NORMAN — For generations, linebackers have been the focal points of defenses. Schemes have been designed to force the ball toward them and these big, athletic tackling machines took care of the rest.
Oklahoma has produced several of the greatest to play the college game. From Bud Wilkinson’s era all through Bob Stoops’ current regime, OU’s history has been filled with great linebackers.
What many have been asking over the last three weeks is where has that gone?
The simple answer is most of the linebackers have been standing on the sideline. The more complex answer is the evolution of college football.
Over the last three games against Baylor, West Virginia and Oklahoma State, the Sooners haven’t relied much on linebackers. Against the Mountaineers, they were rarely on the field. Redshirt freshman Frank Shannon, who is considered OU’s best pass coverage linebacker in coverage, has seen the most playing time. Starting middle linebacker Tom Wort and weakside linebacker Corey Nelson have been on the field when there are two running backs in the backfield along with the quarterback.
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has an explanation for it, and it starts with a question.
“If you play two linebackers, can you play man (coverage)?” he said. “Now your safety’s got to cover a slot receiver; that’s not real good. Or, if you play zone ... there’s stress points; these people are very equipped to stress your defense. The players, you’ve gotta get guys who can get off blocks and make plays. Players make plays; we’re struggling, finding plays within our scheme right now, and that’s frustrating.”
Stoops’ scheme calls for matching every athlete the Big 12’s spread offenses can muster with an equal athlete. Put five receivers on the field and the counter is at least six defensive backs.