NORMAN — One of the most poignant moments of the past football season remains Oklahoma’s local media day, when Mike Stoops stood at the lectern and talked about proving himself all over again.
“It’s redemption time,” he said.
As head coach at Arizona, he’d been thrashed by so many offenses he didn’t make it through the 2011 season. The defense he inherited only arguably made it through last season, embarrassed at Baylor and Oklahoma State when championships remained available.
“You’ve got to respond,” Stoops said. “(If we don’t) then our issues are deeper than what I thought they would be. That’s what I think about it. You’ve got to take it personal.”
It’s always interesting how an old narrative fares against a new reality. Because held to his preseason words, what are we to make of Mike Stoops’ defense, a unit that allowed 252 yards on the ground to Baylor, an opponent record 778 yards of total offense (and 458 on the ground) at West Virginia and 490 (and 201 on the ground) to Oklahoma State?
That the Sooners won all three of those games says many good things about them, but not a whole lot of good things about Stoops’ defense.
But the Sooners did win. And before Baylor arrived at Owen Field, they were even playing fine defense.
Underreported from the Kansas State loss was pretty good defense from OU for four quarters. Forgotten from the Notre Dame loss was the fact 17 of the Irish’s 30 points were scored in the last 5:05. That’s a bad 5:05, but had the Sooner offense driven the ball when it had the chance, it would have done a world of good for the Sooner defense. And in victories over UTEP, Florida A&M, Texas Tech, Kansas and Iowa State, nobody was sounding big alarm bells about OU’s defense.
Plain and simple, but for three very questionable games, the 2012 Sooner defense really was better than the 2011 defense. And in two of those three games, against Baylor and West Virginia, Stoops played with his schemes in a way that he would later call “criminal.”
“It was criminal a lot of positions we put those guys in,” he said.
The history lesson comes in service of a very simple point. Though there are many things OU can’t do today, like win a national championship or a BCS bowl trophy, one thing can still happen: Mike Stoops and the Sooner defense can get their redemption.
They can beat an offense guided by the Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel, who’s averaging 98.4 yards per game on the ground and 284.9 through the air, propelling an offense that’s averaging 552.3 yards per game, that’s picked up at least 600 yards six times and that beat Alabama (even if it only picked up 418 that day).
Can the Sooner defense get to Manziel? Can it rise up against one of the nation’s best offenses?
“I think we can and I know we will have the opportunity to do it,” Sooner safety Tony Jefferson said. “It will come down to us being disciplined in our assignments.”
Could it be that simple?
Might the Sooners just return to something like their base defense and hope to make plays? Or will the wrinkles both sides of the ball have the time to formulate offer a new look to the Aggie offense, one OU hopes fares better than the wrinkes thrown at Baylor and West Virginia?
There’s precedent for Stoops coming up with a fantastic defensive plan against a foe many believe superior. That remains the story of OU’s last national championship, when Florida State scored only on a safety and coach Bobby Bowden had no idea what hit his Seminole offense.
Of course, it helps to have Roy Williams out there wreaking havoc and the Sooners are still waiting on the next Roy Williams.
Earlier this week, OU defensive end David King said the waiting was “the worst part.”
Tonight, two good teams meet. Both have won 10 games and five straight. Both are known for offense. Both have played some reasonably strong defense, yet nowhere close to all the time.
Victory will be enough for the Sooner Nation, but victory does not equal redemption.
What can Mike Stoops and his defense come up with? Finding out ought to be fun.
Clay HorningFollow me @firstname.lastname@example.org