Watching from the sleepy desert town of Palm Desert, California last night, thousands of miles away from both Columbus and Norman, I could tell that the rest of the nation was starting to pay attention to the Oklahoma Sooners. When I mention to people out in California that I am a proud Sooner fan, they usually bring up Baker Mayfield and the departure of Bob Stoops but don't seem to know much about the rest of the Sooner team. Fortunately, in a huge 31-16 win against Ohio State last night, they were introduced to a championship-caliber squad.
As Sooner fans learned after being left out of the College Football Playoff last season, to be a championship-caliber team, you have to play defense. In their epic win in Columbus last night, the Sooner defense, led by sophomore corner Parnell Motley and a host of others, played about as well as they could have possibly played. They tackled well, got after JT Barrett all night, and most importantly, played extremely well in coverage. While players like corner Jordan Thomas and safeties Steven Parker, Will Johnson, Robert Barnes and Kahlil Haughton all played well, the member of the secondary that stood out the most was sophomore cornerback Parnell Motley.
Motley was locked in from start to finish and made the most of the biggest game of his young Sooners career. He finished with 8 tackles, a tackle for loss and a crucial interception. The interception by Motley was so crucial because at the time, the Buckeyes were trying to mount a comeback down 24-13 and had plenty of time to do so with 11:07 left in the fourth. The thing I like most about the play was that it was caused primarily by two young players on the Sooner defense, true freshman linebacker Kenneth Murray and the sophomore Motley. If you watch the play closely, you can see Murray getting into the backfield off of a blitz to pressure Barrett, this led to Barrett making a throw on the run off his back foot, which allowed Motley to jump the route and pick off the pass. Here is the play below:
Only a few minutes later, Motley made another exceptional play in the endzone by making an interception that was controversially called incomplete by the referee. Even though the interception was overturned, this was another example of Motley’s impressive ball skills. On the play, Motley got in front of Ohio State wide receiver Terry McLaurin and played the ball like a receiver. While McLaurin was a highly-touted 4-star receiver coming out of high school, Motley was an unheralded 3-star prospect out of Washington D.C. On this play, Motley made a lot of power five schools like Ohio State regret not offering a scholarship to Motley.
Although the Buckeyes went on to make a field goal on this possession, it showed that the Sooner defense was not ready to take their foot off the gas despite having a multiple-touchdown lead late in the game. The Sooner defense last night looked a lot more like the 2015 defense than the 2016 defense. With Parnell Motley emerging as a shutdown corner opposite Jordan Thomas, Oklahoma could have the best cornerback tandem in the country.
In addition to the strong play of the secondary, the defense as a whole played really well. Some players that stood out were linebackers Emmanuel Beal and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. Beal looked like a guy with a serious chip on his shoulder playing in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio. As a linebacker coming out of high school, Beal was lightly recruited and did not receive an offer from his hometown Buckeyes. After a couple years at Lackawanna Community College in Pennsylvania, Beal only received offers from Oklahoma, Akron, Arizona, Ball State and Utah State. The gamble the Sooners made on Beal clearly has paid off, as he registered nine tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, a half sack and an impactful quarterback hurry in the victory over the Buckeyes last night.
While Beal had one of the best games of his career last night, for fellow defensive standout Obo Okoronkwo it was just another day at the office. Obo was constantly in the Ohio State backfield and flew all over the field. He registered six tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 2.5 tackles for loss. More importantly, he kept the defense fired up and was constantly talking to all of his fellow defenders. Obo showed that he is not only one of the best pass rushers in the country, but also that he is a leader on potentially one of the better defenses in the country.
Overall, the Sooner defense kept Oklahoma in the game early on when the offense was struggling and put forward a spirited effort. If the defense continues to play like they played last night going into Big 12 play, the Sooners should be able to run the table and make a run at another College Football Playoff appearance. I don’t think Mike Stoops should be worried too much about his job security after last night’s performance — although there’s still work to be done. Look for the defense to continue to improve as the season goes on and for opposing quarterbacks to stop paying visits to D.C. Island.