By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
Defense carried Oklahoma to its 20-17 victory over TCU Saturday night, but the defense paid a price for it.
OU coach Bob Stoops confirmed Sunday that senior linebacker Corey Nelson suffered a torn pectoral muscle in the second half. He will have surgery Tuesday and will likely miss the rest of the season.
Losing Nelson is a massive wallop for the 12thranked Sooners (5-0, 2-0 Big 12).
The senior made 27 tackles (13 solo), along with a 24yard interception return TD, four pass breakups, three quarterback hurries and a sack through the first five games of the year.
However, Nelson’s production went beyond tackles. He was the emotional leader of the defense. Replacing that aspect of what he brought to the table is going to be very difficult.
TCU scored both of its touchdowns after Nelson went to the bench Saturday night.
True freshman Dominique Alexander went in for Nelson. He’s made 10 tackles this season and has been the Sooners’ weakside linebacker when they have played four linebackers.
None of OU’s coaches spoke to reporters Sunday. Saturday night, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops obviously felt good about the way his group, which leads the Big 12 Conference in scoring defense at 13.0 points per game, has played through five games.
“I think that’s the thing that jumps out at me is that there are a lot of guys playing well, and I don’t think you can really pinpoint one guy. I just think it’s a collective effort, and when you have collective efforts, I think that produces promising results,” he said. “That to me seems to be the key to our success right now. We’ve got three or four impact players, but the rest of our guys are playing impact football. We don’t have any glaring weaknesses, and that’s a good place to be.”
But Nelson was one of those impact players. Getting him a bigger role within the defense had been a goal since the 2012 season ended.
Nelson did not come off the field whether OU was facing an offense with five wide receivers or two tight ends and three running backs.
What OU does in his absence will be something it figures out as it crafts the game plan for what comes next: the Red River Rivalry against Texas (3-2, 2-0) at 11 a.m., Saturday at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.
Most years, the OU-Texas game dominates the Big 12 conversation because the winner emerges as a legitimate national title contender.
After two early losses, the Longhorns have been relegate to below that status. OU is undefeated, but needing impressive wins to build its resume.
One thing OU has shown is it can win low-scoring games. From 2008-2012, OU didn’t win a single game when it scored less than 23 points.
It’s currently averaging 16.5 points a game in Big 12 play, but is 2-0 in the conference.
“Things change from year to year. Quarterbacks change from year to year. Defenses change from year to year,” OU coach Bob Stoops said.
The Sooners beat TCU Saturday almost entirely on the strength of their defense. But that unit will be without a critical piece the rest of the way.
Ordinarily, OU wants to enter the Texas game feeling like it’s in midseason form. It knows there’s a lot of things it can still get better at.
“The good thing for a coach is you love how much there is to correct. You have to put it on them and say ‘Look, we’re better than this in some areas where we need to be,’” Stoops said. “And that’s what Monday will be about.”