Despite Oklahoma’s gaudy statistics running and stopping the run, Saturday night’s match-up between the Miami Hurricanes and the Sooners will come down to which team can pass the ball more effectively.
Miami quarterback Jacory Harris must prove that he can rebound from a demoralizing loss at Virginia Tech, while Oklahoma Heisman trophy winner Sam Bradford must prove he can bounce back from a season-opening shoulder injury against BYU.
Freshman Landry Jones will get the nod if Bradford remains sidelined. Jones has been impressive in his own right, throwing an OU record six touchdown passes versus Tulsa.
This analysis should come as no surprise. Many a football game has been determined by which quarterback plays the better game.
However, the last time Oklahoma visited south Florida to face the ‘Canes (1987 National Championship game in the Orange Bowl) they were feared because of their wishbone ground attack, not their current Pro-style aerial onslaught.
Barry Switzer’s OU teams regularly ran by their competition, winning the National Championship in 1985.
In the 1990s, the Nebraska Cornhuskers similarly ran by their competition winning back-to-back titles in 1994-95 and a share of the prize in 1997.
Colorado had some success in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, winning a split title in 1990.
While there are a handful of teams who still utilize this seemingly simple, yet always explosive offense as their style, the classic option attack (not to be confused with the shotgun, spread option run by Urban Meyer at Florida and Rich Rodriguez at Michigan) is rare.
Why? It’s pretty simple, actually.
Oklahoma’s next opponent, The U, banned the option from college football.
THEY DID, DID THEY?
Before the implementation of the forward pass more than 100 years ago, running the ball was the name of the game.
Defensive players did not have to worry about Jerry Rice or Randy Moss streaking by them on the way to a 55-yard touchdown completion. Speed on the defensive side of the ball was not as valuable as power.
In order to move the ball down the field, coaches had to find clever ways of misleading these physical defenses.
And they certainly did that.
While there are dozens of names and starting formations (Wishbone, Flexbone, Power I, Wing-T), the option offense focuses on misdirection, east-west running, and the occasional fullback dive to keep the D honest. Throw in the forward pass and an option attack can be even more explosive.
It can be very effective as the defense is put on its heels, unable to attack the offense. Not to mention the fact that the option is good for three, four yards every single play.
This consistent march down the field can frustrate the defense to the point where an untimely blitz will result in a fifty yard run or a forty yard pass.
However, if you have the right mix of physical, tough defenders and physical, tough defenders with speed, then you can eliminate the element of surprise and stop the option. The defense can focus on staying with their assignment (discipline) and, most importantly, making the tackle (fundamentals).
Speed is the determining factor here.
Even if a defender is NOT fooled by the initial fake handoff, he is at a disadvantage. This is true because the option is designed to keep the defender a half step behind (add that to the half-step that any defender is already behind).
The flipside is that a fast defender, even after being duped, can make up that half step and be in position to make a tackle before giving up 25 yards to the runner.
The U showed the country this blueprint:
Recruit safeties to become linebackers, linebackers to become linemen, running backs to become corners. Position players wherever you see fit, but make sure you have speed, speed, and more speed.
It is no coincidence that four of UM’s five national titles came against teams that utilized the option (Nebraska in 1983, ’91, ’01 and Oklahoma in 1987).
It is no coincidence that defensive coordinators around the country saw the effectiveness of UM’s philosophy and began doing the same.
It is no coincidence that since the 2001 season, there have been no classic option teams to reach the title game.
And there is no reason to think that will change.