Bedlam football: Sooners' defense corrals Chuba Hubbard and the Cowboys
STILLWATER — Chuba Hubbard took the handoff and headed between the tackles like he has so many times this season. Heck, like he had several times already Saturday night.
But unlike so many of his carries, there was no room. No daylight. Only defenders.
Then the next snap, it happened again. Handoff. No lane. Short gain.
And in those moments late in the first half, this Bedlam game turned. Oklahoma decided to pack defenders close to the line and make rushing yards difficult to come by for Oklahoma State’s standout tailback. The Sooners were daring the Cowboys to win by throwing the ball.
OSU didn’t do it.
OU 34, OSU 16.
On a night the Cowboys did their darnedest to upstage their in-state rival and kill the Sooners’ playoff hopes, OSU simply didn’t get enough from Hubbard. It wasn’t for lack of trying -- he carried the ball 24 times and caught it another three times – but Hubbard was up against a marauding horde.
“They put their safeties down in there,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said. “That’s why we were trying to throw it. But they made the adjustment to drop the safeties down.”
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And the Cowboys didn’t throw it well enough to force the Sooners back into their base defense.
That’s a tough thing to say since OSU quarterback Dru Brown was 22 of 32. He threw the ball away two or three times, and he still completed 68.8 percent of his attempts, a fairly high mark for a guy who was only making his second start as a Cowboy.
But the Cowboys didn’t throw it down the field enough.
Brown had a 42-yard completion to Dillon Stoner. A couple of incompletions were long balls. But the vertical passing game that has been so central to the Cowboys’ offense was nearly absent.
Most of Brown’s completions were short and intermediate passes. Even a 34-yarder to Braydon Johnson was actually a 15-yard crossing pattern that the speedy receiver turned into a bigger gain.
Brown didn’t throw the ball deep much last week at West Virginia, but in his first OSU start on the road, you wondered if it was because Sean Gleeson was shrinking the playbook. Give his new starter confidence-boosting throws. Make him comfortable on the road.
But Saturday night was evidence that wasn’t a product of Brown’s first start.
He just doesn’t throw downfield much.
And that hampered the OSU offense, namely Hubbard.
He is a supremely talented back, but he is way better when he has a crease. A seam. Even a sliver of space. Give him just a bit of room, and he can turn it into a big gainer.
"I thought he had a little bit of room early," Sooners' coach Lincoln Riley said.
Then came the adjustments.
"The D-line became pretty disruptive," Riley said. "Weren't too many running lanes."
On OSU’s first three drives, Hubbard had 75 yards on nine carries, better than 8 yards a carry. He came oh-so-close to breaking a couple of runs for long touchdowns.
But on those three possessions, the Cowboys had only 62 yards through the air.
When Alex Grinch and Sooners brought the safeties closer to the line of scrimmage, they were able to fill the running lanes before Hubbard had a chance to slip through them. The Cowboys needed to throw the ball and stretch the field to give Hubbard some room.
That drive, the Cowboys threw for 67 yards, more than doubling their first-half total. But Hubbard was handcuffed. He had only 11 yards on seven carries.
The Sooners had found a winning formula, and when the Cowboys got down two scores early in the second half, it only emboldened the OU defense.
“It allowed them more flexibility on defense,” Gundy said. “We got into a multi-score game and allowed them to be aggressive up front.
“It made us almost one-dimensional.”
Hubbard finished with 104 yards rushing on 24 carries and went over 1,900 yards rushing for the season. He became only the seventh running back in Big 12 history to pass that plateau, joining Iowa State’s Troy Davis, Texas’ Ricky Williams and D’Onta Foreman, Texas Tech’s Byron Hanspard, Kansas State’s Darren Sproles and OU’s Adrian Peterson.
Hubbard also moved into second on OSU’s single-season rushing list. Only Barry Sanders had a season with more rushing yards.
But on Saturday, the Sooners limited Hubbard. On his final 15 carries of the game, he managed only 29 yards.
“I do think he’s a little bit fatigued,” Gundy said. “The last three weeks, he was not as electrifying. The reason is wear and tear. We try to protect those guys, but we haven’t been able to protect him.”
The Cowboys rode Hubbard this season. But Saturday night, the Sooners corralled him and the Cowboys.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.