TEMPE, AZ - DECEMBER 30: Wide receiver Keenan Davis #6 of the Iowa Hawkeyes dives over defensive back Tony Jefferson #12 of the Oklahoma Sooners on a 14 yard reception during the Insight Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium on December 30, 2011 in Tempe, Arizona. The Sooners defeated the Hawkeyes 31-14. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
I have to start by asking myself and everyone else this question. Is it possible that as fans we were so frustrated and disenfranchised with Oklahoma's defensive performances this season that its difficult to give credit under any circumstances. The rumors of Mike Stoops possibly returning to the staff don't help out the situation either.
These thoughts kept going through my head as I was willing to light up Brent Venables once again and overly criticize Oklahoma's defensive performance against Iowa. However, after looking it over and settling down a bit I've come to the conclusion that the defensive performance by the Sooners last Friday night wasn't bad at all. In fact, its the kind of performance we had hoped they would have delivered throughout the season and if they had we wouldn't have been watching the Insight Bowl.
Everything started up front for Oklahoma's defense and the line didn't disappoint. Perhaps it was the new attitude instilled by Bob Stoops laying down the law where some players were actually playing for their scholarships. Maybe it was the time off leading up to the bowl game that allowed some of the players to get their legs underneath them or better prepare for their opponent. Whatever the reason, Oklahoma's defensive line helped pave the way for a performance that shutout the Hawkeye's for three quarters and held them to less than a hundred rushing yards. Of Oklahoma's 8 tackles for loss 5.5 of them came at the hands of the defensive line. Defensive end R.J. Washington had two of the team's three sacks and the unit combined for a total of 19 tackles.
Behind the line Oklahoma's linebackers had one of their most impressive performances in a long while, if not the entire season. They accounted for the rest of the tackles for loss and Travis Lewis had the other sack. He and Tom Wort accounted for 10 total tackles with Wort also picking up an interception. Corey Nelson added another three tackles. The linebackers had good pursuit angles and limited the Iowa rushing attack as the defensive line occupied blockers.
In the secondary Jamell Fleming had a fantastic game. He finished the game tied for a team high seven tackles but more importantly was a blanket that covered Marvin McNutt and held Iowa's top receiver to just four receptions. That's not to say the secondary didn't have its share of issues and would most likely grade out lower than the other defensive units. Iowa's two scores came through the air and while Hawkeye's quarterback James Vandenberg completed just 52% of his passes he also passed for 216 yards.
I loved the move of Tony Jefferson back to safety. Its more of a natural position for him and if I had a vote he would stay there for the remainder of his Sooner career. He finished tied with Fleming at the top of t he tackle list with 7 and also had a key pass break up.
With all that went wright for the Sooner defense a lot will be made of what went wrong in the fourth quarter when they surrendered 14 points. Were there mistakes in that quarter? Sure were. Did Oklahoma's secondary get beat again in coverage when the quarterback scrambled? Absolutely! However, at the end of the day Oklahoma's defense held Iowa to only those 14 points and that's the type of performances we were hoping to see going into the season.
Some of the success is credited to Iowa's struggles at the running back position but some of it also need to be given to the coaches moving away from a three-man front for most of the game and the players who executed the scheme. Yes, we have to take the good with the bad and there was a lot of good done by Oklahoma's defense last Friday night. As the Sooners proved, even with an anemic offensive attack 14 points isn't too much to overcome.