, Muskogee, OK


December 29, 2013

Oklahoma can thank Bama for improved defense

METAIRIE, La. — Oklahoma’s and Alabama’s school colors are virtually identical and the uniforms appear to be cut from the same cloth. Their ability to amass victories, conference championships and national championships places both in the college football tradition penthouse.

But there is one major thing the 11th-ranked Sooners recently took from the Crimson Tide and are trying to make their own — their defensive scheme.

That came as a shock when OU middle linebacker Frank Shannon was asked about it Saturday after the team’s practice at the New Orleans Saints’ practice facility.

“That’s between the coaches,” he said.

It was OU’s coaches — specifically head coach Bob Stoops and defensive coordinator Mike Stoops — who let that cat out of the bag. The members of the defensive staffs have converged in both Norman and Tuscaloosa, Ala., to exchange ideas.

“We’ve shared and talked,” Bob Stoops said.

In the case of the Sooners’ defense this season, copied would be apt.

There’s no doubt the major reason they played their way into a BCS bowl for the first time since 2010 is the defensive improvement the Sooners have made this season. They’re inside the top 20 in total defense for the first time since 2009. The unit’s points allowed average — 21.3 points per game — is also its lowest average in four seasons.

One of the reasons is the scheme changes Mike Stoops made going into the season. He ditched the 4-3 scheme he employed during his first tenure in Norman from 1999-2003 and what was used when he returned last season.

He went to a 3-4 scheme with the plan of getting more speed on the field and allow OU to be more multiple in its ability to pressure and cover.

Alabama was already doing those things.

OU brought in Chad Walker as a defensive quality control staffer. The reason was the amount of time Walker had spent working under Alabama coach Nick Saban. He was quality control coach for him both at LSU and with the Miami Dolphins.

“He’s helped me tremendously put this thing together, along with our whole staff, so again, they understand it better than anybody,” Mike Stoops said.

The concern for Thursday night’s Sugar Bowl meeting at the Superdome is no one understands it better than the Crimson Tide.

The Sooners are not concerned about that. There are subtle differences. A coach has to adapt his scheme to fit his personnel under any circumstances. The Sooners face more spread offenses during the season than Alabama. The Crimson Tide are always built to play in the run-heavy SEC.

But it will be another case of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery and that college coaches — no matter how competitive — don’t mind spreading knowledge.

Of course, it helps that Saban has a relationship with the Stoops family that dates back decades, and that Friday’s meeting will be just the fifth between the Sooners and Crimson Tide and the first since 2003.

But Mike Stoops doesn’t downplay the help he received from the Crimson Tide’s staff when he decided to reboot the Sooners’ scheme for this season.

“You go to the best to get the information,” he said. “Their willingness to share with us was good and that’s where you like to exchange ideas, and certainly we’ve seen a lot of different spread offenses in the past to show, so it’s just exchanging ideas.”

The exchange has clearly worked out in the Sooners’ favor.

– John Shinn is a sports writer for the Norman Transcript.

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