NORMAN — In the age of fast-paced, no-huddle offenses that produce record point and yardage totals, what does great defense look like?
College football teams across the Big 12 — and the country — are playing faster than ever, causing defensive stalwarts like Mike Stoops to reconsider expectations.
“Winning is the most important thing to us, playing good enough defense to win,” said the OU defensive coordinator. “We want to dominate. That's out the window.
“We have to be rational in what we expect from our players. Our expectations will be to play great defense. We're not gonna change that. Numbers aren't relevant. You have to look at the totality of what we're trying to do. … We're not good enough to just line up and maul people. And nobody really is anymore in this league.”
The Sooners' offense went no-huddle five years ago in 2008, and has run the system with loads of success. Sam Bradford won the Heisman Trophy and OU played for the national championship that year.
Over the next four seasons, quarterback Landry Jones broke virtually every passing record in school history and led the Sooners to a pair of Big 12 Championships.
Still, as these offenses have evolved into more sophisticated — and even faster — machines, it's had an undeniable impact on defense in college football.
When offenses rush to the line of scrimmage after a play, the defense rarely has time to make adjustments or substitute players.
A wide receiver can run a 50-yard route, quickly slip off the field and be replaced by a fresh substitute, while the defender covering that receiver has to sprint back upfield before the next snap.
Prominent, successful head coaches like Alabama's Nick Saban and Arkansas' Bret Bielema have criticized such offenses as unfair to defenses and potentially dangerous for players' health.
“I really thought Nick Saban had a great quote in saying that football wasn't meant to be played like basketball,” Stoops said. “But I mean really that's what the game is. I would like to see the referees, you know what I mean, handle the pace of the game.”
That's what the NFL plans to do with the highflying, supersonic offense that Chip Kelly brought from Oregon to the Philadelphia Eagles.
“We have to make sure teams understand that they don't control the tempo, our officials do,” NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino told The Wall Street Journal late last month. “We're going through our normal ball mechanics; we aren't going to rush (unless) it's in the two-minute drill.”
Sooners head coach Bob Stoops has indicated that he's open to slowing down his offense, if only to give his defense a rest.
When a team's offense scores quickly — or runs a no-huddle attack and goes three-and-out — its defense can have trouble catching its breath on the sideline.
“To be honest with you, that's what the summer's for is to get in shape,” said OU senior cornerback Aaron Colvin. “Whatever the offenses want, as long as it's working, I'm happy. If they're scoring points, then you can't complain.
“You score points with me then I'm going to go out there and play my hardest to stop them.”
Bob Stoops said the most important thing when running a fast offense is picking up first downs and sustaining drives.
In last season's Cotton Bowl loss to Texas A&M, the Sooners trailed 14-13 at halftime but received to start the second half.
OU failed to pick up a single first down on any of its first three second-half possessions, allowing the Aggies to pile on points and pull away in the eventual 41-13 rout.
“When you're putting the defense back out there in those situations … they go hand-in-hand,” Bob Stoops said of the Cotton Bowl's second half. “You've got to stay on the field, too.”