At glance at the stats tells one story of Oklahoma's defense and a look at the scoreboard tells another. The Tennessee Volunteers averaged 36 points a game before coming to Norman and a 313 yard performance against the Sooners, with an average of 3.4 yards per rush, could lead a person to believe that they were close to that mark again. However, three forced turnovers and five sacks are what ultimately told the story of this game.
Oklahoma's defensive line was powerful and strong as usual with Chuka Ndulue, Jordan Phillips, and Matt Romar all recording sacks. Dominique Alexander led the linebackers in cleaning up the plays with a team-high 12 tackles, but it was the defensive backs who both gave up and took the most in this game.
Free safety Ahmad Thomas got beat on a second quarter touchdown strike from Justin Worley to Josh Smith. All-American corner Zach Sanchez got caught breaking on a ball and subsequently missing. The result of that pay was a 41 yard gain by Vols receiver Marquez North. Julian Wilson got caught in soft coverage too often and gave up a lot on the underneath routes. We could go on and on about the mistakes made and plays given up by the secondary but, once again, the story isn't about what they gave up, rather it's about what they took.
They took opportunity away from Tennessee. They took momentum from the Vols sideline and put it on Oklahoma's. They took the hope that Tennessee gained from limited success and just squished it. Ultimately they ended up taking the will and spirit out of the Vols offense as they took stand after stand in leading the Sooners to victory.
The first big blow delivered by the Sooner defense came on Tennessee's second possession of the game. Facing a third and thirteen from their own 41, Worley hit Pig Howard for a 19 yard gain that moved the ball into Oklahoma territory for the first time. The Vols didn't get to stay there long though and strong safety Quentin Hayes came on a blitz, on the next play, jarring the ball loose with a blind-side sack. Six plays later OU scored the first touchdown of the game to take a 10-0 lead.
The second shot came near the end of the third quarter where the Vols were threatening to make it a 10 point game. Having already kicked a field goal on their previous possession to cut Oklahoma's lead to 27-10, Worley moved the Vols from their own 31 to the Sooner 26 in just two plays. However, it was on the third play that the defense got back at him. Trying to connect with is target in the southwest corner of the end zone, Worley's pass was instead taken away by an athletic play by Zack Sanchez. OU wouldn't be able to capitalize on the opportunity, going three-and-out instead, but they kept Tennessee from putting points on the board.
"I had to make up for not being able to tackle tonight," Sanchez said after the game. For me to make a play like that was huge for the momentum of the defense and making up for trying to tackle with one arm. Regardless, I should have made those tackles, so I had to do something to redeem myself."
The knockout blow came on the very next Tennessee possession. With the Vols mounting their most impressive drive of the game they faced a third and two from the Oklahoma four. That's when Julian Wilson took a tipped pass in the end zone and returned it one hundred yards for a score and what most likely was the defining play of the game.
It wasn't like the Volunteers didn't have opportunity against Oklahoma's aggressive defense. They had plenty of it! Give them credit for taking the hits and getting up time after time and coming back at the Sooners. At times Tennessee made Oklahoma's secondary look every bit the part of a group of guys replacing an All-Conference corner and a play making safety. They even took advantage of the OU linebackers a time or two on the ground. However, the key stat wasn't the yards posted by the Vols, the number of sacks, or even the turnovers forced. The key stat was points allowed and in that category Oklahoma's defense was just as dominant as ever. Yes, Oklahoma's defense took much more than they gave and what they took was the most valuable thing to any football team. They repeatedly took points off the board for Tennessee.
Defensive Line - This unit is going to continue to give people fits all season long. They are super athletic and big. However, they have to play under control and that was a bit of struggle at times. The end result was impressive though as they planted Justin Worley three times and they opened things up for the linebackers to make plays. Overall Grade: A-
Linebackers - Dominique Alexander had 12 tackles, Jordan Evans had 9, Eric Striker had 6, Geno Grissom had 4. However, they were caught out of place a bit and it ended up costing Oklahoma some large yardage plays. Then again, you gotta look at the scoreboard and say job well done. Overall Grade: B+
Secondary - Ahmad Thomas got beat bad on Tennessee's only touchdown and as we've already mentioned Julian Wilson and Zack Sanchez had their slip ups as well. That said, two interceptions and a forced fumble from this group totally redeems any faults they may have had. Quentin Hayes also led the team with two sacks. Overall Grade A-