I have released my book on the Oklahoma Sooners’ 2018 offense. You can buy it here. This preview contains an excerpt from the first chapter of the book which introduces the reader to the identity of the Sooners offensive scheme. This preview also contains an excerpt from a later chapter in the book going over one of the Sooners’ top passing concepts. This should give great insight into the overall structure of the rest of the book.
While the book was written in a way in which video isn’t necessary, it will be available. Every diagram in the book will include a label that corresponds to a film clip that readers can find on this site once the book is released. For the purpose of this article, the videos have been inserted below the diagrams.
Chapter 1 (excerpt)
Since Lincoln Riley took over the offense in 2015, the Oklahoma Sooners have had unparalleled offensive success. In the four years since 2015, the Sooners were the top offense in the nation three times (according to S&P+ ratings by Football Outsiders), made the College Football Playoff three times, and helped produce two Heisman trophy winners. The following table shows the statistics produced by the Oklahoma offense during the Riley era.
Notable Numbers (2014-2018)
- Highest offensive S&P+ rating of all time. (2018)
- Highest average yards per play of all time. (2018)
- Four Big 12 championships (2014-2018)
- Two Heisman winners (2017, 2018)
- Three CFB playoff appearances (2015, 2017, 2018)
This offensive production is largely a product of their culture, and the great talent that has come through Norman. However, Oklahoma’s offensive scheme during the Riley era has allowed them to maximize their talent by creating space for their playmakers, and helped create what is likely the most efficient offense in college football history.
The goal of this book is to analyze this record setting Oklahoma offense so that coaches can learn from them and implement some of these ideas into their own offense. This book will focus on the 2018 season, including diagrams, stats, and breakdowns of their 2018 offense. The book will also include references from their 2017 season. Along with every diagram displayed in this book comes a video that can be found at https://rileykolstefootball.com/oklahoma-film-clips/. Furthermore, if you want full season 2017/2018 cut ups, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or dm me on twitter @noahriley21. Feel free to contact me with any questions. I hope everybody reading this book can learn something that they can take back to their own program to help them win more games.
Philosophy: Oklahoma’s offense is built around a few core concepts which can be ran in a variety of ways to create mismatches, numbers advantages, and force the defense to prepare against multiple looks. From there, Riley finds creative ways to exploit the defensive tactics designed to counter those core concepts by running plays that uniquely attack the opponent’s specific coverage and run-fit rules.
The Sooners were fairly simple in the fact that they only ran a few core concepts, but they would run each of those concepts with a variety of tags and from a variety of looks, giving the illusion of complexity. For example, if you take into account all the formations and tags used by the Sooners, they ran over a hundred variations of their counter scheme. This hides tendencies and gives the defenses a variety of looks and run fits to prepare for, but also allows the offensive line to practice just one concept repeatedly. This is highly advantageous because as Bruce Lee has said “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times. This offensive design allows the offense to focus on doing just a few things repeatedly while simultaneously creating the illusion of complexity and forcing opposing defenses to prepare for a variety of looks.
The formations and tags the Sooners use with their core concepts are not just used to create the illusion of complexity, but more importantly to force a particular defense to align in a way that presents advantageous matchups, numbers, or angles for the offense. For example, Oklahoma would frequently use formations that forced defensive backs to play in the box and take on blocks rather than playing in space where they’re comfortable. One way the Sooners would do this is by using motions against 4-2-5 teams that would force the smaller nickel defender to bump inside the box, while the slower linebacker was forced to run out of the box chasing the man in motion.
Off of their base plays, Riley called several creative “constraint plays” in other words, plays designed to counter the reaction of the defense to the original play. One specific example of this is a unique scheme that the Sooners used off of their counter scheme. Often times, teams would have their linebackers flow with the pulling guard. To counter this, Riley called a play in which the guard pulled to simulate the counter play, when in actuality, it was a quarterback run designed to hit in the void vacated by the linebacker.
More so than any other offensive coordinator I’ve studied, Riley is aggressive in the fact that a large percentage of his play calls are constraint plays. Most coordinators feel as though they have run a play multiple times in order to run a play that comes off of it. Riley doesn’t follow that line of thinking at all. There have been some games where the Sooners would actually run the constraint play more often than they ran the play that sets it up.
Another thing that stands out about Riley as an offensive coordinator is his understanding of defensive schemes, and his ability to exploit opponent’s coverage rules in creative ways. In most games, the Sooners would run some pass concepts that are not in their core offense, but were designed specifically to attack a coverage their opponent was running. One example of such a concept is that against quarters teams, the Sooners would run a concept involving a double move off a shallow cross from the #2 receiver. This concept takes advantage of quarters coverage rules because in most types of quarters coverages, safeties are taught that if their vertical responsibility runs underneath, you pass him off and look to double team another vertical route. On this play against quarters, the corner and safety to the field are occupied by the double post concept, and the outside backer is occupied by the back in the flat. The boundary safety passes off slot on the shallow crossing route, leaving him uncovered on the double move.
Personnel: The Sooners were a no huddle team with the ability to adjust formations with the use of their “Hybrid” tight ends. A majority of their offense was run from 11 and 12 personnel; however, #80, Grant Calcaterra was someone the Sooners used as a hybrid, who could be flexed out as a receiver or play in the box as a true tight end. This gave the Sooners the ability to use multiple sets with tempo, which is something that prevents defenses from subbing to match personnel. Being multiple like this allows an offense to attack the defense where they are most vulnerable. In Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, he states “Avoid what is strong and attack what is weak.” Oklahoma’s use of a hybrid tight end gave the Sooners the ability to follow Sun Tzu’s principle and attack defenses where they’re weak. Against smaller defensive personnel, the Sooners would keep their hybrid tight end in the box and make smaller defenders take on blocks. However, when defenses utilized heavier personnel, the Sooners would attack the defense where they’re weak by flexing out their hybrid tight end as an extra receiver and finding mismatches outside.
Chapter 4 (Excerpt)
Mesh: Mostly used on third down, the Sooners ran several variations of mesh with great success. The majority of their production came off of two types of mesh plays, which I refer to as “dagger mesh” and “mesh out”. The Sooners also had some success with creative tags off their mesh concept.
Dagger Mesh: The Sooners most used variation of mesh, which they used successfully against a variety of coverages was their “dagger mesh” concept. Oklahoma ran dagger mesh out of a 3×1 set with the #3 receiver running a seam route to clear space for the #2 receiver running a 12 yard dig. The outside receivers both would run shallow cross routes, with the #1 receiver to the strong side being the “high crosser” and coming over the top of the shallow run by the single receiver’s “low crosser”. The back checks in protection, and runs a swing in order to pull the flat defender and create space for the shallow cross.
Against zone, the shallow crossers control the hook defenders to create a window for the dig to work into. The dig has the freedom to curl up when he finds a window between the backers. If one of hook defenders gets depth to defend the dig, it opens up space to throw the shallow cross. Against man, the natural pick created by the mesh helps create separation for the single side receiver on his shallow cross.
- Frontside mesh
- Backside mesh
Man: Throw frontside mesh
Motions/Shifts to Cover Up Tendencies: One thing to note is that the formation/tight splits the Sooners use on their mesh concepts are not used on any other plays in the Sooners offense. This is a huge tendency. To hide this, Riley often shifts or motions into these condensed splits in an effort to prevent the defense from making checks and calls in anticipation of a mesh concept.
If both hook defenders are controlled by the shallow crosses, it opens up a window for the quarterback to throw the dig. Against Iowa State, Oklahoma ran dagger mesh against a variation of quarters known as “solo” or “poach” by many coaches. The backside safety took number three vertical, clearing space for the dig, putting the backers in a conflict between defending the dig or the shallow cross coming to them. In this example, both backers were occupied by the mesh routes which opened up a window for Murray to throw the dig route that curled up in the window between the backers. One thing to note is that this particular motion with the #1 receiver motioning inside is particularly stressful on a defense because it forces the secondary to redefine their responsibilities (#1 receiver is now #2)
If the hook defender covers the dig, it creates space underneath to throw the shallow. Against Baylor, Oklahoma ran dagger mesh against a cover 3 zone pressure. Since the defense brought pressure, the back stayed in protection. In this example, the nickel got depth and covered the dig which created space for Murray to throw his second progression to CeeDee Lamb on a shallow cross. The corner ran inside to carry the seam, which got him out of position to make the tackle on Lamb, allowing him to spring it for a 85 yard touchdown after receiving a great block.
This concept is a great tampa-2 beater because the seam route clears out the middle hole player. Against Iowa State, Oklahoma ran dagger mesh against a variation of tampa-2 with the corner and safety switching responsibilities (trap). Because the nickel ran with the seam, and the two hook defenders (backers) were occupied by the crossing routes, Murray had tons of space to throw the dig route.
Against man, the mesh creates a pick to help open up space for the single side receiver running a shallow cross. To take advantage of this pick, when playing against man, the quarterback’s first progression becomes the single side receiver on a shallow cross.
Mesh Out: The other variation of mesh that Oklahoma ran was what I call “mesh out.” On this play, the quarterback usually throws to his first progression. This is a 10-yard out route that converts to a corner versus cloud, and a fade versus press. If that is covered, the quarterback works to the shallow cross coming to him, then back to the dig. The Sooners would change who in the formation would run which route, but the progression for the quarterback remained constant.
Against an off corner, The quarterback usually throws the 10-yard out unless the flat defender gets enough depth and width to undercut the throw (which he rarely does).
Against a cloud corner look, the out route converts to a corner. When facing Texas Tech, the Red Raiders came out in a tampa-2 look, causing the #1 receiver to convert to a corner. Murray hit this route into the hole between the corner and safety.
Against press coverage, the out route converts to a fade. If the corner doesn’t get over the top help from the safety, the quarterback throws the fade.
If the first read is covered by the flat defender, it puts the hook defender to that side in a conflict between defending the shallow cross or the dig. In the following diagram, Oklahoma State ran a cover 3 double cloud coverage Against Oklahoma’s mesh play. The cloud corner got enough depth to take away the corner route causing Murray to go to his second progression which was the shallow cross. Because the Will backer was picked by the tight end, the single receiver was able to find space underneath to get the ball thrown to him.
If the flat defender covers the first read, and the hook defender plays the shallow, it should open up a window for the quarterback to throw the dig. In the following diagram, Texas Tech ran a variation of tampa-2 against Oklahoma’s mesh concept. The receiver running the out didn’t see that it was cloud coverage, so he didn’t convert to a corner, making it easy for the cornerback to cover him up. Murray then looked to the shallow cross, but saw the mike backer getting ready to jump it, so Murray threw the dig into the window behind him.
Oklahoma also ran their mesh out concept out of a 2×2 set with the dig coming from the other side. Here, the Sooners run it against UCLA’s cover 3 look. The corner played off, and the flat defender didn’t get enough width to undercut the throw, so the Murray threw his first progression to the out.
Out & Up: Oklahoma can also tag a double move with their mesh concept. Against UCLA’s quarters coverage, the Sooners ran 2×2 mesh with an out & up tagged onto it. The corner bit on the fake, allowing the receiver to get enough separation for Murray to complete the pass for a nice gain.
Post Wheel: Mostly in the red zone, the Sooners also ran mesh out of a 3×1 formation with a post-wheel combination outside. On this play, the quarterback works the post-wheel combo with the shallow cross being his checkdown. The diagram below shows Murray throwing his first progression to the post against UCLA’s goal-line man coverage.
Deep Over: Against teams who wouldn’t get depth with their weak side safety against mesh, Oklahoma would tag a deep over route to try taking the top off the defense. The diagram below is from their matchup against Army. The weak safety had his eyes on the meshers and didn’t get much depth, which left space behind him. On this particular play, there was plenty of space, but the nickel and safety played decent coverage on the deep over, and Murray overthrew the pass.
Mesh Screen: When they were expecting man coverage, Oklahoma ran a play where they’d have everybody block for the low crosser on mesh. This is legal because the shallow crosser works back behind the line of scrimmage after he gets past the mesh. Oklahoma ran this play against man coverage because the man guarding the shallow cross gets blocked.
Mesh & Roll: In the Big 12 championship game, the Sooners ran a double move off their mesh screen where the man setting the pick on the mesh came off the pick and went vertical. Texas was in a type of tampa-2 coverage, and the linebacker felt like he was getting picked, so he tried working over the block quickly so that he could play the cross. This cleared a window for Murray to throw the double move into the void between the safeties.