“A few teams have had some luck with tackling. Keeps the other team from scoring so often.”
— Sam the Lion, “The Last Picture Show”
NORMAN – Bob Stoops estimates that his Sooners missed 20 tackles Saturday night in West Virginia. Maybe so.
But hardly any of them came when Tavon Austin had the ball. The Sooners weren't close enough to Austin to miss a tackle.
The West Virginia Flash rushed for 344 yards on 21 carries. Austin would have had more yardage had he not tuckered out at times and just ran out of bounds.
Austin's historic night was not a tackling issue. It was a schematic issue. The Sooners got outfoxed.
Which is a little disconcerting for the Sooners considering the same offense comes to town Saturday in OSU orange, albeit with players a little less evasive than a certain Mountaineer.
“We got run over pretty good,” said Mike Stoops, who is not accustomed to losing the headset battle. “That was a perfect storm. Just didn't have any answers.”
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen moved his stunning flanker to tailback, and OU was not prepared. Austin consistently was in open space from the moment he took the handoff deep in the backfield.
Mike Stoops said if he had known Austin would be at tailback, no way would the Sooners have game-planned with a no-linebacker defense. Hopefully the seven-defensive back set, burned on the ground now two straight weeks, has seen its last days in crimson.
“That didn't work so good the other night,” Mike Stoops said.
“Very frustrating, very disappointing. But that's football in this league. Give West Virginia a lot of credit. I thought they were very creative. We just gotta play things a little differently.”
You think? Bob Stoops says defensive gameplanning is like offensive gameplanning. Hard to scrap what you've worked on all week.
OU tried to adjust Saturday night, bring a safety into a virtual linebacker slot, but that didn't work. Austin just ran by anyone and everyone.
“They had the right plan and caught us off guard and we just didn't make any good adjustments,” Mike Stoops said. “Hopefully not an every week occurrence.
“We did some structural (changes) … and played them so poorly, so many mistakes happened, I wouldn't want to cover them all.”
Of course, Holgorsen doesn't get an A-plus for moving Austin to tailback. After the game, Holgorsen said Austin should have been moved there four years ago. How about two years ago, when Holgorsen came to Morgantown?
Anyway, OU missed way more tackles on receiver Steadman Bailey than on Austin. With Austin, the Sooners were playing tag. Looked like the backyard when the 8-year-olds try to catch their 11-year-old cousin.
“We're aware in some instances we can do some things better technique wise,” Bob Stoops said, “as well as the positioning of our defenders.”
Here's what he means. The Sooners weren't in position to corral Austin. Modern offenses are designed to get playmakers the ball in open space, usually via short passes. With no linebackers on the field, and seven DBs in pass coverage, West Virginia got Austin the ball in open space merely by handing him the ball. The nearest Sooner defenders were several yards away.
Don't believe it? ESPN Stats & Info estimated that Austin had 22 yards after contact. That means he ran 320 yards before a Sooner laid a hand on him. That's not a tackling problem. That's not a fight-off-your-block problem. That's an alignment problem.
“Our position and leverage on the football was awful,” Mike Stoops said. “It was criminal, the positions we put a lot of those guys in. That's our fault. Just wasn't coached right.”
That's actually refreshing. Good to hear that the responsibility falls where it belongs.
Mike Stoops pointed out that the better Big 12 offenses are on the back end of the OU schedule.
“Sometimes you can get lulled to sleep,” he said. “It's about making adjustments. And certainly West Virginia made a great adjustment getting their best player in space.
“That's something, just feel bad for our players, we didn't have a better answer.”
To paraphrase Sam the Lion, some teams have had some luck with linebackers. Sometimes, the first step to a better answer is admitting your mistake.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.