I did not watch as much college football this past weekend as I would have had this been a normal year.
Labor Day weekend was not exactly filled with the marquee matchups we’re all accustomed to and were expecting in 2020. Only one contest finished with the winner and loser within one score of one another (SMU 31, Texas State 24). There was no Georgia-Virginia in Atlanta nor any other Power 5 versus Power 5 game in any primetime slot. College Gameday on ESPN had a very different look as it was filmed inside of studios while missing its biggest and best ingredients — the fans and on-campus atmosphere.
But it was still college football. A lot may have been missing, but a lot also remained the same, including one troubling trend that has taken root at both the collegiate and professional levels. I’m talking about tackling, the basic fundamental that players usually learn the first time they step onto a field as kids. One guy forcefully taking another to the ground is the image I get in my head whenever someone mentions football because that’s what sets it apart from the other major American sports. It’s what causes referees to blow the whistle to signal the end of nearly every play. Due to its importance, you would think tackling is something coaches would want to practice on at least a weekly basis.
So why isn’t it injected into practices more often? Coaches are going to say that they would rather limit full contact at practice due to the possibility of injury. The pandemic isn’t helping in that regard, but football is unavoidably a contact sport. If you’re going to play it, the defensive players are going to have to fight off blocks and get their arms around a ballcarrier to bring him down.
There was way too much missed tackling going on this past weekend in college football. It’s time for coaches to embrace the Oklahoma drill in the practices leading up to gameday. Bud Wilkinson, former Oklahoma Sooners coach from 1947 to 1963 who invented the famed drill, would probably think two things about today’s game were he still alive. First, that the players are bigger, faster and stronger than the ones he coached back in the day. Second, they can’t tackle worth a lick.
I’ve seen several different iterations of the Oklahoma drill in my years around the game, but the most common one is simple. Two players line up three to five yards away from one another — one on offense, the other on defense — and they meet in the middle to see who can get the better of whom. Simple, but effective for a few reasons. It allows coaches to evaluate who wants to hit and who doesn’t, maybe helping them decide who belongs on which side of the ball. Also there is time for some instruction after all the smack talking once the “play” is blown dead.
You may grade on a different curve, but I believe that tackling is at least 50 percent mental. You can be the biggest, strongest guy out of the 22 on the field, but if you come at a ballcarrier without a sincere desire to bring him down you will wind up on the wrong end of a highlight reel.
Coaches need to reintroduce their players to Oklahoma, that is unless they want to watch their chances of winning to go sweeping down the plain.