One of the deciding moments in the close contest between the TCU Horned Frogs and the Oklahoma Sooners several weeks ago was the 76-yard touchdown run by Oklahoma running back Brennan Clay in the fourth quarter.
The Sooners had been working their horizontal running game for most of the contest and had experienced some success, but had not broken out with the big play to create separation.
On a 2nd and 3 with about five minutes remaining in the game, it finally happened.
Left safety Chris Hackett shows blitz from the short side of the field, creeping towards the line of scrimmage before the snap. As the right side of the Oklahoma offensive line pins the defensive end and defensive tackle inside, Clay spots the cut-back opportunity as Hackett allows himself to get too far up the field to contain Clay, a rare breakdown in fundamentals for Gary Patterson's defense.
By the time Hackett stops and re-directs, Clay is already past him into the open field, leaving only the cornerback on that side of the field as the weakside linebacker gets caught in the wash and is also left to change direction and pursue Clay as he races past.
The last player with a chance to make a play on the speedy Oklahoma running back is the safety from the other side of the field, the normally-reliable senior Elisha Olabode, who takes a poor angle on the play, perhaps in part to attempt to cut underneath the official standing in the way of the play instead of taking a more conservative route to the football.
Olabode is quickly left in the same position as his other two teammates -- trying to turn and run to catch up with Clay at full speed and there was no chance of that happening.
Oklahoma playing in 10 personnel helps to open up the field and it doesn't take much of a crease for Clay to hit to find open field and the long, game-changing touchdown. However, the results for the rest of the season suggest that these type of mistakes all happening on the same play against the run are extraordinarily rare for this TCU team. Anomalous, actually, as only one other run has gone for more than 50 yards against the Horned Frogs.
That run came in the opener on another zone play, this one from a bigger personnel package by LSU with a lead blocker and a tight end. Again, Hackett was the culprit, taking a poor angle inside on the play from his deep alignment and allowing Terrence McGee the corner with no safety to the playside. The other safety also take a bad angle on the play, drifting too close to the line of scrimmage to have an angle once the running back found the sideline.
There may be some cracks in the TCU secondary, however, as Hackett has had some tackling problems at times in the open field, the type of thing that happens to even to good safeties in college football these days -- it's an extremely difficult task to execute consistently and the type of reality that led Texas head coach Mack Brown to refer to missed tackles around the country as an epidemic.
The Horned Frogs will rely on the front six to stop the Texas run game and won't put extra players into the box as other opponents have tried in recent weeks to discourage the Longhorns from running, leaving Texas with a decision -- to play with a smaller personnel group and hope to spread and shred the TCU defense or stay with the heavier personnel packages that found success against the light and ultimately overmatched Oklahoma front.
The two long plays against the Horned Frogs came from different approaches, but included the same variable -- Hackett taking a poor angle in support and exposing the secondary to a big gain. On the second level, the TCU linebackers also like to stunt hard into interior gaps to help stop the run game, which can expose them to cutbacks if they don't create quick enough penetration to stop the play.
The best bet to replicate Clay's run is to use Daje Johnson as the running back on the same type of outside zone play that allows him to find a cutback lane on the backside, an area where the Longhorns have found a lot of success in recent weeks. Utilizing H-back Geoff Swaim to take care of any backside threats has been a productive option for the Horns in the run game and Johnson has shown enough vision to hit those type of plays, as Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown, though both clearly lack the game-breaking speed of Johnson.
The body of work for the Horned Frogs suggests that it isn't likely the Longhorns will be able to produce a game-changing play on the ground against a front six that is strong against the run. The play by Clay suggests that it is not impossible.
A cutback and a mistake from the TCU secondary against Johnson? It's a tough recipe to put together, but one liable to cook up a touchdown for Texas if the right ingredients are there.