What’s changed for the Oklahoma defense since Mike Stoops departed the program.
That’s what was put to Lincoln Riley in the week leading up to Saturday’s 11 a.m. kick against Texas, the game that ought to get the Sooners into the College Football Playoff for the third time.
Immediately, everybody in the room had to wonder what Riley’s response would be, because the correct answer — not much — was off the table.
Since Stoops was sent packing, his old unit had appeared to be very good against TCU and Kansas State, yet TCU and Kansas State happen to be the most unproductive offenses in the Big 12.
That both happened to beat Oklahoma State makes as much sense as snow in Phoenix, but Mike Gundy was owed some bad karma, for sure, and perhaps that was it.
Back to Riley.
Yes, the Sooners appeared terrific against the Frogs and ’Cats, yet had since given up 473 yards and 46 points to Texas Tech, 640 and 47 to OSU, 524 and 40 to Kansas and 704 and 56 to West Virginia.
Generally speaking, the Sooner defense had been worse than ever in the month leading up to the game it will play Saturday.
What could Riley possibly say?
“We’re 6-0 since it, and that’s the one that matters most to me,” he began.
An early dodge, cool.
Yet, then he tried to weight into it and you know what he sounded like? He sounded like a foolish fan who wants to believe.
“I think we’re progressing in a lot of ways,” he said, “but we’ve got to put it all together.”
Then it was like he took a deep breath and began to sprint.
The Sooner defense played “so poorly,” against the pass against its Bedlam rival, he said, but “then we were much better against it against Kansas.”
“Then,” he said, “I really felt like the other night [at West Virginia] other than about two plays we did a pretty nice job in the run game … and our corners were outstanding.”
Wait, what, Will Grier threw for 539 yards and four touchdowns?
“We did not play well at the safety position,” he said.
Asked a question about his defense, Riley answered it by playing hopscotch.
The words that came out of his mouth may have been factually true, yet the way he said them carried the weight of denial because the pattern the Sooners have set for themselves isn’t one of a ship soon to find its best course, but of one seeking out new icebergs to crash into.
Given what we’ve seen the last four weeks, why would anybody think a real solution’s coming?
Not that OU can’t go outscore Texas. It will have failed if it doesn’t, but even beginning to shut down the Longhorns, really? The Sooners couldn’t begin to shut down Kansas.
However, if sports aren’t about the opportunity to dream, why play them, watch them or cover them? So just dream for a bit.
The Pokes threw for a mile, but Kansas didn’t. The Sooners couldn’t tackle the Jayhawks, but they tackled the Mountaineers just fine. The safeties blew it in that one and, even if they’re freshmen, who says they can’t get better in the space of a week?
Should they, holy cow, what then might the Sooners do? Who’s going to beat them?
Keep going and you can totally see OU beating Alabama for the national championship on Jan. 7.
Because here’s the thing.
It’s crazy how the Sooners got here but, once again, they appear to be three victories away from winning it all for the first time since 2000.
Only three games.
Giving up 640 yards and beating OSU on their home field by a single point is insane, yet they did it.
Giving up more than 700 yards and 56 points and needing two defensive touchdowns to beat West Virginia in Morgantown by three points is even more insane.
Winning three more games, beginning Saturday, is almost reasonable by comparison.
And hey, maybe the defense really is right there.
“We want to put it all together,” Riley said, bringing his answer in for a landing, “and we feel like in our building that we’re close to doing that.”
It’s only three games.
Go with it.
After all, it's why you’re here.