Know Your Opponent: Quick-Scouting the Sooners

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    Here’s a quick look at what the Vols will be facing this Saturday night when Oklahoma comes to town. The Sooners survived a very slow start against Akron last Saturday and ultimately cruised to a comfortable 41-3 win over the visiting Zips. Now, this is an Oklahoma highlight video, so there isn’t any “negative” footage to judge. That said, Oklahoma showed some flaws on Saturday. They struggled to run the football, rushing 33 times as a team for just 100 yards and Samaje Perine – Oklahoma’s Heisman hopeful running back – had 11 carries for just 33 yards and a touchdown.

    Oklahoma’s quarterback, Baker Mayfield, had a solid night. Mayfield finished 23-of-33 through the air for 388 yards and three touchdowns, and was 10-of-12 for 198 yards and two touchdowns in the third quarter alone. He did most of his work under pressure as well. While only registering one sack, Akron was able to get in the backfield and push Mayfield off of his spot multiple times, but halftime adjustments by OU’s new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley really helped the Sooners move the football through the air and score some points after halftime.

    Defensively, Oklahoma blitzed more than I thought they would, and Akron just didn’t have the talent at quarterback to make the Sooners pay for taking players out of coverage. If you subtract a couple negative plays by Akron, the Zips averaged nearly four yards per carry against OU, but they finished with 44 carries for 138 yards – or 3.1 yards per carry.

    Now, onto the film:

    1:30 – The first play of the game shows you that Oklahoma wants to get the ball out of Mayfield’s hand quickly – even after the play-action fake – and allow their playmakers to run in space. Mayfield is accurate on the short throws and really puts some nice zip on the ball, but he does have a low release-point. If Tennessee’s D-Line can get their hands up quick once they read pass, then there should be some opportunities for deflections and possible interceptions. The receiver here is Jarvis Baxter. He finished with 5 catches for 51 yards, and, like most of OU’s receivers, he is very quick and very shifty after the catch.

    1:52 – Expect to see this on Saturday. The Sooners show blitz on the bottom of the screen with Eric Striker (remember him?) but then drop out of it while rotating down just before the snap to send pressure from the top with a linebacker and a corner. This leaves single-coverage to the quarterback’s right, but because he thought pressure was coming from the left, he’s looking for his H-back in the left flat. The FB is well-covered by Striker, and the LB forces the quarterback out of bounds for a loss of one.

    2:57 – I’d be surprised if Tennessee elects to punt to Sterling Shepard in a way that allows him to do much more than ask for a fair catch.

    3:33 – They’ll take this shot a few times early after seeing what Bowling Green was able to do against Tennessee. Akron’s DB actually had terrific coverage on the play, but that’s just a perfect throw by Mayfield and an even better catch by Durron Neal. Mayfield isn’t afraid to throw into coverage, but with high risk comes high reward at times. Tennessee’s defenders will have a chance at a 50-50 ball or two on Saturday night.

    5:00 – Quick pass. Quick pass. Quick pass.

    5:20 – Look familiar? Bowling Green hit this play a few times against Tennessee, including once for a touchdown. The Vols will have to be mindful of a late release from the tight end all night long. Especially now that it’s on tape.

    5:55 – Oklahoma’s first touchdown of the game comes with 5:33 left in the second quarter. So, as good as they’ve looked at times, they still struggle with consistency.

    6:27 – If you give Mayfield time in the pocket, this is what happens. The linebackers fall HARD for the play-action and the pressure gets stood up by OU’s offensive line. Mayfield has a nice pocket and delivers a strike to a wide open Sterling Shepard who, once again, shows you how dangerous he can be after the catch.

    7:04 – Again, if given time, Mayfield can beat you. He does a great job of moving within the pocket to avoid pressure here, and then finds his receiver wide open for the score. Mayfield is a really good quarterback when he gets into a rhythm and things are going well. If the Vols can confuse him early and get him rattled, then they’ll have a shot to keep the Sooner offense in check.

    8:31 – This is how you lose football games. Akron forgets about Joe Mixon on the wheel route and misses a sack on Mayfield. The result is a 76-yard pitch and catch for a touchdown.

    10:00 – Samaje Perine had 33 rushing yards on the night, and 15 of them came on this carry.

    10:28 – The Vols cannot afford to give Mayfield this much time or this clean of a pocket.

    10:44 – I know that the QB takes a big shot at the end, but this is a play that Tennessee will have the opportunity to make. The Sooner defense stays focused on the RB, and Akron pulls to the right side for a quarterback-keeper. 24 yards later, Akron has a first down deep in Sooner territory. Dobbs should be able to do this a time or two on Saturday night after what Kamara and Hurd were able to accomplish against BGSU. It’s all about numbers, and OU will have to be mindful of Tennessee’s rushing attack from every position in the backfield.

    12:13 – The fast pace gets to Akron right here and they leave the receiver uncovered. Mayfield recognizes it and gets him the ball as fast as possible. The Vols will need to play fast defensively on Saturday.

    12:33 – I’d be willing to bet money that OU runs this exact play a time or two on Saturday to test the coverage ability of Tennessee’s linebackers and tackling ability of the Vol corners. This is a well-designed play when you have receivers who are as good at blocking as OU’s are.

    13:00 – Mayfield won’t win any races, but he’s got enough wheels to do some damage on plays like this.

    All garbage-time after that. Not a dominating performance by OU at all, but they found out what was working in the passing game and kept doing it over and over again in the third quarter. Tennessee’s offense should be able to move the ball on the ground at times against OU’s defense, but the Vol secondary could be in for another busy night if they don’t correct their mistakes and miscommunication from Saturday.