IRVING, Texas — Brian Bosworth, who has a particular interest in the Cotton Bowl, mainly that he wants his alma mater to win, has an idea for the Sooners.
Play man-to-man defense.
Not man-to-man pass coverage. Man-to-man defense.
Put a defender on Johnny Football. Stick to Texas A&M's Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Thabo Sefolosha style.
“This kid is unpredictable,” Bosworth said. “You can't coach fundamental, solid defense versus unpredictability.
“If you don't know what he's going to do, all you can do is put your best athlete on him and say, ‘Go compete.'”
Bosworth, as good a college linebacker as God ever made, was no stranger to competing. Of course, Boz's days back in the mid-80s included more Jonathan Gridirons than Johnny Footballs playing quarterback. And if this OU squadron has a Boz-like linebacker, he has yet to appear.
So who knows how the Sooners will defend Johnny Manziel. But man-to-man on Johnny Man certainly seems an option.
It's often called spying. Put a defender, usually a linebacker or a safety, in the middle of the field, near the line of scrimmage, with no responsibility other than tracking the QB.
The Brothers Stoops have long squashed the idea of spying, of building a defense around quarterback containment. They're offering no clues on a Cotton Bowl strategy, but Bob Stoops admits that Manziel's scrambling ability can create desperate times. And you know what desperate times call for.
“Sometimes the worst thing you can do is cover everybody,” Stoops said. “He can scramble. And he has a great knack for feeling people getting close. That's something you have to really work at.
“But you also don't want to be tentative and not rush. There's a fine line there.”
Thus the spy concept. Any coach who could suggest that great pass coverage could be a detriment might just swallow his pride and assign a Tom Wort or Franklin Shannon to dog Mr. Heisman all game long.
OSU defensive coordinator Bill Young said the Cowboys sometimes spy the quarterback — Young calls it “rat” — because “if you have a great athlete at quarterback … you better do something.”
Young said OSU's spy will retain some coverage duties, so the defense isn't essentially playing a man short, but he will be instructed to keep the quarterback in front of him. And particularly with a three-man rush, someone better have quarterback responsibility, because the ends often loop outside, leaving a lone nose tackle to contain the middle.
“There's going to be some seams,” Young said. “A quarterback can run through one of those in a heartbeat, so you gotta have somebody that … can come up and fill a gap and get him down for a minimum gain.”
But Pat Jones says spying is no sure tonic. On third down, or obvious passing downs, sure. Good strategy. But first down? Spying the quarterbacking can mean you're playing a man short.
“It's hard on normal down and distances to do, because everybody's kind of got an assignment defensively,” said Jones, who spent 11 years as OSU's head coach and who also coached defense for Jimmy Johnson at both OSU and with the Miami Dolphins. “You're robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
Another problem: spying requires a certain kind of athlete.
“Most people that try to do it with a lineman, it all looks good, until he has to go make a play,” Jones said. “Everything can work, but they're not good enough to run him down.”
Manziel's mobility has led to a Southeastern Conference total offense record. He ran for 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns, to go with 3,419 passing yards. That's 4,600 total yards in 12 games.
Like all great scramblers, from Roger Staubach and Fran Tarkenton to Tim Tebow and Cam Newton, Manziel puts game-long pressure on a defense. You never know what he might do.
“That's the thing that scares you,” Bosworth said. “His unpredictability.”
What will the Sooners do? We know what they've done. Down the stretch, the likes of Clint Chelf and Nick Florence punctured the OU defense with their legs.
Johnny Football figures to do the same, unless the radical ideas of Brian Bosworth (spy) or Bob Stoops (don't cover receivers) actually work.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.