Analyzing OU’s play-calling
As always, an OU defeat means the masses call for heads to roll. Last year, it was mostly Brent Venables. This year, mostly Kevin Wilson.
The entire notion is ridiculous and makes fans look juvenile. The idea that Kevin Wilson can’t coach offense or call plays, well, I don’t know how to respond. The guy coached an offense that in 2008 set an NCAA record for points, and now that he’s playing without his three best playmakers — Sam Bradford, Jermaine Gresham and Ryan Broyles — somehow changing coordinators is going to make a big difference.
But that’s not to say that play-calling can’t be analyzed. What does a coordinator do when he’s missing weapons and in a hostile environment? I’ve gotten several emails from readers who wanted Wilson to open up the playbook a little more.
In general, that’s madness. You’ve got a young quarterback, in his first road game, against a really good team, suddenly without his favorite receiver, an offensive line that tends to hold a lot and doesn’t block great when it doesn’t hold, and the solution is to open up the playbook? Start winging it around more?
The idea is floating around that Kevin Wilson has turned all Chuck Long and calls running plays on virtually every first down. It wasn’t true under Long, and it’s not true under Wilson. Wasn’t true Saturday night.
OU ran 28 plays on first-and-10: 17 runs and 11 passes. That seems like pretty good balance to me. Overall, any down, you don’t want a 50-50 split with Landry Jones at quarterback. Overall, OU called 39 running plays and 33 pass plays. I don’t see where throwing more passes was going to get the Sooners anywhere.
There were few people to catch the ball and few qualified blockers. Every pass play was flirting with disaster, as we saw when Jones hit and fumbled at his own 11-yard line, turning the game permanently Miami’s way two plays into the second half.
But there’s one place where the Sooners could have mixed it up more, and that was on those first downs.
Of OU’s 17 runs on first down, eight made at least four yards. Four yards, to me, is the line of demarcation. Four yards or more, you can work with. Three yards or less, defense has the advantage. So OU was below 50 percent efficiency on first-down runs. Now, the Sooners had some big plays out of the run game. Chris Brown’s 48-yard run after the Sooners were pinned at the 1-yard line led to a field goal. DeMarco Murray had two solid first-down gains on the final drive. But generally, OU needed more production out of its first-down runs.
Meanwhile, the Sooners threw 11 times on first-and-10. Seven were completed, with the shortest gain six yards, plus OU received a pass interference penalty. That’s eight successful plays out of 11, a 72 percent rate. Cameron Kinney’s TD catch came on first-and-10.
What does it all mean? The Sooners weren’t predictable on first down; no one could reasonably say they knew what was coming, with that 17-11 ratio. But the success rate shows more first-down passing would have been advantageous to the Sooner cause.
Think about it. First-down passing relieves pressure from Jones, who played a solid game. Sort of like BYU. Not spectacular. Not awful. Just OK. Which is about all you could ask of him in either setting. So relieve pressure from Jones, mix in some draw plays (which Wilson did, mostly with success) and revert to the run in other situations.
Now let’s look at third downs, where the game got downright freaky. OU faced 17 third downs. Fourteen of those snaps were third-and-long, at least seven yards needed. Three were third-and-short (needing one, two and three yards). That’s right, OU went the whole game without facing third-and-4, third-and-5 or third-and-6. You can watch a thousand football games and never see that.
Anyway, on the three third-and-shorts, OU ran it twice and made it, passed once (third-and-3) and failed. That third-and-3 was no small play; late in the third quarter, the Sooners had grabbed some momentum back and trailed 21-17. OU got the ball at its 22, and Jones completed a 6-yard throw Kinney. Then Chris Brown gained a yard, bringing up 3rd-and-3. Jones threw incomplete to Mossis Madu, thanks to heavy pressure (Miami had an excellent pass rush most of the night). Punt. Huge series for Miami. OU had a 2nd-and-4, all the momentum and then punted, because neither a run nor a pass worked, which supports my general thesis: What exactly was Wilson supposed to call?
Anyway, let’s now look at third-and-longs. Fourteen of them. OU converted four, which is probably about normal for most good teams. Nobody really makes a living on third-and-8. Anyway, here’s what’s interesting. OU ran the ball on third-and-long three times, and made it once. Murray dashed 12 yards on a third-and-8. OU threw on third-and-long 11 times and converted three. Think about that. OU’s success rate running the ball on third-and-long (albeit a small sample) was 33 percent. OU’s success rate throwing the ball on third-and-long was 27 percent.
That’s just amazing to me. And I think that speaks to the quandary OU found itself in with Landry Jones and Cameron Kinney and James Hanna. The Sooners had to find a way to keep the defense off balance. I think, in retrospect, that way was more first-down passing and more third-down running.
Of course, let’s go back to personnel. Think about what Chris Brown or DeMarco Murray must have felt like every time they went into the huddle. Where’s Sam? Where’s Ryan? Where’s Jermaine? Where’s Loadholt or Robinson or Cooper or Iglesias? Who are these guys?
I don’t think play-calling cost OU the game. In fact, to even suggest it is ridiculous. When your options are so limited, there are no good answers. But I think the Sooners can learn a little from the Miami experience, at least until Bradford returns.
Message Sent Successfully
Be Sure to Check Out Our Top Headlines
Back to share with a friend form.
Add More Recipients