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“Millennial Oklahoma” Revisited: A Two-Minute Clip from 2017 Helps Explain why UGA’s Defenses Have Been so Good at Defending Josh Heupel’s Spread Attacks

Graham Coffey

Ever been curious why UGA has been able to stop Tennessee’s offense the last two years while other teams haven’t? A large part of that answer can be explained by a two-minute clip from a Kirby Smart coaching clinic back in 2017. 

Over the last few years I’ve made a lot of film studies and written pieces about the schemes and philosophies that have allowed Kirby Smart’s defenses to maintain a high standard while the rest of college football has become resigned to allowing lots of points. Those pieces are usually long and complicated. This one is going to be pretty simple.

This video of Smart started circulating on Twitter yesterday. I saw it after friend of the site @PowellJohnT posted it. The short snippet is from a Nike coaching clinic that Smart did way back in the 2017 offseason. In it, Smart explains one of his favorite drills. The opening slide refers to it as UGA’s “Bubble Drill.” 

What Smart calls it is “Millennial Oklahoma Drill.”

For the uninitiated, the Oklahoma Drill was invented by legendary Sooners coach Bud Wilkinson, who coached OU from 1947-1963 and won 3 National Championships during his tenure. Wilkinson still owns the Division 1 record for longest winning streak, as his Sooners won 47 consecutive games from 1953 to 1957.

If you played contact football anytime from the 1950’s to the 2010’s then there’s a very good chance that you participated in an Oklahoma Drill. The original drill consisted of a corridor being formed using blocking bags. The bags would be set out in a way that created a channel that was 3-foot wide by 9-foot long channel. Two players would be placed in the channel and at the sound of the whistle they would charge at each other. The player who put the opposing man on the ground or drove him out of the alley was the winner. 

Variations emerged over the years. The closest variation to what UGA is now doing was one that still kept a narrow alley but put one or two defensive linemen and a linebacker against one or two offensive lineman and a ball carrier. The offensive linemen would attempt to block the defensive linemen and the linebacker would attempt to tackle the ball carrier. Regardless of the variation used, the drill became a kind of ritual for teams at all levels. It was seen as a way to kickoff the first day of full contact practices during fall camp and many coaches viewed it as a way to test the toughness of their players and find out if they had enough mettle to compete on the gridiron. 

The drill started to become controversial as medical science began to learn more about concussions and the damaging impact they can have on the human body. The original version has been almost fully phased out of the game over the last decade, and its use became a controversial topic in the late 2010’s. It was banned by the NFL in May of 2019. Shortly afterwards, SEC coaches gathered were asked about it at the league’s annual spring meetings in Destin, FL. 

At the time, current UGA defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was the head coach at South Carolina. He had this to say about the drill…

“It’s a drill that teaches offensively to finish a block, to get your hands inside, to play with pad level, to do all the basic fundamentals you do on every single snap in a football game. Defensively, same thing. Great pad level, great explosion. Teaches you to get off a block and make a tackle. It teaches a running back to finish a run, to run through contact. The basic fundamentals of what you would say happens on every single football play goes into that drill. It’s man-on-man, and lining up and whipping somebody’s ass. That’s what it all comes down to.”

Kirby Smart was asked about the drill and its place in the game. His answer to the question was quite different. 

“I don’t see it culturally bonding to put two men 10 yards apart and ram them.”

Smart and Muschamp are both correct in a way. What Smart realized long before many is that offenses were changing. Teams weren’t going to run over and over at 315 pound defensive tackles that they couldn’t block. They were going to make big defenders run side-to-side and chase the football laterally. By the fourth quarter those defenders would be worn out and big plays would start to pop. 

In 1947, the game of football was won or lost inside a small box close to the line of scrimmage. Today, it is played across the entire 53.5 yard width of the field. 

The above video on Smart’s “Millennial Oklahoma Drill” is more relevant than ever when you consider some of the offenses that UGA has faced over the last couple years. It is particularly relevant to what Tennessee does under Josh Heupel.

The clip is obviously from before Heupel was hired in Knoxville, but his offense is the most extreme example of what this drill prepares a team for. The Vols spread their WR’s all the way out to the sideline. They’re coached to be able to spit on the sideline.

Modern spread attacks come to the line and count the numbers of defenders who are lined up in/out of the tackle box. If a quarterback or his offensive coordinator sees the same number of defenders and receivers outside then it’s normally going to read screen. Being good at these 3v3 situations is a neutralizer to the width issues that offenses like Heupel’s create. The difference between UGA and everyone else in college football is that Smart’s teams are comfortable playing inside runs and outside screens with even or lesser numbers.

The perimeter defenders closest to the line of scrimmage blow up blockers and the unblocked player wraps up the ball carrier in space. For most modern offenses, WR Screen concepts are an extension of the running game. Smart’s #1 defensive rule is to stop the run. When you look at the WR Screen through that lenses you can understand why Georgia has put such an emphasis on defending those concepts. With the wide hashmarks in college football, those screens are hard to defend. Most offenses see perimeter screens as easy yards. By taking those yards away, UGA is able to get opposing offenses off-schedule. This forces them into obvious passing downs where Georgia can key on the pass and rush the passer more aggressively.

Of course, that is only part of the formula that has created Georgia’s defensive dominance. Inside the tackle box, UGA’s defensive linemen can play two gaps at once and its ILB’s don’t miss tackles.

Smart is fine with giving all this knowledge away because there is no secret sauce involved with what Georgia is doing 85% of the time. They just work harder and more physically than everyone else, like contact more, and get their defenders to play an unselfish style of football instead of chasing stats.

The other part of the equation that nobody else in the sport can replicate right now? Georgia recruits so many quality players. That depth gives the Bulldogs the ability to practice in full pads without worrying about injuries decimating their lineup come game time. 

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