The Norman Transcript

September 28, 2010

For the Sooners, Texas game is make-or-break as usual

By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — It’s a make-or-break week for Oklahoma. That doesn’t make it any different than another season. The Texas game is always the midseason barometer.

But things are different for this Sooner team. It’s 4-0, but series questions have come in places where they haven’t before.

The eighth-ranked Sooners are currently 97th in the country in total defense (421.25 yards per game), 93rd in rush defense (177.5), 90th in pass defense (243.75) and 65th in scoring defense (23.5).

“We’re not as far as long as you would hope — obviously,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “There’s been some consistency issues that we need to resolve. We’re very inconsistent overall and you just can’t play good defense doing that. We’re too hot and cold.”

A quick look at the numbers would beg the questions where’s the hot been — especially after the Sooners were fighting for their lives in last Saturdays’ 31-29 victory over Cincinnati last week.

But it has been there. The Bearcats had 16 possessions in the game. Six were three-and-outs that ended with punts. Four more ended with turnovers.

“Thats usually a pretty good day,” Venables said.

But it’s not, and hasn’t been against Utah State or Air Force either. Too many missed assignments and too many missed tackles have kept the Sooners from reaching what they believe is pretty high potential.

Safety Jonathan Nelson tried to find a word for what has been the cause for OU’s defensive ills. He gave up. It’s not something that can be summed up in word.

“There have been complete mental errors — all things that we can prevent,” Nelson said. “We’ll play well for about eight plays, force some three-and-outs. Then one guy out of the 11 mess up and it will cause a huge play.”

The Bearcats had seven runs longer than 10 yards. Quarterback Zach Collaros’ 23 completions averaged 13.2 yards a pop.

It’s not the way OU wanted to be as it prepares to face No. 1 Texas (3-1, 1-1 Big 12) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

Since Bob Stoops first season in 1999, the Sooners are 6-5 against their Red River Rival and have won games in a variety of ways. But they’ve never walked down that famous ramp with this many questions about their defense.

For over a decade, it’s been the one thing OU’s always felt it could count on to help carry them.

Will that be different Saturday?

“I have confidence in us,” OU linebacker Travis Lewis said. “We’ve been inconsistent and we’ve been messing up on little things. Those are two things you can fix. We have a lot of playmakers on this defense. I’m not worried.”

OU coach Bob Stoops said he would have more concerns if his defense hadn’t played a dominant game against Florida State.

“I’m confident guys will know what to do and how to play and play well,” he said. “You have to do it and we’re working on that. We’re far from a finished product but I’ve seen us do it before.”