MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

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July 26, 2013

Big 12 defenses looking for turnaround season

NORMAN – For the last four years, Big 12 Conference defenses have fought a losing battle. The up-tempo offenses throughout the league have chewed them up and spit them out.

Last season seemed to be the low point for the defenses. Even the teams that won the league – Kansas State and Oklahoma – allowed more than 23 points per conference game. Kansas State and TCU were the only squads that didn’t allow more than 400 yards per conference game.

The Sooners, who have traditionally been the league’s best defensive program, are coming off a season where they allowed record totals in yards and points. Seeing West Virginia, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl run wild left a unit feeling embarrassed and ridiculed.

“Offenses are explosive and offenses are putting up big numbers now, but you can stop it.” OU cornerback Aaron Colvin said Tuesday at Big 12 Media Days. “I think that 400 yards of offense is never a good defensive performance.”

For several years, Big 12 coaches have cited the litany of NFL caliber quarterbacks going through the league. The 2013 NFL Draft marked the first year since 2008 a Big 12 quarterback wasn’t taken in the first round. From 2009-2012, six were selected in the first round.

However, the talent at quarterback seems to be down. Only Texas and Oklahoma State have their established starting quarterbacks returning from last season. The only school with an established starting quarterback and coaching willing to say he’s No. 1 on the depth chart is Texas (David Ash).

It points toward defensive coordinators finally having an upper hand against first-year starting quarterbacks. But it takes players as well.

“I think some of it gets down to offensive schemes and being able to adjust defensively. There’s always a coaching element to it, and there’s also a personnel element to it, where sometimes you’re more dominant in the personnel that you have on defense as opposed to offense,” OU coach Bob Stoops said.

“I think you do have to give a little bit of credit to every year, it seems, in our league there’s some incredible quarterbacks. You see a good number of them littered throughout the NFL once they leave here. To me, the better the quarterback, whether it’s in the NFL or in college football, the harder they are to stop. In our league, we’ve had a lot of really good ones. And to finish that, I think, too, our decision to go more up tempo has led our defense to be on the field more, and that’s a factor, too.”

Stoops hinted that the Sooners’ offense might slow down this season in an effort to give the defense a break. It’s a risk worth taking if it actually means avoiding the shootouts that broke out in the second half of last season.

Games like those have been common in the Big 12 for several years. They might be again this year. If they are, it’s the sure-fire sign Big 12 defenses are desperately trailing in the talent gap.

“You have to be as efficient as they are. So if they’re able to get to the line, get their call, and get ready to play, whatever pace that may be, you’ve got to be efficient enough defensively to have your call in order, to have it relayed, and to be down in position to play,” Stoops said. “As much as anything to counter it, you’ve got to be as prepared to play on the snap with the tempo as they have to be. From there, it’s who’s going to make the play.”

For several years, offensive players have routinely made them. The Big 12’s reputation has taken a hit because of it.

“It is tough to play in this league, in the Big 12, because you have so many explosive offenses that can exploit your weaknesses every week,” Colvin said. “But at the end of the day, that’s why you come to the Big 12. You look forward to that challenge.”

Contract extension

The contract of OU head coach Bob Stoops has been extended through 2020, school president David Boren announced Thursday.

Stoops enters his 15th season as the only active coach with a winning percentage  higher than 80 percent (149-37, .801) with 14 uninterrupted seasons on the FBS level.

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