The first question that arises when discussing Oklahoma's offense is who will be their quarterback. Blake Bell's concussion allowed Trevor Knight to step back in as the starter against Kansas State and Knight led the team to their most impressive performance of the season to date. There's no discernible difference in the offensive playcalling when either quarterback is in the game, but these are two different players.
As I'm sure you could surmise from previous Bedlam appearances by Bell, he's a downhill runner that has transitioned from being solely a short yardage power runner to a quarterback this season. Not surprisingly, he's struggled with that transition and has proven to be nothing more than a mediocre passer at best. He doesn't cripple Oklahoma's offense because they've become a run-first team and he can make throws to players that are schemed open, but he's not able to make game-changing plays with his arm. He's Colin Klein-lite and his career would make much more sense if he played for Kansas State.
Trevor Knight is much more concerning. While he's had some typical freshman struggles this season, it's obvious why he was able to secure the starting job in the pre-season. He's a dynamic runner that can really punish a defense if he gets into the open field. While he's only had 51 carries on the year, he's averaging 7.7 yards per attempt, which makes Oklahoma's read option game very difficult to stop. They have elite edge speed at QB and at running back with Brennan Clay and Roy Finch. All three of these guys have runs of over 48 yards on the season and can each act as a big play threat in some capacity.
Oklahoma even runs some Johnny Football plays like this QB counter for Knight.
Knight has struggled mightily as a passer, though, and his decision making has been poor even on very simple pass concepts. This will give Glenn Spencer an interesting set of options in defending Knight should he be the guy on Saturday. Kansas State loaded the box and forced Knight to beat them one-on-one on the outside, but the speed of Oklahoma's receivers forced their corners to play off coverage, allowing for some short completions. Dialing up man coverage can also be problematic as it vacates a large portion of the field for Knight to take off and run to, which may be Oklahoma State's biggest concern since the one weakness this defense has shown this season is the ability to contain mobile quarterbacks.
All season long, including some stretches against Baylor's incredible passing attack, Spencer opted to keep his base 4-3 personnel on the field with Shaun Lewis split out wide covering a slot receiver. Given Oklahoma's struggles in the passing game this season, I'd imagine Spencer will have his base group on the field for all early downs in this game like they did against TCU and Kansas State, two teams that have had similar offensive gameplans against OSU this season.
The bye week was certainly welcomed by Justin Gilbert, who is recovering from a shoulder injury. Adding him back into the mix does give Spencer another interesting decision to make. In the event that he only goes to his nickel package on third downs, finding ways to get Tyler Patmon on the field more often will be a big key. Patmon has been excellent this season, but Kevin Peterson is the official #2 corner. Will we see Patmon on the field as the #2 corner in place of Peterson for a few plays in this game? I think we may, and if you're going to have a defensive dilemma, choosing which of your excellent corners is the better #2 option on the opposite side of the top corner in the country isn't so bad.
Having Shamiel Gary and Daytawion Lowe come up and make plays in the passing game will also be key since a lot of what the Sooners have done through the air has been short routes that are typical of spread offenses. Oklahoma doesn't even attempt to hide some of their plays, either, as they'll often motion a man out of the backfield and throw to him right away just like the Cowboys do. If Knight isn't making short throws to the outside, he's attacking the middle of the field on quick slants or posts, so I'd like to see Spencer mix in some robber concepts with Gary lining up as a cover-two safety before diving down on the short throws to the middle of the field.
I think we're going to see a lot of zone coverage in this game because of the threat that Knight presents with his legs, but Oklahoma State could also run some man coverages with Lewis or Lavey acting as a QB spy. Lewis had a very interesting hybrid role against TCU and Trevone Boykin where he would align with the slot receiver and zone off the slant/hitch while breaking on the ball if he Boykin handed it off or kept it.
From an Oklahoma State perspective, Blake Bell would be the preferred starter this weekend since he doesn't present as big of a threat as Knight, although I'm sure we'll see both quarterbacks at some point. No matter who gets the start, Oklahoma State will be dealing with the same plays and the same style of offense. After passing the ball on 57% of their plays last season, Oklahoma has run the ball on roughly 62% of their plays this season, a dramatic shift from the dynamic passing attack that they had with Landry Jones at quarterback.
Oklahoma actually uses a lot of the same formations that OSU does. They run almost exclusively out of the pistol formation, although they did use the I-formation a couple of times against Kansas State, and like to put a couple of backs in the backfield like the Pokes have been doing with Kye Staley in the pistol wing formation. They even use the diamond formation on occasion, allowing Knight to get out on the edge just like J.W. Walsh did in the season opener against Mississippi State and for their running backs to attack the heart of the defense.
The majority of OU's offense will revolve around the read option, especially if Knight is at the helm, and it takes discipline and attention to detail in order to keep the Sooners in front of you. Allowing Knight or any of OU's running backs to get up the field is the recipe for disaster given their collective speed, so Oklahoma State will need to execute their gameplan to a tee. Kansas State failed to do this last week (the absence of Ty Zimmerman was a big reason why). Watch how defensive end Ryan Mueller gets stuck in no man's land here, failing to commit to Knight or Finch, allowing Knight to fool him at the mesh point.
This was a common theme in the first half. There were even times when Kansas State didn't have an upfront defender for Knight to read, allowing Oklahoma to run right up the middle, which was successful due to strong blocking up front.
The Wildcats did a better job in the second half, adjusting to a scrape exchange coverage of the read option on most plays. With a commitment to attacking the running back up front and the linebackers trying to get wide to deal with Knight, they were able to limit Oklahoma's offensive effectiveness in the final two quarters.
Oklahoma State may feel more comfortable using a sit-and-stick strategy in defending the read option because they have the front seven capable of slowing down Oklahoma's interior running game. Since they've struggled containing quarterbacks and setting the edge, having the defensive end sit down, forcing the inside handoff, and having their linebackers flow and stick their run fits seems like the preferred option. James Castleman and Calvin Barnett have done a good job of disrupting things in the trenches, which has allowed Lavey, Lewis and weakside linebacker Ryan Simmons to make plays in the running game.
Watch how well the defensive line occupies TCU's linemen while the linebackers and defensive backs flow to the ball.
Shutting down the read option is a team effort and it's pretty much the only thing that the Cowboy defense hasn't done at an elite level so far this season. Luckily, Oklahoma's offense doesn't have the element of an efficient passing attack to accentuate Knight's strength as a runner, making them one-dimensional. Their offense has the potential to evolve as Knight's skills develop, but right now, this is a team that struggles to get anything going offensively. And after this Oklahoma State defense shut down Baylor's dynamic and explosive attack, holding down this Sooners team seems like a much less daunting task.