NORMAN — The role Oklahoma been cast in late in the season is becoming comfortable. It is a sizable underdog for its Sugar Bowl meeting with No. 3 Alabama Jan. 2 in New Orleans.
The Sooners are enjoying the spot they’re in.
“I mean, we’ve been the underdog all year, you know, nobody expected us to do what we’ve done this year, as far as making it to the Sugar Bowl and things like that, and beating some of the teams we’ve beaten,” freshman linebacker Dominique Alexander said. “But I mean, it just pushes us harder.”
Better enjoy it for the next two weeks because it isn’t likely to have much of shelf life beyond the initial days of 2014.
The way the Sooners have closed the season, beating Kansas State and Oklahoma State on the road and reaching a BCS bowl game is the energy boost OU will take into next season.
Defensively, the Sooners will benefit from experience of overcoming adversity in the form of so many injuries, as well as the on-the-field experience gained by so many young players forced into action.
They handled it well enough for OU to finish the regular season No. 13 in the country in total defense. OU hadn’t finished inside of the top 50 since 2009.
“We played pretty consistently all year. I don’t know if we overwhelm you anywhere but our kids play hard and they’re well-prepared for the most part,” OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said.
There have been some philosophical changes that have helped.
OU has run the ball more than it ever has during head coach Bob Stoops’ tenure. That’s shortened games and left it’s defense on the field for less plays.
But defense is where the Sooners had drifted the furthest from their national title aspirations. It’s virtually impossible to win one without being a complete team. Both Stoopses knew defense is what had to be rebuilt to get back to that level.
The shift to a 3-4 alignment was the grand experiment for this season. OU has been able to handle spread teams and be good enough against the run to feel like it has laid a foundation for the future and can now fully recruit to its needs.
“I didn’t know if we were going change anything at first. We went from one defense in the spring and switched in the fall. I really didn’t know where we were going, we just went with it. The spring was cool, and then we came up with a new one in the fall and we ran with it,” OU linebacker Eric Striker said. “We fit it well. I fit it well.”
The Sooners will lose some key pieces after the Sugar Bowl. Cornerback Aaron Colvin and safety Gabe Lynn are both seniors. OU would love to have linebacker Corey Nelson back next season, but his appeal for a fifth season is still a work in progress. But the rest will come back and should be better next season.
The Sooners had a defensive plan this season and have executed it.
“It’s been fun. I think the players like the newness and the variety. We’re not where we need to be. We know that,” Mike Stoops said “But their willingness to prepare, get better, work out of that … We’re all young and growing together … It’s validating.”
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