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Night and Day: The Oklahoma defense comes to life after a sluggish half

After a sloppy start, the Oklahoma defense bounced back and pitched a shutout against Tulane in the second half.

NCAA Football: Tulane at Oklahoma Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Just like I predicted yesterday in my game preview, Oklahoma’s hangover from the Ohio State game lasted well into the first half of Saturday’s game against Tulane. To start the game, the Oklahoma defense looked sluggish and a little bit confused by the Tulane offense. Tulane running back Dontrell Hilliard started hot out of the gate —opening the first few drives with a couple good runs and then finishing with 104 yards on the day. Complementing Hilliard with a strong first quarter was quarterback Johnathan Brantley, who didn't throw the ball much but showed command of the offense and ran the ball well against the Oklahoma front seven.

Like the beginning of the UTEP game, the thing that stood out at the beginning of this game was how inside linebackers Emmanuel Beal and Kenneth Murray were constantly out of position and unable to stay disciplined with their gap assignments. This poor positioning led to the Green Wave gaining 157 yards in the first quarter alone.

Fortunately for the Oklahoma Sooners, their secondary was solid in the first quarter, which prevented Brantley from completing anything downfield while the run defense was being gashed. Starting in place of Will Johnson, junior free safety Kahlil Haughton looked great in coverage and served as a nice complement to Parnell Motley, Jordan Thomas and Steven Parker. While the play of Haughton is certainly an encouraging sign going forward, the play of sophomore cornerback Parnell Motley is what is really driving the Oklahoma defense.

Motley looked great in coverage, had a key tackle for loss and most importantly had a pick-six that turned the tide again for the Sooner defense. Motley seems to have a knack for making the big play when his team needs it and he delivered again on Saturday with a crucial 77-yard interception return for a touchdown. If Motley continues making plays like this, DC Island is going to become a desert island rather than a popular tourist destination.

Following this key interception, the Sooner defense really tightened up, forcing a punt on Tulane’s final true possession of the half. OU then make the proper adjustments at halftime, allowing only 68 yards of offense from that point on. However, Oklahoma’s second half-dominance seemed to have more to do with simple discipline and effort as opposed anything schematic.

Notable players that stepped up in the second half after starting slow were Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Kenneth Murray, and Neville Gallimore. Per usual, Obo was all over the field and finished the game with nine tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack. Here is a big tackle for loss he had on the outside in the third quarter:

After struggling in the first half, true freshman linebacker Kenneth Murray bounced back in a big way, amassing eight tackles and adding a tackle for loss. Like in the UTEP game, Murray seemed lost on the first couple drives but then seemed to figure things out as the game went on. As a young player, Murray needs to improve his consistency but certainly has the talent to be a great linebacker for OU. When Murray is locked in, he tackles well, covers well, and does a great job getting after the quarterback.

Of course it also helps when linebackers like Murray get help up front from the defensive line. Although D.J. Ward and sophomore Kenneth Mann played well, the guy that really stood out was Neville Gallimore. Gallimore was disruptive at the line of scrimmage and was able to get eight tackles, half a sack and a half TFL, showing why he is becoming a leader on the Sooner defensive line. Once Gallimore makes a big play on the line, it seems to rally the rest of the defensive lineman — similar to how Parnell Motley’s big plays get the secondary (and defense as a whole) fired up.

Here is a big hit by Gallimore in the backfield:

While I expect Obo to continue to be a dominant force on the defense and for the secondary to continue to by dynamic, the key to keeping Big 12 teams in check will be guys like Kenneth Murray and Neville Gallimore. The upstart Murray needs to develop more consistency, and Gallimore needs to continue to lead a defensive line that has been solid but has plenty of room for improvement. Thankfully, Oklahoma was able to put a poor first-half defensive performance in the rearview mirror and put in a dominant performance the rest of the way to defeat Tulane 56-14.