The 2010 college football season is 1/3 of the way over with and in Oklahoma's first four games the Sooner defense has left the fans scratching their heads three times. Against Utah State and Air Force it was the way they played against the rush. Against Cincinnati it was the way they played, period. However, most alarming is the fact that in four games OU has been outscored 41-10 in the fourth quarter.
The common denominator in all three poor performances is two-fold. In each instance the Sooners built what should have been a comfortable lead and in all four games this season the Oklahoma secondary has struggled with the play-action. Both of those were on display Saturday night against Cincinnati with the added struggle of Quintin Carter getting toasted all night.
I thought that the defensive line played better than last week against Air Force but they're still getting sucked in on draw plays. Keep in mind that with Oklahoma's defensive scheme the tackles are used to occupy blockers which allows the linebackers to clean up on running plays. If the tackles get sucked in too far on the draw then there are offensive linemen out in front of the play to block down on the linebackers and now a play that should have been made at the line of scrimmage gets 10-15 yards down the field and into the secondary.
As much as I love Travis Lewis and all that he brings to the table in the terms of leadership and emotion the linebackers are struggling in two areas. The first is in play recognition. When there is a back in motion or the quarterback is running any type of option or a delayed draw the linebackers are ultra slow in reading and reacting. Especially in the middle where we have to wonder if a personnel change is coming. As much as Tom Wort has the physical tools to play the game and be successful he really struggling in reaction and wrapping up. He lunges his body to make the big hit but often misses or fails to wrap, allowing a strong ball carrier to move on. That brings me to the second area where the linebackers are struggling, tackling. We saw it last week against Air Force and again Saturday night against Cincinnati. Typically you want your linebackers to be the leading tacklers on your team and other than Travis Lewis that isn't happening.Freshman safety Tony Jefferson led all Oklahoma tacklers against Cincinnati with 12 then T. Lewis was second with 8. After that you've got to go all the way down to Wort, who was 9th on the team in tackles, to find another linebacker. That's a stat that has to improve quickly.
Isaiah Pead didn't really get going until Cincinnati's third possession but once he did it changed the game. His long run on first and second downs set up Zach Collaros to D.J. Woods for a 55-yard pass and then ultimately the touchdown to put the Bearcats back into the game after falling behind 14-3.
- Cincinnati - 1:33
- 1st-10, CINC11 1:33 I. Pead rushed up the middle for 16 yard gain
- 1st-10, CINC27 1:33 I. Pead rushed to the right for 13 yard gain
- 1st-10, CINC40 1:02 Z. Collaros passed to D. Woods to the right for 55 yard gain
- 1st-5, OKLA5 0:36 I. Pead rushed to the right for 1 yard gain
- Cincinnati continued
- 2nd-4, OKLA4 15:00 Z. Collaros incomplete pass to the right
- 3rd-4, OKLA4 14:56 Z. Collaros passed to J. Goebel to the left for 4 yard touchdown. J. Rogers missed PAT
What we saw on that drive was indicative of what I've already stated above and what is the biggest struggle for the defensive secondary to this point. The linebackers tackled poorly on Pead's first two carries which causes the secondary to pay attention a little more to the running game and the next thing we know they're biting on a play fake and receivers are running open down field. Quintin Carter struggled with this all night against the Bearcats and the secondary has struggled with it all season.
Cincinnati had a total of 454 yards of offense against Oklahoma and 164 of those came on three plays. Once you give up the big play (or three of them) it sticks in your mind and you tend to overcompensate. That's what the Sooners did through the second, third and fourth quarters on Saturday night.
All hope is not lost though for this defense. Hitting and wrapping up should be something that can be worked through and improved on. More than anything else the Oklahoma defense has to eliminate giving up the big play. We've seen it in every game this season and its a trend that has to cease to exist. I'm afraid to do that though the Sooners are going to have to go through some personnel changes starting with the middle linebacker position.
Oklahoma's defense also had its share of big plays on the night as well. Jonathan Nelson's strip and interception were huge. The Sooners forced a total of four turnovers. Jeremy Beal had two sacks and the team had three total. The tools are there to put it together for this defense, it just needs to happen fast.