By John Shinn
CNHI News Service
NORMAN – The defensive turnaround Oklahoma has experienced has been remarkable. After eight games, points and yards per games have shrunk from the 2011 season.
Nonetheless, the true impact of the changes defensive Mike Stoops has made will either be confirmed or denied over the rest of November, starting with today’s game against Baylor at Owen Field.
It’s the first of three in a row against prolific offenses (the Bears, West Virginia and Oklahoma State) that spread the field and rack up yards and points.
When people talk about the lack of defense in the Big 12, it’s these teams – along with the Sooners and Texas Tech – that have caused the offensive numbers to explode over the last decade.
OU, however, has made lengthy defensive strides this season. The schemes have been changed under defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, but it’s nothing revolutionary.
“Any system you put in place has to be as player-friendly and adjustable as it can be,” he said. “The system is more adjustable to personnel; it’s adjustable to schemes; it takes a lot of the alignment concerns out of the way, and that was the concern with Baylor. Their tempo is faster than any team we’ve played thus far. This system will at least help us get lined up. That’s only half the battle with these guys. Then we have to chase them all over the field.”
Where the Sooners’ true improvement has come is in the chase. Through the first eight games, they’ve just allowed three passing touchdowns. With the defensive starters on the field, that number shrinks to 10 overall and only two came on plays of 20 yards or more.
“I think that’s probably the thing I’m most proud of,” Stoops said. “Overall, we haven’t given up a ton of big plays. I think that was the frustrating part of what we did a year ago.”
Last season’s game against Baylor displayed the Sooners’ defensive problems for the entire world to see. The Bears scored three touchdowns on plays of 34 yards or longer, including Robert Griffin III’s 34-yard touchdown pass to Terrance Williams with eight seconds left in the 45-38 loss.
Eliminating the long gains will be the key as OU enters this critical three-game stretch. The Bears, Moutaineers and Cowboys all stretch teams out and force them to defend the entire field. One guy loses focus for one play, and the scoreboard starts flickering.
“We need to keep them honest. They’re a big-play team – a home run waiting to happen,” OU safety Javon Harris said of Baylor. “We have to play our defense and continue what we’ve been doing.”
The Sooners have been adept at making all their opponents settle for short gains. There have been errors. The loss to Notre Dame was kick-started when OU gave up a 62-yard touchdown run midway through the first quarter. However, they’ve been rare.
If Baylor’s scoring plays come at the end of 10- or 12-play drives, the Sooners can live with the outcome. Thus far, they’ve been proficient at forcing those drives this season. The next three games, however, will define if the Sooners’ defense has truly turned things around.