Sandwiched Between A Rough Start And A Shaky Finish, Sooner Defense Delivers Dominating Performance Against Missouri

NORMAN, OK - SEPTEMBER 24: Defensive back Jamell Fleming #32 of the Oklahoma Sooners tackles wide receiver Wes Kemp #8 of the Missouri Tigers during the second half on September 24, 2011 at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma. Oklahoma defeated Missouri 38-28. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)

Lethargic...That may be the best word to describe Oklahoma's defensive start to their game against Missouri on Sunday night. The mix of a new defensive alignment and a bit of an emotional letdown coming off the Florida State game showed the potential to throw the Sooners off in their quest for perfection and despite a 10-point win, everyone from the players to the coaches to the fans failed to find satisfaction because the knew the performance could have been much better. 

"I could count most of them on one hand, but there is a group of guys that played really well." - Brent Venables

In Missouri's first three offensive possessions the Sooners gave up 140 yards and fourteen points. Knowing that the Tigers were going to spread the field, defensive coordinator Brent Venables choose to go with a nickel-type defensive set and only use three rushers to try and create a zone in hopes of taking away the quick underneath routes that killed the Sooners last year in Columbia. The problem is that they couldn't quite account for running back Henry Josey nor could they get pressure on quarterback James Franklin and given that much time receivers are going to get open, especially ones being covered by Gabe Lynn. Several Sooner defenders struggled on Saturday night but perhaps none more than Lynn who had coverage issues pretty much all night. 

Just when it appeared that the nation's longest home winning streak was going to come to an end with Sooner fans having flashbacks to last year's loss at Missouri, Venables made a couple of adjustments that turned the game around. By putting some pressure on Franklin with blitzes from multiple directions and making sure there was someone to pick up on Josey the Oklahoma defense put the brakes on the upstart Tiger offense. 

"I wouldn't say that it was a Florida State hangover. We just didn't prepare like we should have this whole week and it showed in the game." - Safety Javon Harris

After scoring on their third possession to take a 14-3 lead the Tigers went through nine consecutive offensive possessions without scoring. In those nine possessions Missouri amassed 206 yards of offense (average of just 22 yards per drive) and only had three that extended beyond four plays. Meanwhile the Oklahoma offense cranked out four scoring drives during that time fame to turn a 14-3 deficit into a 31-14 lead going into the fourth quarter. That's where things got weird again. 

Riding a comfortable lead, Venables wen't back to the same defense that he started the game with almost as if to try it out one more time. The result was detrimental as the Tigers scored 14 points and racked up 162 yards on their final two drives. I'm a big "Dance with the one that brung ya" guy so if I was Oklahoma's defensive coordinator I wouldn't have changed back from what I had been doing through the second and third quarters. However, I also know that running a zone is one of the easier defensive schemes and Venables was trying to get some things accomplished with a few of the lesser experienced guys. It blew up in his face but the good news is that he could still chalk it up to a lesson learned and walk off the field with a 10-point victory. The even better news is that I'm not Oklahoma's defensive coordinator.

"Players did not have the same mentality they had last week. I don't know why a team that killed us last year and knocked us off the mountain when we were number one, I don't know why players wouldn't prepare the same. I'm disappointed in myself as a captain and the leader of the defense. I'm disappointed in the guys. The coaches put us in a great position and as players need to go out there and play and we didn't tonight." - Linebacker Travis Lewis

If you thought that the fans reacted badly to Saturday night's performance then you really should read into what the players and coaches are saying about it. I hate to go here but it just shows the different stages of the two programs right now and it helps prove a point. We all saw how the Longhorns ran off the field in jubilant celebration after beating BYU a few weeks ago. There was none of that in Oklahoma's locker room. This team knows that they under performed for a majority of the night and that there was nothing to celebrate despite a 3-0 record. My bet is that practice gets very intense this week and while they will probably go back to being vanilla against Ball State, the Texas Longhorns are on everyone's mind. When all is said and done, this could turn out to be a pivotal turning point in the season. 

"Horrible. Disappointed. Relaxed. It's what happens. Everybody is disappointed, coaches and players. We gave them 530 yards. We played like a 25th-, 30th-ranked team. We are not the number one ranked team in the nation right now."  

Position Grades

Defensive Line - The defensive tackles were pretty much non-existent on Saturday night. Stacy McGee and Jamarkus McFarland recorded two tackles each while Casey Walker had one. While you usually want more production from the tackles, it should also be noted that Missouri ran a lot of stuff to the outside and away from them. That still doesn't make up for the lack of a pass rush. Defensive ends Frank Alexander and David King both recorded sacks to go along with a combined nine tackles. Ronnell Lewis added six more tackles for the ends. Overall Grade: C-

Linebackers - I saw more whiffs from Tom Wort than I've seen all season which tells me that he's trying too hard and not just reacting to the play as much as he should. I also believe that's why Venables was going off on him on the sidelines. Wort did tie Aaron Colvin for the second most tackles with 8, followed by Travis Lewis who had 7 and Tony Jefferson with 6. Wort and Lewis also got into the backfield to disrupt Franklin a couple of times as well. Overall Grade: B-

Secondary - I know its really not fair to put Tony Jefferson in both categories but he did line up as a defensive back several times Saturday night which qualifies him to be here. He also got burned a couple of times which lowers the grade of this unit as well. I've already addressed the night that Gabe Lynn had so I won't rehash. I will say that there was a huge positive in this unit in that safeties Javon Harris and Aaron Colvin finished #1 and #2 on the team in tackles with 10 and 8 respectively. Overall Grade: D

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