OU football: Sooners one of nation's best at drawing opponents into penalties
NORMAN — By the time OU’s Sept. 26 loss to Kansas State was finished, the three-play sequence in the second quarter was largely irrelevant.
But a month and a half later, the stretch points to something that, while it isn’t the primary reason for the Sooners’ turnaround during their current four-game winning streak, has certainly played a role.
In the opening minutes of the second quarter, the Wildcats faced a third-and-2 with OU up 14-0 when the Sooners’ defensive line shifted to their left simultaneously and Kansas State left tackle Christian Duffie flinched.
False start. Five yards.
Two plays later, the Wildcats were going for it on fourth-and-1, a gamble necessitated by the way OU’s offense has played to that point.
Once again, Duffie jumped. Kansas State was forced to punt.
While the Sooners struggled with penalties of their own early in the season, though they’ve turned it around lately with just 14 penalties combined in the last three games, they’ve been one of college football’s best at drawing opponents into penalties.
OU’s opponents are averaging 10.1 penalties for 84.4 yards per game. No Power Five team has drawn more penalties per game than the Sooners this year.
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In the Big 12, only Oklahoma State, which has drawn an average of 84.2 yards in penalties per game from its opponents, has averaged more than 61.
In games not involving the Sooners, those teams are averaging just 6.6 penalties per game.
Opponents’ penalties might be one of the most overlooked stats in college football, along the lines of opposing free-throw percentage in basketball.
When he was playing with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Russell Westbrook believed he could get into opponents’ heads on free throws, helping prevent points on the board.
Sooners coach Lincoln Riley said, though not all flags are the result of what the other team does, plenty of them are.
“Anytime you can do something to put pressure on an opponent, then you can create opportunities for those penalties,” Riley said. “Whether that’s a team doing a good job with tempo or a team pushing the ball down the field, or a team being very active on the pass rush and linemen getting antsy.
“Some of it’s controllable. Some of it’s not.”
OU’s front seven on defense have made life miserable at times for offenses, and it’s not just their sack numbers.
They’ve also helped contribute to plenty of those flags. More than 60% of the flags thrown in OU’s games against its opponents have come with the Sooners’ defense on the field.
“I think it has everything to do with how much we get the offensive line thinking, especially with how much stunts and how much movement our D-line does pre- and post-snap,” rush linebacker David Ugwoegbu said. “It doesn’t give the offensive a chance to pick up on what’s gonna happen before the play, so all that nastiness, it causes them to jump offsides when the game gets heated.”
More than a third of the 71 flags the Sooners have drawn were false starts.
While the pressure is designed to be tough on offenses, penalties are just a side benefit.
But making other teams pay for those penalties is a focus.
“It’s not just the penalty … now do you take advantage of that and get them off the field and create good field position for the offense and then vice versa,” Riley said. “I guess more than maybe trying to cause penalties, we’ve really tried to focus on taking advantage of every opportunity that we get.”