The Oklahoma Sooners have a long history of dominant defensive tackles — from Granville Liggins in the 1960s to the Selmon brothers and Reggie Kinlaw in the 70s, Rick Bryan in the 80s, Tommie Harris in the early 2000s all the way up to Gerald McCoy in the late 2000s, some of the greatest defensive linemen in the history of college football have dawned the Crimson & Cream. That lineage has fallen off a bit over the past eight seasons since McCoy’s departure.
Enter Neville Gallimore, Lincoln Riley’s 6’2”, 310-pound Canadian bulldozer who is sure to give opposing backfields nightmares this year.
On paper, Gallimore is almost impossible to scheme for. In addition to his massive frame, he runs a 4.72 40-yard-dash and has great lateral quickness. His moves and agility have caught the attention of many, and he’s been nominated for the Piesman Trophy preseason watch list (by us, of course). Gallimore, a former ESPN 300 recruit showed promise in his redshirt freshman season, playing in all 13 games and starting the last six. This year, he is expected to be the anchor of the Sooners’ defensive line along with senior Matt Romar. Gallimore and Romar will be tasked with improving a defensive front that has struggled to defend the run in recent years.
The Oklahoma defense ranked 74th in yards allowed per game, 70th in yards per play, 68th in yards per rush, 85th in third down conversion and 99th in sack percentage a season ago. The low point of last season was a 45-24 drubbing at the hands of Ohio State in Norman. The Buckeyes posted a staggering 291 rushing yards in that game that ultimately knocked Oklahoma out of the running for the College Football Playoff. These numbers simply won’t cut it if the Sooners want to have any chance of competing for a National Championship this season.
Oklahoma’s failure to infiltrate opposing backfields also affected it’s pass defense. The Sooners’ defense ranked 88th in yards per completion last year, giving up almost 13 yards per catch. Lackluster play on the defensive line allows opposing quarterbacks time to sit back in the pocket and wait for receivers to get open downfield without worry about pressure coming from the defense. Here is an example from the Texas game.
Texas Longhorns quarterback Shane Buechele had all day to sit back in the pocket and allow Devon Duvernay time to get behind the secondary. Part of the reason why the Sooners struggled to pressure the quarterback was the 3-4 defense they ran which means there were only three down linemen to rush the quarterback. This year, however, Mike Stoops is switching to a 4-3 in an attempt to slow down opposing run games and apply more pressure to opposing quarterbacks. Oklahoma ranked 99th last season in sack percentage, getting to the quarterback on just 4.8% of pass plays. That’s less than two times per game in a conference where most teams rely heavily on their passing attack. Gallimore played defensive end in the 3-4 defense, but will move to the interior in the new 4-3 system.
Gallimore showed flashes of greatness during his redshirt freshman season that was highlighted by his game against Louisiana-Monroe in which he tallied 8 tackles, 3 tackles for loss and a sack. He also posted a crucial six tackles in the Sooners’ 45-40 win over Texas. His stats weren’t as high as they could have been because he spent most of the season splitting time at defensive tackle with Jordan Wade. With Wade graduated, it may just be Gallimore’s time to shine.
It remains to be seen what Gallimore is truly capable of, but the new defensive scheme will give him the opportunity to have a much greater impact. The front-seven is the Sooners’ biggest question mark headed into the season, but if Gallimore and others can step up, Oklahoma will be a very tough team to beat. Mike Stoops has yet to have a truly dominant defensive tackle in his second tenure in Norman, but Gallimore may just be the guy to help him change that.