COLUMN: OU's fast-paced offense provides tough matchup for Texas A&M
IRVING, Texas — Texas A&M defensive tackle Spencer Nealy decided he needed to make a personal adjustment during the preparation week leading up to the 77th AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic.
“I’m eating a lot less this week because Oklahoma is so quick,” Nealy said. “I have to be able to catch up to their speed.”
That’s how much respect this veteran defender has for the fast-paced Oklahoma team.
Nealy’s not the only one; freshman quarterback and Heisman winner Johnny Manziel also noticed the Sooners’ speed while watching game film to prepare for Friday’s game.
“As soon as you turn on the film, you see how fast and athletic they are and how they jump off the page,” Manziel said.
Oklahoma's speed and efficiency on offense will be a factor in deciding the winner of this year’s Cotton Bowl because the Sooners have the athletes capable of running a fast-tempo scheme throughout the game’s four quarters, a facet that developed over the course of the season.
“Because of our youth early in the year, we felt we had to let a lot of those guys learn how to play fast,” co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “As they became more comfortable with what we were doing offensively, that allowed us to play faster as the year went on.
“Our kids enjoy going fast and we think it does create an advantage for us.”
In the 50-49 win over West Virginia on Nov. 17, Oklahoma almost scored too quickly after finding itself down by five points with 2:41 left to go in the fourth quarter.
Senior quarterback Landry Jones went 4-of-4 in pass completions on the game-winning drive, including a five-yard pass to junior wide receiver Kenny Stills for the go-ahead touchdown. The 54-yard drive took just six plays but left 21 seconds on the clock for West Virginia to have a final offensive opportunity.
OU’s defense gave up a school-record 778 yards to the Mountaineers, allowing the Sooner offense to win the game on a dramatic, fourth down pass during the fourth quarter that saw four lead changes.
And that wasn’t the only time this season OU relied on the high-scoring offense to deliver the win.
During the following week against Oklahoma State, OU ran 103 offensive plays that eventually wore down the Cowboys’ defense late in the game’s fourth quarter. Sophomore quarterback Blake Bell was able to neutralize OSU's lead with four seconds left in regulation before the Sooners collected their only lead of the game in overtime to seal the 51-48, come-from-behind victory.
Although OU’s defense did stop the Cowboys from producing a touchdown in overtime, the Sooners’ ability to stay up-tempo to get the timely points needed late in the game gives the team an advantage when it faces a complete Texas A&M team that features a Heisman winning quarterback and a defense that proved it could hang with the rest of the big dogs in the SEC.
“A&M tries to force you into bad plays, and they forced you to be efficient when you have the football,” co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. “And they have that offense in their back pocket; it’s very similar to the last month of the season where you played excellent offensive football teams because it’s a total team game plan package when you play a team like Texas A&M.”
And the OU offense said it will be ready for whatever the game's pace ends up being against the Aggies on Friday.
"I think this game is going to be fast, fun and physical," Stills said. "We've been in both tight games and shootouts so we'll be prepared either way."
Tobi Neidy is a multidisciplinary studies major.