The last time Oklahoma took to Owen Field there were a bunch of questions generated about the defense, particularly in the secondary. The Sooners came off an impressive road win in Knoxville only to have in-state rival Tulsa take them to task. The Golden Hurricane racked up 603 total yards that afternoon and despite a 52-38 win for the Sooners, there was a considerable amount of concern in the air.
Questions were answered and concerns were relieved on Saturday when a different Sooner defense took the field to open conference play and turned West Virginia's offensive machine into a turnover machine instead. Junior quarterback Skyler Howard had only turned the ball over once through three games this season but was found guilty of three interceptions and two fumbles as he faced relentless pressure from Mike Stoops' defense. Howard completed just 17 of his 32 passing attempts and was sacked seven times.
The natural question is to ask, where was this defense against Tulsa? The answer could be found in #7 Jordan Thomas. Oklahoma's sophomore corner was suspended, for a team rules violation, and didn't participate in that Tulsa game but he returned to the field with a vengeance against the Mountaineers. Thomas nabbed two interceptions, broke up another pass, and recorded three tackles in leading a defensive secondary that had West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen completely frustrated. "I commend our players for getting out there in the second half and playing," Holgorsen said. "We had a great third quarter. Comes down to their defense was better than me. I am the one calling the plays. Just do a good job calling plays in the fourth quarter the way that we needed to to beat these guys, so this one falls on me."
While Thomas may have been a frustration, Eric Striker was a nightmare for West Virginia. In a vintage performance, he was all over the field making plays. Striker sacked Skyler Howard twice, recorded a team-high 13 total tackles, and forced a fumble that was returned by linebacker Jordan Evans for a score. Nine Oklahoma defenders recorded tackles for loss on Saturday with Striker leading the way at three for negative 18 yards.
Saturday was the kind of performance that Oklahoma's defense can build on and that's exactly what they should do. With Texas and Kansas State coming up over the next two weeks it'll be a good change of pace from the type of spread attacks that the Sooners won't face again until Texas Tech comes calling on the 24th. That doesn't mean a blown assignment can't kill you against the Longhorns or Wildcats though but the foundation was laid for this team to go into the next two weeks with a ton of confidence.
"Obviously, Tulsa was a good offense, and at the same time our defense felt pretty embarrassed," Jordan Evans said after the game. "We wanted to come back with a little edge. We'll go look in the film room and we're going to see some things we still need to improve on."
Defensive Line | Charles Tapper had eight tackles and Matt Dimon added seven more, with forced fumble, to lead the defensive front in being disruptive. They did get pushed around a little bit in the third quarter though. Overall Grade: A-
Linebackers | Eric Striker and Jordan Evans combined for 22 tackles, 3 sacks, and a defensive touchdown. Dominique Alexander added another eight tackles. Overall Grade: A+
Secondary | This is the one defensive unit that still scares the crud out of folks because of their inconsistency. While it was an overall solid performance, in which Jordan Thomas was the star, there were still some breakdowns in coverage and poor tackling. Overall Grade: B
Special Teams | The Sooners have a star in freshman kicker Austin Seibert. Sterling Shepard was on point in the punt return game and Alex Ross had his best kickoff return of the season...until an illegal wedge took it away. Overall Grade : A+