The Norman Transcript

December 30, 2013

Sooners have to play with undersized hand they’re dealt

By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript

NEW ORLEANS — A lot of things can happen in a month, but Oklahoma’s defensive line and linebackers cannot add 20 pounds of muscle each in that span.

If the Sooners could’ve, they would’ve in preparation for Thursday night’s meeting with No. 3 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

The scheme it’s employed this season — which Sooner defensive coordinator Mike Stoops freely admits is heavily borrowed on what the Crimson Tide has used for several seasons — was implemented to help them better match up with spread teams.

Alabama uses a pro style offense. The Crimson Tide puts a lot of speed on the field, but also a lot of bulk. They will use at least three tight ends Thursday.

“We’ve had to adjust some personnel for this game and tried to get bigger people in position to defend the things we’re going to see with Alabama,” Mike Stoops said Sunday morning.

That will mean more snaps for outside linebacker P.L. Lindley and defensive end Chaz Nelson. They’ve been situational players all season. Their situation comes when the Sooners have faced bulkier offenses that use multiple tight ends.

Those who are effective as both receivers and blockers are like unicorns in the Big 12 Conference. Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro is as good a receiver as there is in college football. But he isn’t going to knock a defensive end off the ball. Every team has some they can put in the game as an effective blocker.

The Crimson Tide’s do not give away tendencies so easily. O.J. Howard and Brian Vogler are both at least 6-foot-6 and weigh at least 240 — towering over Sooner nickel linebacker Julian Wilson and outweighing him by 40 pounds. It’s a physical mismatch at the line of scrimmage.

The lack of bulk in OU’s front seven isn’t a concern that cropped up after the bowl announcement. OU’s defensive coordinator has voiced concerns since the victory over Notre Dame in September.

Only nose guard Jordan Wade comes close to weighing 300 pounds. Defensive end Chuka Ndulue bulked up to 285 season, which is close to the ideal weight for a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. Charles Tapper is still at least 15 pounds below his target weight. Linebackers Frank Shannon, Dominique Alexander and Eric Striker all weigh less than 230 pounds. It’s good for chasing slot receivers in the middle of the field. Bad for butting heads with interior offensive linemen.

“We’ve got to go out there and be technicians on the field, stick to our technique like we’ve been doing all season; go out there and throw off blocks, don’t let them hold us tight, and third downs, we’ve got to finesse those guys,” Tapper said.

Easier said than done. Tactics are essential, but so is being physically able to handle the four-quarter grind.

It isn’t the first time this concern has come up. Stoops was frank about it after OU’s victory over Notre Dame in September and was saying the same things after the loss to Texas a couple weeks later.

“We certainly need to make improvements in size at positions to play this system more effectively. I think we’ll be better prepared in a year’s period of time just growing and getting bigger and more physical across the board,” he said.

The Sooners may very well get there with another winter and summer in the weight room. The offseason is when that kind of molding occurs. It doesn’t happen during the regular season and certainly not during bowl preparation.

“We’ve got what we’ve got. We gotta go play,” Striker said.

John Shinn

Follow me @john_shinn

jshinn@normantranscript.com

 

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