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Oklahoma Sooners Football: OU defense finds recipe for success with four-man front

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Once Oklahoma made a switch to a four-man front, things turned around for the defense against Texas Tech.

NCAA Football: Texas Tech at Oklahoma Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Texas Tech Red Raiders had just scored a third touchdown on another monster passing play, and the first quarter was still underway. All kinds of thoughts were racing through Oklahoma Sooners fans’ minds: a dreaded repeat of last season’s shootout in Lubbock, the absence of a championship-caliber defense, and a burning desire to immediately go in a different philosophical direction defensively.

The next time the Oklahoma defense came out onto the field, a switch was made on the defensive front. For the first three drives, the Sooners were lining up with a three-man, but they added a fourth on the next drive. So what did this defensive switch allow the Sooners to accomplish?

For starters, having four linemen rushing the passer instead of three increases the chances of creating pressure in the pocket. But the switch was made primarily because of Texas Tech’s ability and propensity to run the ball. From the very beginning of the game, the Red Raiders not only made a concerted effort to the run ball, their rushing attack was incredibly effective against three down linemen. Chunk after chunk, the Red Raiders were gashing the Sooners on the ground, which was setting up the big passing plays.

In that first quarter alone, Texas Tech amassed 72 rushing yards on 14 carries. That’s over five yards per carry, and a recipe for disaster against a team that’s typically known for their lethality in the passing game. After making the switch on the defensive front, Tech only managed 43 rushing yards on 20 carries, which amounts to just over two yards per rush. That significant improvement rendered the Red Raider offense one-dimensional over the final three quarters.

Here’s an example of how using four men (with Obo standing up) caused Tech’s offense to sputter after their strong start to the game:

D.J. Ward gets the sack, but the play was made due to the fact that the quarterback was under pressure from both sides of the line and at this point in the game Tech had started moving away from the run.

Still, that one dimension has always been a dangerous one in Lubbock, dating back to the days when the pirate once roamed the sidelines. The next puzzle to solve for the OU defense was how to get off the field on third or fourth down. Even in the first quarter, Oklahoma had little problem getting Tech to third down, but the Red Raiders went 4-4 on their conversions. After the switch to four down linemen, Tech went 1-10 on third down for the remainder of the game.

It should be noted that for as much criticism defensive coordinator Mike Stoops takes (and much of it is warranted), he deserves a lot of credit for making the correct adjustments in this game before it was too late. Some will question why he didn’t make the adjustment earlier, and that’d be fair to ask. Only Stoops knows the answer to that, but he’ll surely have another opportunity to prove how quickly he can adjust to a high-powered offense this week in Stillwater.

I fully expect Oklahoma to utilize the four-man front right out of the gate against the Cowboys this week. This particular defensive alignment seems to be more suited against teams that want to set up the big-play passing game with the run. By limiting the opposing ground game, the Sooners have a better chance at forcing longer conversion attempts on obvious passing situations. Of course in the Big 12, that’s much easier said than done.

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