Oklahoma's defense made an impressive debut last Saturday evening against Louisiana Tech. The Sooners' starters allowed just three points against the Bulldogs and forced Tech to five three-and-outs in the first half. Now the Sooners face a new challenge in Tulsa's spread attack. It's not like Oklahoma is unfamiliar in defending the spread attack, but it will be a much different approach then what the Sooners were up against last weekend.
Oklahoma still has the personnel to defend this type of offense, and defend it well, but they will need to take a slightly different approach. Tulsa passed the ball 53 times for 443 yards and four touchdowns in their opener against Tulane and they ran the ball 36 times for an average of 4.3 yards per carry, which is a far cry from the one-dimensional offense of Louisiana Tech. Here are a few things that you can expect to see from Oklahoma's defense.
1. Control the line of scrimmage, but get your hands up. Oklahoma's defensive line is big and athletic. They have a quick first step and can be extremely disruptive in the back field. The Sooners will need them to make plays behind the line of scrimmage but they will also be needed to take away passing lanes and an attempt to make quarterback Dane Evans hold the ball for an extra fraction of a second. Tulsa knows that they can't beat OU at the line of scrimmage so they will go with a "quick strike" approach where the quarterback looks to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible after the snap. It may not be feasible for Oklahoma's defenders to get to Evans on every passing down but by getting their hands up they will have the opportunity to bat down passes or even cause Evans to bring the ball back down and reset.
2. Take away the short routes. This is the most critical, and yet the most difficult, aspect of Oklahoma's game plan. Oklahoma wants the swing pass to be Dane Evans' best friend on Saturday. This would mean that the defense has taken away the flats, the short outs, and the middle crossing routes. If Evans is going to get rid of the ball quickly then they want it to be on a swing pass that goes towards the sidelines and gives Oklahoma's defensive speed a chance to make a play.
This strategy will put a couple of Oklahoma's new faces to the defense on watch. Corner Julian Wilson has defended the spread from be nickel position but this will be his first shot as a cornerback. Safeties Ahmad Thomas and Hatari Byrd also will get their first crack at starters against the spread. Thomas is Oklahoma's free safety while Byrd is the most likely candidate to play the nickel.
The biggest question mark for Oklahoma's defense heading into 2014 was the secondary where Gabe Lynn and Aaron Colvin are being replaced. This test against the Tulsa offense will be a big step up from last week.
3. Fill the gaps! This is completely on the linebackers. The threat with the spread offense is that it literally "spreads" you out and gives running backs a greater opportunity to run through a gaping hole. The linebackers have to be able to step into the gaps and make sure those gaping holes aren't there. They'll have to deal with misdirection, play action, and tight end passing routes in order to properly read the play. It isn't an easy job but Oklahoma's experience and speed at the linebacker position sure is a help.
I can easily see Tulsa having some offensive success in this game. They racked up 38 points and 516 total yards on Tulane. While head coach Bill Blankenship was sure to point out that Oklahoma isn't Tulane it doesn't mean that the Golden Hurricane will find their way into the end zone.
In my opinion, Oklahoma is going to play for stops and turnovers. What I mean by that is they want to put Tulsa and third and long situations where they can pin their ears back and come after Evans. They want to be disruptive, tip the ball, and force turnovers. Tulsa will score but not near enough to have a shot at this game.