Up until the past two weeks, the second coming of Mike Stoops to lead the Oklahoma Sooners' defense had been an overall success. The Sooners were ranked in the top 20 in both total and scoring defense, and looked nothing like the defense that struggled so much at the end of last season.
So much for that.
Two weeks ago against Baylor, the Sooners gave up 252 yards on the ground, but that number paled in comparison to the number of yards the Sooners gave up against West Virginia.
Altogether, the Oklahoma defense gave up a program-record 778 yards, 458 of them on the ground.
"Defensively, obviously we had a poor day, but give West Virginia some credit; they are an excellent offensive football team," Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops said at his weekly press conference Monday. "In the end, I understand we need to make some adjustments and that's part of what it is for us, what we're asking our guys to do and some of our technique issues, we have to do a better job."
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Those adjustments are the key to how the Sooners will play against Oklahoma State on Saturday. The Cowboys are averaging 216.7 yards on the ground per game, and running back Joseph Randle is leading the Big 12 in total rushing yards and yards per game by a very wide margin.
To combat the Bears' and Mountaineers' deadly passing attacks, the Sooners employed a formation that consisted of seven defensive backs and zero linebackers. Needless to say, the idea didn't work out too well.
Stoops said part of the problem was expecting too much from certain players, particularly safeties Javon Harris and Tony Jefferson.
"We're asking them (to do) a little bit too much sometimes to make some tackles in some areas that are pretty difficult," Stoops said, "so that's where we've got to make some adjustments and how we are playing some of our guys up front in front of them, too. We've got our hand it in as coaches to try to make some adjustments to give those guys a fair opportunity."
With a pass-happy league such as the Big 12, it becomes difficult to adequately defend both aspects of an offense. Focus too much on one, and it will burn you, much like it did the Sooners Saturday night in Morgantown.
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"In the end, it's difficult to get the balance to cover like you need to and still support the run," Stoops said. "Obviously, we're still working through that. In the end, we have through the year been much better defending the pass. That has limited the number of big plays up until last week. We still have to make improvements, though. We've got some things to adjust, and hopefully we can do some things this week differently that will help us."
However, that difficulty doesn't excuse players from failing to make basic plays, such as tackling. According to Stoops, the Sooners missed 20 tackles against West Virginia, an appalling number, no matter how fast the players on the other side are.
Stoops said the Sooners haven't had that many missed tackles in one game in a long time, but said some of them came from coaches putting players in difficult situations.
"When you're in position to make the tackle, and you don't make it, it's pretty obvious what a missed tackle is," Stoops said. "But also, we're aware that in some instances we can do some things better technique-wise in the amount of space we're giving a guy to tackle. Again, it's a little bit of everybody. We need to make some improvement."
OU defensive players were noticeably upset with their performance after Saturday's game, but they know with proper focus and the right adjustments, they can prevent another disaster from happening against the Cowboys.
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"Coach Stoops said we'll have a better game plan this week, so (we) just put the faith in the coaches to have a game plan and put the faith in the players to go out and execute it," OU defensive end David King said. "We're going to continue to prepare at the level we've been preparing at throughout the course of the season. We'll just come out on Saturday and just try to put it all together and have a dominant performance."
The Sooners may not need a dominating performance Saturday against Oklahoma State, but they certainly will need to improve on last Saturday's showing in order to take down the Cowboys.