No. 14 Sooners boost offense with Bedlam borrowing
One day this summer, Dana Holgorsen concocted a scheme that would add Kendall Hunter's running ability to the spread passing game that he planned to bring to Oklahoma State.
He unveiled the three-back set in the season opener, and it has helped Hunter become the nation's fifth-leading rusher over the course of the season.
Now, it could be used against him in the Bedlam rivalry game on Saturday night with the Big 12 South title on the line.
No. 14 Oklahoma (9-2, 5-2 Big 12) has borrowed a few pages from Holgorsen's playbook, unveiling the same formation during a 53-24 victory at Baylor last week. The set the Sooners are simply calling ''backs'' resulted in three first-half touchdowns and eliminated red-zone issues that had been problematic on the road.
''It's kind of interesting to see two in-state rivals are going to kind of do the same thing,'' Oklahoma offensive tackle Eric Mensik said Tuesday.
In another industry, this might be considered stealing trade secrets. In football, it's just how things work.
Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson admits he copied the formation from the 10th-ranked Cowboys (10-1, 6-1). He said he spotted it while watching tape over the course of several weeks while preparing to face opponents Oklahoma State had already played.
Wilson sees it having numerous uses beyond just wishbone-style running and the ability to still pass with the quarterback in the pistol and two wide receivers. He could see teams using it with a tight end in the backfield, or motioning a quarterback outside and running the wildcat.
''There's a bunch of stuff you could get to,'' Wilson said.
Against Baylor, Oklahoma used it to spring DeMarco Murray for a 13-yard touchdown run with tailback Roy Finch and fullback Trey Millard blocking, then had Finch run up the middle for an 8-yard TD, then had Landry Jones throw a play-action pass to Ryan Broyles for a 5-yard score.
Three red zone trips, three touchdowns for a team that had gone 5-for-12 inside the 20 in its previous two road games - losses at Missouri and Texas A&M.
''It gives us a lot of opportunities to run the ball either way and up the middle,'' Mensik said. ''It kind of tricks the defense, and it really has helped us.''
Holgorsen said he noticed the Sooners running his scheme - which Oklahoma State followers have taken to calling ''the diamond'' - and simply thought, ''that looked like a good set.''
''It's a hot topic, I guess, but for me as a football coach, I've done the very same thing that coach Wilson did. You watch tape and you look at different ways of accomplishing what's already in your package,'' said Holgorsen, the Cowboys' first-year offensive coordinator. ''It's natural.''
Holgorsen said he hadn't seen his variation of the full-house backfield previously before he presented it to offensive line coach Joe Wickline during a summer retreat. In a copycat profession, anything that works one place is likely to show up somewhere else - particularly since there are only so many ways to line up 11 players within the rules.
''There's a lot of stuff that you see from Oklahoma State that we've got from a whole lot of coaches out there,'' Holgorsen said. ''We've talked with high-school coaches about specific stuff, we've talked with college guys from all different levels and NFL guys and all the rest.
''You look at what your personnel is, you look at what your philosophy is and you try to come up with the best ways of accomplishing the same thing.''
At both schools, the formation has provided a way for talented freshmen running backs - the Sooners' Finch and Oklahoma State's Joseph Randle - to get on the field without having to split time with established seniors in Murray and Hunter. Doing that only makes it more complicated for a defense.
''You've got three guys going different directions or the same direction and gaining leverage on you,'' Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. ''You just have to settle in and figure out how you're going to handle the different gaps that are created. With three different guys, you could create gaps a lot of different ways.''
And now, the task of stopping it also falls to Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Bill Young - who at least has the advantage of seeing it in practice.
''We do that all the time on defense. If somebody's running a defense or a blitz that is giving another team problems, and we can, we'll incorporate something off of it,'' Young said. ''They say the greatest form of flattery is imitation, so we've made a lot of people pretty happy.''