The Norman Transcript

October 2, 2013

Retooled Sooner defense showing promising results

By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — There were many changes made to Oklahoma’s defense since the 2012 season ended. The motivating factor was the unit’s inability to match up with the best of the Big 12 Conference’s offenses.

The goals going into 2013 were simple: get more pressure on the quarterback and get more speed on the field.

Through the first four games, the 11th-ranked Sooners appear to have accomplished both.

“We’re getting pressure and last year we weren’t getting good pressure,” safety Gabe Lynn said. “When you get pressure, it changes everything — especially with all the spread teams you play in the Big 12. You have to get pressure. There are also a lot of fast guys out there, so the speed of the defense is helping.”

Both were displayed in last week’s 35-21 victory over Notre Dame. Speedy linebacker Eric Striker blitzed off the edge and forced a wobbly throw from quarterback Tommy Rees. Linebacker Corey Nelson returned it for a touchdown. It was one of the signature plays from that game.

But the defensive

alterations the Sooners made were not specifically meant to combat a team like Notre Dame. Outside of giving up 220 rushing yards, they did remarkable well.

“So far, it has been good,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “A lot of the changes were primarily because of what we see in our league with the spread out formations. To this point, I’ve liked what I’ve seen. We have more diversity and more speed on the field, more diversity to blitz, pressure and all those things and different ways to cover to the speed that’s all over the field.”

The changes were tailored to what OU will face in the Big 12. A string of eight straight games against conference foes begins at 6 p.m. Saturday when OU (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) faces TCU (2-2, 1-0) at Owen Field.

The Horned Frogs are not the offensive juggernaut No. 17 Baylor, No. 20 Texas Tech or No. 21 Oklahoma State traditionally are. But they will line up with receivers spread all over the field and test a defense’s ability to make one-on-one tackles.

Whether the Sooners handle it Saturday will be telling for the rest of the season.

There are better passers in the Big 12, but TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin is probably the conference’s best running quarterback. Players like him gave the Sooners nightmares last season.

Will anything change Saturday?

The Sooners believe they’ll sleep well Saturday night because the scheme isn’t the only thing that’s changed.

“The players make the defense. You know what I mean?” Striker said. “Being aggressive … the scheme of the defense has to do with the players being aggressive.”

Whether OU is attacking more than reacting is up for interpretation. Anyway it’s dissected, it’s on pace to give up significantly fewer points, force more punts and create more turnovers than it did last season.

But the undeniable proof will come if OU can consistently hold Big 12 foes to three touchdowns or less. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops is anxious to see what happens when the team starts seeing four- and five-receiver sets on a regular basis.

“That’s what we built this for,” he said.

John Shinn

Follow me @john_shinn

jshinn@normantranscript.com