“Next man up” can be found on page 78, paragraph 10 of the football coaching Almanac of Cliches. Given the inevitability of injuries, there’s merit to the philosophy.
But when the next man is following someone the caliber of Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman or Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright, cliches go out the window.
That’s become readily apparent through the first two nights of the college football season. Without Scooby Wright, a top 10 finisher in last year’s Heisman vote, Arizona surrendered more than 500 yards to UTSA in a win Thursday that was probably too close for the Wildcats’ comfort.
Likewise, Baylor yielded 21 first-half points without All-American defensive end Shawn Oakman. Chad Morris Effect or not, the Mustangs are all of nine months removed from 11 points and 269 yards per game. Initially, the Bears looked a little shell-shocked without their star.
Chapter 1 of the Almanac of Cliches is dedicated exclusively to the premise football is a team game — again, a sentiment grounded in truth.
And, to that end, both Baylor and Arizona obviously struggled in other facets while adjusting without their stars.
But the sting Arizona felt without Scooby Wright and Baylor without Shawn Oakman was plainly evident.
SMU quarterback Matt Davis was free to operate in Morris’ uptempo system without grim specter of death otherwise known as Shawn Oakman lurking over him. He completed 11 of his first 15 pass attempts, including two touchdowns.
Early on, SMU also ran effectively without Oakman swarming into the backfield. Were it not before, the first half of Friday’s contest proved how integral Shawn Oakman is to the Baylor defensive front.
For Arizona, no Wright meant a drop-off in production across the board — because, quite frankly, Wright does everything for the Wildcats.
“[UTSA] controlled the tempo,” Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez said in his postgame press conference. “They controlled it by getting first downs. They wound up getting 29 first downs but had 18 in the first half.”
Those extended drives turned into 20 first-half points for the Roadrunners, with UTSA sprinkling in a mix of run and pass Arizona was ill-equipped to defend without Wright.
If nothing else, their respective selections as preseason 1st Team All-Americans were validated. That’s little solace to either Baylor or Arizona, though the Bears more effectively adjusted without Oakman Friday than Arizona did without Wright Thursday.
All every yard SMU gained on defensive coordinator Phil Bennett’s Baylor side came in the first half.
Baylor also gets back Shawn Oakman next week; Scooby Wright’s timetable for return is unknown as of this writing. Arizona struggled making adjustments without its All-American linebacker against UTSA, but overmatched the Roadrunners enough that it didn’t matter.
Next week at Nevada, the same missed tackles and lack of pressure against the Wolf Pack’s Pistol offense will ensure the Wildcats get torched and quickly dumped from the Top 25.
The faintest of silver linings for Arizona might having to put the “next man up” philosophy into practice in a situation it could win.
“You’d other learn in a win than suffer in a loss,” Rodriguez said. “Defensively, we had a whole bunch of people play. We had to.”