NORMAN — For the last four games, Casey Walker and Jamarkus McFarland have been ever-present on OU’s defense. The defensive tackle duo has played virtually every snap in games against Kansas State, Texas Tech, Texas and last Saturday against Kansas.
The only time they’ve come off the field is when the outcome is no longer in doubt. That will change Saturday night against Notre Dame. OU coach Bob Stoops announced on Monday that senior defensive tackle Stacy McGee will play.
“That’s big time right there,” Walker said after Monday’s practice. “It’s a better rotation for me and Jamarkus. We don’t have to be out there the whole game. Stacy is gonna be a huge factor.”
McGee, who started 14 games during the 2010 and 2011 seasons, was suspended from the team in August. OU never gave an exact reason for it other than “a violation of team rules.” He’s been working with the scout team since.
Without him, Walker and McFarland and have played just about every meaningful snap. Defensive end David King has slid down to defensive tackle on obvious passing downs and redshirt freshman Jordan Phillips has provided relief from time to time.
Getting Walker back was the boost OU’s defense has been waiting for.
“The guy is a quality player who has played a lot of football,” OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said on Monday. “He’s a playmaker and a very effective player. He gives us a fresh body in there. I know he’s excited to get on the field.
“We hope he can keep doing what he’s done. He’s done a lot of good things here and through the suspension. Hopefully, that will continue.”
McGee hasn’t played a down since the Sooners’ victory over Iowa in the 2011 Insight Bowl. He started three games that season and finished with 3 1/2 tackles for loss and 1 1/2 sacks.
Defensive tackle production, however, isn’t easily charted through tackles and sacks. Staying in a gap and bouncing a run outside or collapsing the pocket won’t necessarily show up on a data printout. Walker and McFarland have been exceptional at doing those little things.
Adding the 6-foot-4, 300-pound McGee, means the Sooners can now afford to rotate three seniors at the two defensive tackle spots. The hope is all three will stay a little fresher.
“It gives us more than depth. I know a lot of people look at it as bringing depth to the lineup, but it does a lot more than that,” McFarland said. “If you put him out there first, you wouldn’t call it depth. He brings a lot to this defense. He’s versatile in what he does. We have another guy we can bring into mix, but he’s someone that can bring something new to our defense.”
The Sooners’ starters have allowed just one touchdown in the last three games. It’s been one of the best streaks of defensive football OU’s had in several years.
Getting some help on the defensive line should help the group. McGee might not have played in a game since 2011, but there isn’t as much rust to remove.
“It’s not like he’s been out of the loop a whole lot. He just needs to find his way back a little bit,” Walker said.
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