NORMAN — Following Monday's announcement that sophomore defensive tackle Jordan Phillips will undergo season-ending back surgery, Oklahoma has now lost two critically important defenders on a unit that lacked experience to begin with.
Senior linebacker and team captain Corey Nelson partially tore a pectoral muscle two weeks ago, likely ending his college football career.
“You can see a completely different defense out there without those two,” said junior defensive end Geneo Grissom. “They are great leaders and great football players. We're going to have to bounce back and have some guys step up.”
In Phillips' place, much of that pressure will fall on redshirt freshman Jordan Wade, who has started the last two weeks in Phillips' place against TCU and Texas.
“We didn't want anything to change up front since Jordan (Phillips) left,” Wade said a few days before the Longhorns beat OU 36-20 last weekend.
The defensive front clearly suffered without Phillips, though, and things become even more uncertain on the defensive line with him lost for the season.
In addition to Wade, junior Torrea Peterson will also see an increased role, and the Sooners will likely need junior-college transfer Quincy Russell to learn fast and contribute, as well.
“They played hard, but they need to play better,” Bob Stoops said of Wade and Peterson. “There were some technique issues. They haven't played as much as some of the other guys, so hopefully they'll (keep) improving as we go.”
Wade originally signed with Oklahoma in its recruiting class of 2011 out of Stony Point High in Round Rock, Texas, but failed to qualify academically. He worked on his grades and enrolled in the spring of 2012, then redshirted a year ago.
“He's a big, strong, physical guy,” junior defensive end Chuka Ndulue said of Wade. “He looks peaceful and quiet when he's walking, but when he puts that helmet on, he's a different animal.
“Being out there with him, he's grown up. He's finally being a student of the game and getting his mentality up, and just understanding.”
Oklahoma's defensive line was considered among the weakest units on the entire team before the 2013 season. Five senior defensive linemen graduated off the 2012 team, leaving little experience or depth.
But Phillips made dramatic improvement throughout the offseason, finally playing to his enormous potential under first-year defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery.
Through the Sooners' first four games, Phillips provided a dominant force inside the defensive line, getting good pressure on opposing quarterbacks and helping defend the run. He recorded seven tackles — two for loss — and 1.5 sacks in his four starts.
The Oklahoma defense played well against TCU without Phillips, but Texas gashed the Sooners, rushing for 255 yards as a team on 60 attempts.
“It's gonna have a big impact on us guys on the D-line because he made such a big impact,” sophomore defensive end Charles Tapper said of Phillips' injury. “He dominated the middle and was like a big brother to the whole D-line. Losing him is mentally hard as much as it is physical.”