Earlier this week, Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops ordered his defensive players to go back and watch the game film from last year's 45-38 loss against Baylor. The move no doubt ripped off many old scabs for a secondary that was torched by then-Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III for 479 yards and four touchdowns.
That game last season, the first time in history Oklahoma had lost to Baylor, became a defining point for an Oklahoma defense long on talent, but short on discipline and technical skill.
Saturday night in Norman, that same group of players wiped that bad taste out of their mouths with a very impressive performance. The Bears came into the game No. 1 in the nation in passing yards per game, averaging 392 yards per game through the air. The Sooners held quarterback Nick Florence in check, giving up just 172 yards on 12-for-33 passing and zero touchdowns.
There were multiple factors leading to the performance. One, the Sooners played a ton of zone coverage, sometimes putting as many as seven defensive backs on the field to counter the Bears potent downfield attack. However, that strategy led to other problems for the Sooners defensively.
The Bears chose instead to run the ball frequently, running 52 times for 252 yards and four touchdowns. Florence put on his best Robert Griffin performance, running 15 times for 83 yards and a touchdown of his own. Part of the problem was the Sooners had no linebackers patrolling the middle of the field, and the other was poor tackling in space by OU defenders, a performance Mike Stoops dubbed, "atrocious."
The wind also played a factor in the passing game. A southerly wind whipped through Oklahoma Memorial Stadium throughout the entire game, gusting over 40 mph at times. A lot of Florence's passes were overthrown, although the Baylor receivers weren't running wide open Saturday night, either.
Stoops added after the game his defense was "exposed," and that the Sooners' remaining three opponents, West Virginia, Oklahoma, and TCU—all of which boast explosive offenses (although the verdict is officially out on the Mountaineers)—will find ways to exploit the Sooners in the next three weeks.
But Saturday night was about vindication for the Sooners' secondary, and they accomplished that, particularly safety Javon Harris. Last year, Harris was the scapegoat for all the problems the secondary had last season, and the main guilty party for the struggles against the Bears. The senior from Lawton, Okla. had 14 tackles to lead the team, nine of them solo tackle, and never got burned on a play-action fake from Florence.
As the Sooners walked off Owen Field Saturday night, it was a completely different scene from a year ago. No green and gold clad fans screaming in jubilation over an historic win, no Baylor player using his performance against them as a leaping point to claim the Heisman Trophy. Instead, there was a sense of relief, of jubilation, of closure.
The Sooners' secondary isn't perfect. It still has a lot of work to do in order to become an elite unit, but the strides it has made this season cannot be ignored. Saturday night provided the perfect measuring stick for OU. Last season, this game was this unit's lowest point. This year, it was a performance to point to as an indicator of just how far it's come.