Oklahoma must ‘tackle in space’ to slow down Baylor’s high-powered offense

Kevin Jairaj | USA TODAY Sports Images
Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops

Defenses see it all in the Big 12 Conference. Five-receiver sets one week. Two tight ends the next. Most games it’s a mixture of everything in between.

How you match up with those schemes — mixing speed and bulk in the right places — is crucial to slowing the prolific offenses down.

However, the all-important ingredient is as old as the game. Tackling always has been, and always will be, the only way to slow down any offense.

“You have to tackle in space, and that’s the hard part,” Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said.

All the offensive innovation that’s occurred in college football’s past 20 years have centered on creating this situation. Quick, speedy receivers or running backs in isolated situations against a lone defender.

Miss a tackle and big plays follow. Screens turn into 75-yard touchdowns. Five-yard crossing routes turn into 55-yard gains.

The 15th-ranked Sooners (6-2, 3-2 Big 12) have done it well throughout the years — No. 12 Baylor (7-1, 4-1) has done it a little better the past four.

The Bears have the league’s most explosive team because they routinely get in situations where defenses cannot gang tackle. Make one defender miss, and it’s another 30 or 40 yards until they encounter another.

What’s the remedy?

“People say you have to tackle better. Well, there’s a lot of space out there,” Stoops said. “That’s why if you do get out of position they can make you pay for it. If you’re leveraging the football too far inside or too far outside they’re gonna hurt you. There’s a lot of field to cover with good athletes in space.”

The Sooners have grappled with positioning all season. A safety or a linebacker gets too wide or caught too far inside and that space gets too vast to cover.

There’s a lot of space out there. That’s why if you do get out of position they can make you pay for it.
— Mike Stoops

It didn’t seem as glaring last week against Iowa State. One of the reasons was it applied more quarterback pressure, forcing shorter and more contested throws.

Another explanation: OU has had the better athletes.

Can’t rely on the latter against the Bears.

“With Baylor, they get that up-tempo offense, you really don’t have much time,” cornerback Julian Wilson said. “Just knowing our assignments and getting the call communicated to everybody — that’s the biggest thing. We don’t want to beat ourselves. We need to make sure everybody’s on the same page.”

Last season was a struggle against Baylor. OU’s defense held up for about 20 minutes. It started missing tackles midway through the second quarter. The 41-12 loss became inevitable at that point.

“Getting players in position is critical. You get a player out of position against these guys and they’re gonna make you pay dearly,” Stoops said. “Our position on the football is going to be critical. Like I said earlier, I think tackling … yards after catch and yards after contact was big a year ago. Those are important statistics in a game like this.”

There always are important statistics. But when playing the Bears, it comes down to making them snap the ball and earn every yard. There’s only one way to slow them — tackle them.

Scott Harrigan
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