary to "I can't wait to smack around Landry Jones" status.  This is an offense that was given four turnovers by their defense and still only mustered 13 points.  The defensive front seven is strong but not overwhelming, and the secondary is weak.  It is a shocking turn of events.

I by no means am saying that OU is now a weak team.  They will still be a dangerous team come October, especially with Bradford's return.  They are also not out of the national championship picture yet and they certainly can win the Big 12 again.  However, they have a lot to prove to return to their elite status, and with their relatively tough schedule, they're going to have to improve very quickly if they don't want their season to spiral out of control.  The Horns watched this game with glee and eager anticipation, because if they play like that against Texas, the Longhorns are going to roll them over.  Apparently, the fact that we lost three D-line starters does not equal their O-line losses, and that should make Bradford pause as he ponders his decision to skip out on the NFL.

How's this for another 2005 to 2009 similarity?  OU's best player gets injured the first game and they fall to an MWC team.  That OU team went 8-4.  It's up to the O-line to make sure they don't prove Andre Ware correct.

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