For the past few weeks, a whirlwind of questions has surrounded the Oklahoma Sooners’ defense. It’s tough to blame anybody who has been critical, especially after increasingly poor showings. Coming into the Red River Showdown, OU had given up an average of nearly 40 points and 500 yards per game since the start of conference play.
Now, OU-Texas is more often than not a dog fight, and the 2017 edition was no exception. In a game like this, making key defensive stops is paramount. Even though Oklahoma did not shut the Texas offense down, when the Sooners absolutely had to have a stop, the defensive leaders found a way to come through.
By the numbers, the Longhorns converted eight of their 17 3rd-down conversion attempts. While that’s a relatively high conversion rate, Oklahoma made up for that by limiting Texas to only one 4th-down conversion on their four attempts, including the ultimate stop on the final play of the game:
Even though it may not seem like much of an improvement, Oklahoma limited the damage when Texas made big plays. In fact, on a 42-yard strike down field to WR Devin Duvernay (by far UT’s longest play from scrimmage), OU held firm and turned Texas over on downs just four plays later. Unlike Baylor and Iowa State, Texas was unable to make many of these opportunities count. Credit OU’s defense for stepping up.
The Oklahoma pass rush was consistent throughout the game, as seen on this incredible play by the pass rushing specialist himself known affectionately as Obo (or Ogbo):
Big Time Players. Make Big Time Plays. In Big Time Games.@OgboOkoronkwo edition. #Sooners pic.twitter.com/8TjvSQ9gZx— Sooner Gridiron (@soonergridiron) October 15, 2017
Okoronkwo was an absolute terror in the Texas backfield all day. UT’s already depleted line had no chance at stopping number 31. Eventually, Texas was relegated to double teaming Okoronkwo. Pro Football Focus put into numbers the kind of havoc Ogbonnia wreaked for the ‘Horns’ offense:
Oklahoma's Ogbonnia Okoronkwo pressured Texas QBs 11 times of 57 total drop back attempts on Saturday. pic.twitter.com/OB1UKsLZOS— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) October 15, 2017
Now, if there was one glaring area that OU’s defense never rectified, it was containing the screen pass. Even with a consistent pass rush, as the season goes on, the Sooners will need to do a better job of finishing the job. Play recognition and player positioning are things that Mike Stoops’s defenses have been criticized for. That kind of scrutiny will likely continue after several missed opportunities against Texas.
Another area on defense that could use some major improvement is discipline. Defensive penalties are always frustrating no matter the time or situation, but when they are added to the end of big plays or keep opposing drives alive, they can decide games. The effort to fly to the ball is great, but reigning in that aggression is key.
It has been said that the game of football is a war of attrition. Guys like Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, D.J Ward, Steven Parker and Kahlil Haughton all battled valiantly through the pain. Their uniforms, all but tattered, told the story. The defense defended 82 offensive plays, sidelining players with even the highest of motors just for a breather. They fought for their teammates and left everything they had on the field. After their tremendous efforts, you can’t question their heart.
When you leave absolutely EVERYTHING on the field. @OgboOkoronkwo #BeatTexas pic.twitter.com/imMl6cYY0b— Oklahoma Football (@OU_Football) October 14, 2017
So while this Oklahoma team may not field the most dominant defense statistically in Sooner history, they showed us something yesterday. Their confidence can be restored by winning, but it appears their resiliency has never left.
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