Phoenix Staff Reports
NORMAN — I never played the game.
Played a lot of other games, yet not the one that gets almost 90,000 to surround Owen Field on fall Saturdays or, tonight, about half as many to fill Floyd Casey Stadium. So it’s a bit of a mystery.
How, exactly, has Mike Stoops created such a defensive transformation from one year to the next?
Moving from a 4-3 to a 3-4 appears to have created more versatility. Then there’s the simple fact Stoops knows his players and the conference much better two years into his second run as Sooner defensive coordinator. Also, perhaps, some addition by subtraction has taken place.
Though he’s out for the season, Corey Nelson certainly became a leader after the defense shed some dead weight. And, though he’s out for the season, too, Jordan Phillips certainly came up big on the defensive line.
There’s been no sleight of hand at work in the secondary, but Zach Sanchez has played well, Aaron Colvin has lived up to the hype and Gabe Lynn has excelled.
Those are a few thoughts and facts, but not much of an explanation. Whatever, Stoops is pushing the right buttons.
A year ago he appeared bewildered, leaping from one fix to the next, which led to West Virginia and Oklahoma State simply torching the Sooners. That OU won those games was almost incidental, for the Sooners were still thoroughly embarrassed.
What a difference a year makes.
It has to be the way Stoops planned it. Though he and his unit came up with a real dud against Texas, the turnaround remains amazing.
The only thing missing is a big peformance this evening. Because it is for evenings like this changes were made in the first place.
Revisionist history would have you believe OU played well defensively against Baylor last season. The Sooners prevailed 42-34 and the Bears finished with 424 yards from scrimmage, or almost 300 less than they’re averaging now.
Don’t buy it.
After OU beat Baylor last season, the Bears were 1-5 against the conference. Plain and simple, that bunch of Bears wasn’t very good. And giving up 252 yards on the ground, as OU did, was a big part of the reason Stoops was sent scrambling the rest of the season, which only made things worse.
Indeed, it was what OU did defensively that day and against West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M to follow that demanded something be done.
So it has.
OU is allowing 18.1 points and 314 yards from scrimmage or about 74 yards and a touchdown less than last season.
Still, it begins tonight.
It’s tough luck OU must make a go of it without Nelson, Phillips and maybe Frank Shannon, too. It’s unfair a pair of true freshmen linebackers — Dominique Alexanders and Jordan Evans — may be relied upon against the nation’s most explosive offense.
Not that it matters.
Stoops made changes and the Sooners have found their stride.
Tonight, they can’t get knocked off it. It is the reason they made the changes. It is the test they must still pass.