NORMAN — It was the middle of August, but Oklahoma defensive tackle Jordan Phillips sensed his career was at a crossroads when he sat down for a talk with defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery.
The redshirt sophomore had been at OU for two years and made a minimal impact during that period. Whether or not he would ever make more of one was riding on what he did in preseason camp.
“He sat me down and we discussed my goals and I what I wanted to do here,” Phillips said. “He said if I keep playing the way I’d been playing I wouldn’t accomplish anything I wanted to do. If I wanted to do what I wanted to do I had to suck it up.”
That was a little over a month ago. About two weeks before Phillips became OU’s starting nose guard. About three weeks before he made his first career start and about 35 days prior to his first career sack in last Saturday’s 51-20 victory over Tulsa.
The play of the entire defensive line has been a stunning surprise through the first three games, but the play of Phillips, in particular, has been essential to the group’s elevated play.
Statistically, a nose guard’s play is hard to quantify. They get double-teamed on virtually every play. Offensive play-callers learned long before games were ever filmed that plays where the nose guard is not blocked have the same chance of success as boats with holes or planes without wings.
But what good nose guards do is open up plays for the rest of the front seven. They collapse pockets, so quarterbacks are flushed into the arms of defensive ends. They clog up holes between centers and guards forcing plays further outside into the path of defensive ends who aren’t being double-teamed. They occupy centers and guards to the point linebackers are untouched by offensive linemen.