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Containing OSU WR/RB Tyreek Hill top priority for Texas defense

"My man can fly."

This is not the side of Tyreek Hill Texas defenders want to see.
This is not the side of Tyreek Hill Texas defenders want to see.
John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Over the years, the Oklahoma State Cowboys offense has featured a variety of playmakers from big wide receivers like Dez Bryant and Justin Blackmon to explosive running backs like Kendall Hunter and Joseph Randle.

The biggest threat for a Pokes offense that has struggled this season compared to those previous teams is junior college transfer Tyreek Hill, a hybrid running back/wide receiver in the mold of former West Virginia star Tavon Austin.

"My man can fly," said Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford on Wednesday. "He really can. It's a scary thought of how fast he can change a game."

And just how fast can he change a game? In about a heartbeat -- a track star in high school, Hill immediately launched the Oklahoma State track team to its first Big 12 championship in the spring after enrolling early by winning the 200m and finishing second in the 60m.

During his prep career in Georgia, Hill ran the second-fastest 200m of all time (20.14 seconds) and matched the fastest 100m time in the country his senior season. That 200m time would have been good enough to place sixth at the 2012 London Olympics.

My man can fly -- the dude has legitimate world-class speed.

As a result, he's going to be drawing some attention on Saturday when the Horns travel to Stillwater.

"He has to be the main focus of what you are doing," Bedford said. "He lines up at wide receiver, running back, punt returner, kick returner. If we get him in space one-on-one, we're in trouble."

More than half of his 83 carries have come in the last three games, so he's become a more featured back in the offense as the season has gone along.

The idea for Oklahoma State now is to create space by spreading the field with four wide receivers and then running draw plays or a pitch outside zone concept to keep him from having to work downhill -- he's not much of a fit for an attack that uses an H-back/fullback and brings another player into the box.

Out of the backfield, Hill is extremely dangerous when matched up against a linebacker, a fact that should pretty much go without saying. Oklahoma State fans want a wheel route of some type, whether out of the backfield or from an inside receiver position, but those haven't been much in the offing.

Instead, the Cowboys produced a 34-yard gain with a seam pattern right out of the backfield to Hill on the first drive of the Kansas State game against a linebacker who had no chance of turning and running with the decorated sprinter and can also run an angle route that is also hard to defend:

angle route

The seam pattern is certainly the more dangerous route, especially against the type of middle-of-the-field open coverages with two deep safeties the Wildcats prefer. But even against middle of the field closed coverages featuring a single deep safety an get beat by the pure speed of Hill.

In this situation, Texas Tech has a single safety deep and over the top of Hill at the snap, but the Oklahoma State speedster bends his route away from the defender after stemming vertically, with a 50-yard pass play as a result.

On any vertical route, Hill has the capability of running away from anyone on just about any football field.

From the wide receiver position, the jet sweep package hasn't been a part of the arsenal with the junior college transfer, a fact that seems inexplicable given how good of a fit it is for Hill's skill set.

So how does Texas combat Hill as a wide receiver and a running back?

To deal with the potential for plays like the 50-yard touchdown pass, the Longhorns will likely play with two deep safeties and ensure that both know where Hill is lined up at all times, matching it with the 3-3 front the coaches have used in past games that should keep from getting out-leveraged by Hill as a running back.

"It has to be a team concept," Bedford said. "We have to keep him corralled, don't let him outside. We have to keep him between the hash marks. That's our game plan right now -- to keep turning him back, don't let him get to that sideline because if he turns up he turns into an invisible man."

The second play of the game against Kansas State featured a draw play to Hill that was stopped up the middle, but his speed allowed him to bounce the play outside for a gain of 10 yards.

As Bedford said, the Horns will be attempting to take conservative angles at the linebacker and secondary levels, with the safeties running the alley having to be especially careful not to get out-leveraged by the speedy Hill.

Running the same play multiple times is a tough way to beat the Wildcats, so the draw was stopped later in the first quarter when the defense took better angles to keep Hill contained within the hashmarks. When the Pokes do go to the Diamond to run inside zone, the concern is that a small crease can result in Hill one-on-one with a safety if the fits aren't correct from the defensive front.

Hence the need for the defense to play in tune with each other and their specific assignment to keep him contained.

The good news for the defense is that Hill doesn't seem to have a great natural feel for inside zone -- he wants to press a predetermined gap and doesn't often show the patience to let his blocking develop or give himself a chance to bounce a couple gaps, even though he has the lateral quickness to do so. When he does have a bit of patience, he becomes extremely deadly because he can hit the edge as fast as anyone in the country.

However, one play in the second quarter showcased how dangerous Hill can be even when a play looks contained.

So what could have been a loss on the outside zone pitch play turns into a 20-yard gain -- the backside defenders for Texas have to remain disciplined and not over pursue.

Even if the Longhorns are successful slowing Hill down offensively, he's still a major threat on special teams -- he's been a bit boom or bust since he's one of only nine players in the country with two of more kickoff returns for touchdowns this season, yet ranks No. 28 overall in return average.

As those two kickoff returns for touchdowns indicate, it doesn't take much of a seam for Hill to get himself gone in a right hurry.

Pointing out the fact that Texas doesn't cover kickoffs well shouldn't be a revelation at this point, but Texas doesn't cover kickoffs well, sitting dead last in the country (31.44 yards per return). That could be a problem.

The obvious solution is not to kick the ball to Hill, a decision that could be impacted for two quarters by the weather is the wind is a strong as anticipated. Current forecasts still call for a wintry mix with temperatures around freezing and a predicted wind velocity of right around 15 miles per hour.

Otherwise, the strong leg of junior Nick Rose in the other two quarters should keep the ball well out of the end zone -- the Longhorns also lead the nation in touchback percentage by nearly six full percentage points, resulting in the kickoff unit covering the fewest kicks in the country since a little more than three out of four kickoffs don't get returned.

If the wind is indeed in the face of Rose for half the game, the coaches will have to decide whether his leg is strong enough to cut it or whether they want to try to sky a kick to allow the coverage to get down or kick it to an up man and concede some field position.

As a punt returner, Hill has been much less dynamic this season, as his last five returns have gone for only eight yards, but there's danger if the Texas punter, whether senior Will Russ or sophomore Michael Davidson, outkicks the coverage or fails to kick it in the proper direction, as happened late against UCLA.

Overall, the Cowboys only have one game-changing player -- he wears No. 24, he has world-class speed, and his name is Tyreek Hill.

Stopping him or containing him is the key to the game defensively for Texas. Stopping or containing him is basically the list of defensive keys for Texas.

tyreek hill meme