The primary objective for the Oklahoma Sooners this offseason was to improve on defense. After a 2016 season that saw the Sooners giving up 440 yards and 30 points per game, the defensive theme for 2017 is redemption. The path to redemption starts with the team leaders, namely Steven Parker and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, the two defensive captains.
On Saturday, OU opened the season against the University of Texas-El Paso. It shouldn’t take an avid follower of college football to figure out that Oklahoma clearly outmatches a team like UTEP from a talent aspect alone. The real challenge for the Oklahoma defense was going to be the mental hurdle stemming from their deficiencies just one season ago, as well as adjusting to a new system.
Like clockwork, Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma offense easily marched down the field, capping off the drive with a touchdown. Then came the moment the defense had been waiting for all offseason. The Miners drove 78 yards down the field in eight plays while converting two third downs and scoring on a 17-yard run up the middle.
Shades of 2016 began creeping up in the minds of Sooner fans, myself included. The Miners are hardly a powerhouse in the world of college football, yet their offense charged right down the field against the Sooners’ defense. After another quick and easy Oklahoma touchdown to answer UTEP’s, it was time for somebody to step up and make a play on defense.
On 3rd and 10, UTEP quarterback Ryan Metz passed over the middle to a receiver well beyond the line to gain, and as soon as the receiver was bringing the ball into his body, this happened:
Senior safety and team captain Steven Parker brought the boom, jarring the ball loose and causing the incompletion. In Parker’s immediate celebratory reaction, I could almost feel the defense’s frustration from 2016 and their elation for the highlight hit. It was as if the impact of the hit was an emphatic statement declaring the return of tough, hard-nosed defense in Norman.
As the final score indicates, the Miners never scored again after their initial drive, and they only totaled 89 more yards for the rest of the game. I truly believe it was Parker’s hit that served as the catalyst for this gentleman’s shutout, if you will. It appeared to me that the rest of the defense simply played more inspired after that hit. Guys were flying to the ball and laying the wood. Check out this bone-crushing finisher from defensive tackle Neville “Big Canada” Gallimore:
The emotional effect of a big hit ripples throughout the defense. There’s a saying in baseball that ‘hitting is contagious.’ Well I would definitely have to say that it suits the game of football just as well. In the Sooners’ first fall camp under head coach Lincoln Riley, there was a concerted effort and focus on being more physical. So far, that increased attention to physicality is showing. It’s also worth noting that the Sooners were a bit more assignment-sound defensively following the play, though that probably had more to do with the fact that it took time to find their footing in a season opener.
The Oklahoma defense wants to compete with the Ohio States and Clemsons and Alabamas of the college football world, and they’re hopefully on the right track of accomplishing that. Veteran playmakers like Parker and Okoronkwo must set the tone both in practice and on game day, and the rest of the defense will follow their lead.
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