"I'm disappointed we didn't play the run game better," said Mike Stoops. "We bent a little, but we didn't give up any points. It's good to be tested. We don't have to hear everybody telling us how good we are." - NewsOK
I read that and knew I couldn't start this anywhere else. If you are an Oklahoma fan and you are looking for anything more than what Mike Stoops said above, following the UTEP game, you need to prepare yourself for disappointment. The 'bend but don't break' strategy is one that Bob Stoops has employed seemingly ever since that magical 2000 season and one Brent Venables clearly was happy to adopt. The hope, for many of us, was that Mike Stoops' return would help alleviate some of that, but as you can tell from the quote above that is clearly not the case.
Now before you go ripping my head off, do not take this to mean I saw no improvements Saturday night. There were some very clear ones to be sure, but even in spite of the face this defense "technically" pitched a shutout it was far from a stellar performance.
Before we even get started, I've seen enough comments here already to feel this necessary. Yes, we all understand this was just one game. And yes, we all understand it takes more than just one game to truly form an opinion of a team. We good now? Okay, then.
Clearly the most alarming aspect of last night's defensive performance, and one the coaches spoke to following the game, was how easily UTEP seemed to push around this OU defensive front seven. UTEP's opening drive was particularly troubling even though it did not ultimately result in points for the Miners. Aside from possibly David King, none of the OU defensive linemen played particularly well. The performance so many of us were hoping for from R.J. Washington simply did not materialize. Jamarkus McFarland was his usual up-and-down self and despite the disappointing play along the interior, stud true freshman Jordan Phillips wasn't given a single snap.
As depressing as the defensive line getting, at times, manhandled against a UTEP team, that was a known issue going in. Linebacker, however, was a position most Oklahoma fans felt pretty confident in prior to Saturday night. Well, my friends, expectations may need to be adjusted. To be fair, some of Tom Wort and Corey Nelson's issues were a direct result of the issues along the front four we just described. That said, both Wort and Nelson were shockingly non-existent for virtually the entire night. And I mean SHOCKINGLY non-existent! Wort finished with seven tackles and Nelson with four, but if you can remember a single play of impact either made then kudos to you. And after talk of a desire to play more than just two guys, something Venables never did, the only memory I have of a linebacker other than Wort or Nelson was that of Aaron Franklin chasing down UTEP's Nathan Jeffrey on that 71-yard scamper. If last night was any indication, Tim Kish has some significant work to do with this unit.
The saving grace, if you will, from Saturday night was very clearly the secondary. Granted, the UTEP passing attack was far from a formidable one the single fact that there were no busted coverages was an accomplishment compared to last season. There were a few missed tackles mind you, but that was a defense wide issue. I thought the move of Tony Jefferson was a successful one and the Demontre Hurst/Aaron Colvin combo were everything we've come to expect them to be. The positions and/or players of concern, nickel back/Gabe Lynn/Javon Harris, avoided any major issues, so, you know, good things.
Not exactly breaking news by proclaiming the defense the better of the two units on the night. And given where we were prior to the start of the season and the concerns that existed for this defense last night was a good sign, even if it was against UTEP.