My observations about the OU defense in the spring game Saturday:
* On the first snap of the game, Trey Millard bolted for an 11-yard run. On the second snap, Brennan Clay gained 15 yards off a handoff, despite a high snap from center that threw off the timing of the play. On the third snap, Clay gained 12 yards.
Bob Stoops was steaming.
But eventually, Stoops’ defense stiffened. The Sooners used 32 more running plays the rest of the day, and only three went for more than six yards.
“Early on, I didn’t feel they played the run like they should,” Stoops said. “But for the most part, they showed good discipline.”
Of course, the OU run game hasn’t exactly been a dynamo in recent years. So let’s reserve judgment. Thirty-five running plays, and six went for double-digit yardage. That’s not a good ratio, although the overall average gain per rush – 4.0 – was not too bad.
* The pass coverage was mostly solid. Few receivers ran free. The quarterbacks combined to complete 35 of 54, but most completions were short. Beleaguered safety Javon Harris got beat deep by Jaz Reynolds on Blake Bell’s scramble, but Stoops exonerated Harris, calling it a scramble play. “That happens,” Stoops said. “The ball’s thrown over the opposite shoulder, the receiver sees it, the DB doesn’t.”
Still, it’s got to be a little disconcerting to see Harris get beat in the spring, while playing strong safety, the same way he got beat in the autumn, while playing free safety. “We just gave up that one big play, but going into the game that was our main focus,” said safety Tony Jefferson. “So, it’s kind of disappointing giving up a play like that. I feel like we bounced back and made some good plays.”
* The pass rush was not fierce. Only two sacks were recorded. But two things: 1. blitzing was at a minimum; 2. The Big 12 officiating crew was slow to blow the whistle, while the Sooner defenders were leery of hitting their blue-jerseyed teammate. OU coaches don’t hold much sway over the refs; over the players, they do.
* Hard hits: linebacker Jaydan Bird, safety Jesse Paulsen.
Tipped passes: cornerback Demontre Hurst, defensive end Chuka Ndulue.
Sacks: safety Julian Wilson.
Big plays: defensive tackle Torrea Peterson, Jefferson, defensive tackle Jordan Phillips.
* Bad sign: the Sooners produced no turnovers. Hurst came closest to an interception. “It kind of caught me by surprise to see the ball coming at me that fast,” he said. “I kind of got my hands on it. I really wanted that pick and think it could’ve sealed the game for us. That’s just one thing that I have to work on. They gave me a hard time on the sideline already. They were telling me I could’ve closed out the game for us, but I’ll be alright. It’s just one thing I have to work on and make sure I’m able to make that play on the ball.”
* Only two touchdowns were scored. Bell’s big play, plus fourth-team QB Kendall Thompson’s last-ditch drive of 80 yards in nine plays, with the clocking running out. Afterward, Jefferson played diplomat. With everyone clamoring to know who will be the second-team quarterback, Bell or Drew Allen, Jefferson said, “I really like what Kendall (Thompson) was doing. He really came out and played today. What he does best is run. He scrambled a lot and he also threw pretty well. He caught my eye, and he’s always had the talent.”
* You couldn’t tell if the Sooners really did simplify the defense under new coordinator Mike Stoops, since the defense is always simplified in the spring. But don’t go believing linebacker Cory Nelson, who said, “There haven’t been any changes at all.”
But Nelson said man-to-man coverage has been emphasized: “Being able to not get beat deep, allowing the secondary and the linebackers to become cohesive and help each other on certain routes. We also just worked on remaining physical. That’s a key point we really focused on here in the spring.”