NORMAN — The sky was still where it should be, but everything else appeared to plummet on top of Oklahoma’s defense in the last two weeks.
The 14th-ranked Sooners (8-2, 6-1 Big 12) will bring a three-game winning streak into Saturday’s Bedlam meeting with No. 22 Oklahoma State (7-3, 5-2) at Owen Field. They’ll bring another streak, more difficult to take, as well. They’ve allowed 710 rushing yards in the last two games against Baylor and West Virginia.
The appearance that OU’s defense is hemorrhaging leaves many wondering if major surgery is needed.
In some ways, yes.
Both the Mountaineers and Bears exploited something the Sooners gave them. Both teams often spread the field with at least four wide receivers and sometimes five. OU’s counteraction has been to play seven defensive backs against that kind of personnel.
“In the end, some of what teams are doing makes it difficult to cover like you need to and still support the run. Obviously, we’re still working through that,” OU coach Bob Stoops said.
The progress better come quickly. If there are gaping holes on Saturday, the Cowboys will run right through them.
Statistically, OSU is the best rushing team the Sooners will face this season.
On thing that will likely change is the seven-defensive back personnel will stay on the sideline unless there’s a third-and-long situation.
“We were caught with seven DBs on the field and it’s kind of hard to play the run,” defensive end David King said. “Still, guys have to make plays and guys have to step up.”
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has taken the blame for the last two weeks. After OU escaped West Virginia by the skin of its teeth, he thought he’d put his unit in some tough spots.
He hasn’t exactly said what needs to change against the Cowboys, other than to tackle better.
However, one issue that has arisen is OU’s defense has been skewed to matchup against passing offenses. The pendulum has swung far enough to stop teams from throwing the ball all over the field that the foundation of the Sooners’ run defense was made deficient.
“I think that’s what makes … we’re seeing the better offenses on the back end of the schedule,” Mike Stoops said. “Sometimes you can get lulled to sleep with some of the things we’re doing in the first half. It’s about making adjustments and certainly West Virginia made a great adjustment getting their best player in space. That’s something that we just feel bad for our players. We didn’t have a better answer than we did on Saturday night.”
They'd better have a better one Saturday afternoon. The Sooners have won the last two games in shootout fashion. Trying to do it three weeks in a row and against the best teams they’ve faced during this stretch, is a gamble.
The personnel issues can be solved. If something isn’t working, you have to try something different. Expect OU to keep at least one linebacker on the field in early downs on Saturday.
The Sooners have been a much better pass defense this season. Opponents have adjusted. The Sooners must make the next move.
“In the end, through the year, we’ve been much better against the pass. That has limited a lot of those big plays up until last week. For the most part, it’s put us in this position. Even in the games we lost, we were in tight tough football games,” Bob Stoops said. “We’re going in the right direction. We still have to make improvements though. We’ve got some things to adjust. Hopefully, we can do some things differently this week that can help.”
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