Redemption The Theme For Sooners Defense
OKLAHOMA CITY - The Oklahoma Sooners football team wasn't always defined by a quick-tempo, high-scoring offense. Once upon a time, a dominant defense, respected and feared by all of college football, roamed the turf at Owen Field.
When Bob Stoops came to Norman with his brother, Mike as defensive coordinator, the defense ranked No. 39 in the country in total defense their first season.
With Mike running the defense along with the now-departed Brent Venables, the Sooners quickly became a top-10 defense. From 2000-2003, the Sooners were ranked in the top 10 every season.
Ever since Stoops' departure prior to the 2005 season, the Sooner defense has regressed each season in total defense. Now, Stoops is back, and the theme for the Sooner defense is redemption.
"I think our players are excited and they want redemption," Mike Stoops said. "They don't feel good about what happened a year ago."
Last season, the Sooners finished 55th in total defense, and in all three of OU's losses, the defense gave up astronomical numbers of yards, including a school-record 616 yards in a loss at Baylor.
Senior safety Javon Harris took the brunt of the blame in the Baylor game, and he said it still bothers him all these months later.
"Honestly I come in here, and I watch the Baylor game almost every day, whether we watch film on practice or not," Harris said. "I just go in here and try to capitalize on every mistake."
Head coach Bob Stoops said he is disappointed when any area of his team struggles, but due to his defensive background, his pride takes a big hit with defensive struggles.
"For a lot of years we did have a strong defensive reputation and felt like for a lot of years, that's what we hung our hat on," Stoops said. "For it not to be that way in a few games, that's bothersome."
Now, the Sooners have an opportunity to get back to playing the stingy defense that defined this team for the first half of the past decade.
"I'll be surprised if they don't come back with a vengeance in those games and take it personal," Stoops said. "I hope they do. Again, we're tired of hearing about it and now it's time to do something about it."
In an effort to get back to that level of play, Stoops has made some key personnel changes, such as moving Tony Jefferson from nickel back to safety, and moving Aaron Colvin over to the other cornerback position opposite Demontre Hurst.
Stoops has also simplified the defense to make it easier for the players to play with reckless abandon rather than thinking about what to do and where to go.
"You can see the carryover from the spring and see our players really starting to adjust and play fast," Stoops said. "That's the whole thing with defense. It's having the ability to play fast, to react to what you see and not have to think."
However, no matter how much simplifying Stoops does, there is only so much he can do at such a high level of football.
"The simplicity thing, it's still a Division I defense," linebacker Tom Wort said. "It's hard to learn that and you'll have to learn that through study. It may be simpler than what we had before, but it's still a Division I defense."
Right now, Stoops is looking for players to step up and become leaders. The unit has plenty of veteran players, but none have ever been looked to as the guy. That has to change now.
"I think we have possibilities of players who can turn into difference makers," Stoops said. "That's really what we really need to be an effective group. It will be interesting which guys step up and have a breakout year, and we need several of them to do that."
The Sooners are ready to gain redemption after a subpar 2011, but Stoops, who didn't agree with his firing at Arizona, says he is in the same boat as his players.
"I'm here to do a job and I'm excited about it," Stoops said. "I tell them, ‘You don't think I want redemption too? S---, I want the same thing you want.'"
As for how the Sooners will regain their standing as an elite defense, well, they'll have to fight for it.
"We'll see what these guys are about," Stoops said. "If someone beats you up like that, it's not fun. You better respond or our issues are deeper than I thought they would be. We've got to take it personal and we've got to come out fighting and I think they will."
Sooners Total Defense Rankings in Bob Stoops Era
2004- 13th (Mike Stoops leaves for Arizona after regular season)