DALLAS — Oklahoma’s defense was short-handed Saturday against Texas. The injury to linebacker Corey Nelson was no secret. Freshman linebacker Dominique Alexander filled in with 19 tackles, matching the freshman tackle record set by Travis Lewis in 2008.
“First start, OU-Texas, of course I’m the freshman on the field on defense and I was replacing Corey. They thought I was going to be a weak link on the field so they tried to attack me,” Alexander said.
How much the absence of Nelson affected OU’s defense is debatable. There’s no doubt OU missed sophomore defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, who sat for the second straight game due to an undisclosed injury.
Most of Texas’ 255 rushing yards came between the tackles, and Texas quarterback Case McCoy had a relatively clean pocket to throw in all day. Defensive tackles Jordan Wade and Torrea Peterson combined for just three tackles.
“Whoever’s out there, we expect them to play at a high level,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “They’ll get better the more they play. That’s part of the process. But you’ve got to play and you’ve got to play well.”
Not his call: OU quarterback Blake Bell was asked several times why he was limited to only three rushing attempts Saturday. He averaged 10.3 in the three games leading up to the Red River Rivalry.
OU coach Bob Stoops said that was the plan OU co-offensive coordinators Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell came up with. Bell said he runs what is called.
“As a quarterback you’re gonna run the offense and whatever is called. Coach Heupel and Coach Norvell call the plays,” he said. “Whatever they call is what we’re gonna run and execute as best we can.”
Overconfident? OU entered the game as a two-touchdown favorite, but Stoops didn’t think his team was overconfident Saturday.
“I felt we had a good week of practice. I don’t have any complaints there,” he said. “But I think in a competitive arena, there is a very fine edge between what somebody’s listening to and what their mindset is when you have to go compete. I’m not going to say we were, but at the end of the day, they played a lot better than we did.”
Big three on defense: Linebackers Frank Shannon (16), Alexander (19) and defensive end Chuka Ndulue (15) were credited with a combined 50 tackles. All three set career highs with their efforts.
Where did they go? Receivers Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard were non-factors Saturday. Saunders finished with three catches for 18 yards. The only time Shepard touched the ball was on OU’s opening play where he picked up 24 yards on a reverse.
“Those guys need to be involved,” Heupel said. “Those are two guys that can make plays. We tried to get Sterling involved from the get-go with the reverse to him. We’ve got to find ways to get them the ball.”
Third-down woes: OU’s defense struggled on third down, but so did its offense. The Sooners converted just 2 of 13.
“It goes back to third downs. You can’t go 2 for 13 on third downs and expect to win. Part of the reason we were 2 for 13 was we were in third and long a lot,” Heupel said.
But the problem didn’t crop up Saturday. It was a problem the last three games. Counting today, last week against TCU and the Sept. 28 game against Notre Dame, the Sooners have converted just 10 of their last 40 third-down attempts.
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