There was a uniform consensus at the beginning of the season that for OU's new 3-3-5 defense to work, there were three players who couldn't be hurt:
2) Corey Nelson
3) Aaron Colvin
In order for a 3-3-5 to hold up to any power running game, you have to have a solid nose guard and nearly perfect alignment on every down. Phillips is the only guy on the roster ready and able to be a true nose guard. Jordan Wade is a great guy to be an every down 3-tech in a 4-3 look, but to be the nose in a 3 man front? Square peg, round hole.
Nelson is the heart and soul of the front 7 who makes sure alignments are correct. When you hear announcers and smart commentators talking about "run fits", the layman's term is that the guy is where he's supposed to be as far as defending the running gap/lane he's supposed to defend. Additionally, his athleticism/experience combination is without parallel in the conference, let alone on this roster.
With those two out, we are practically defenseless against any team with the capability to line up in heavy sets and run between the tackles. We'll have to cheat a safety to put 8 in the box, and easy passes will open up. Herp Derp McCoy's stat line bears this out.
Unfortunately, we had lost both #1 and #2 on that short list by kickoff of the Texas game. Once it became clear that Texas was going to line up and pound the ball down OU's throat and dare us to stop them, the game was over. We just didn't know it yet. Texas didn't have to worry about "mixing it up" or trying anything cute or clever. Their game plan was exceptionally vanilla, and it worked because we're allergic to that brand of vanilla.
This isn't a situation where the OU defense or scheme was a fraud. Far from it. Jordan Phillips would have obliterated the Texas game plan single-handedly, and I promise you that Major wouldn't have been running his boys at Corey Nelson. Much like Notre Dame's game plan, it may have produced a couple of big runs, but not the clock grinding, morale destroying drives that it did for the Horns. Derp McCoy's statline would've looked exactly like that of Tommy Rees. It was a perfect s__t storm for OU. The two guys who made the 3-3-5 scheme dangerous against even power running squads were gone, and we were playing a team whose only plausible offense at the moment was power running.
Now we have to look at OU's ceiling going forward. There's a great deal of disagreement about the offense, and I'm personally of the belief that OU's game plan wasn't necessarily the worst as some other people seem to believe. The offensive line got whipped repeatedly, Blake Bell didn't hit wide open receivers when he got them, and the receivers weren't getting separation consistently when they could have. That doesn't say anything of instances like Clay's dropped TD pass. That stuff is not on the OC's game plan. But I won't say it was a great game plan either. Instead of abusing Texas with zone read and the QB run game, we went with a more traditional approach that would be generously called "vanilla." If executed properly, it would've been enough to win. Sadly, we not only didn't execute well, we gave Texas points through atrocious QB play.
However, the defense is where I think the real damage was done. A healthy OU defense holds Texas to 17 points and forces extra turnovers by making Case try throws he doesn't like and can't make. Put another way, we don't beat Notre Dame with our current defensive personnel. So unless something wildly unexpected happens, it's time to adjust our expectations downward in a serious way.
How far down? 8-4. That's our most likely outcome right now.
For many, this isn't too big a deal. We were expecting this year to be a bit of a rebuilding year (much like 2005 and 2009), and we figured a few losses were on the horizon. Then the defense started exceeding expectations, and the offense showed a surprising knack for running the football at will. All of a sudden, it was time to get audaciously optimistic. A ten win season was a lock, and a BCS game was definitely on the table. People were having serious discussions about OU running the table and playing for the national title.
Right now, I'm projecting losses to Kansas State, Baylor, and Oklahoma State. All are road trips, and all are against teams who can line up and run the football. Baylor has the best offense in the conference bar none, Oklahoma State always gets up for Bedlam, and I'm picking K-State at the "game we lose that we really shouldn't." After watching Bill Snyder give Baylor a very serious scare, I don't think I'm being unreasonable. We could easily lose another game we shouldn't in there somewhere. The reality of this OU squad is that our depth chart at DT went as follows:
1. Jordan Phillips.
2. A big pile of meh.
When Jordan Phillips was lost, OU's big aspirations went with him.