NORMAN — Oklahoma coaches and players largely scoffed Monday at suggestions that any problems on defense — like the 14 fourth-quarter points surrendered in Saturday's loss to Kansas State, or the one takeaway through three games — will require more than minor adjustments here and there.
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said overreacting is to be expected from fans and media, adding that it's “what fans do.”
Coach Bob Stoops, when asked why safeties Tony Jefferson and Javon Harris accounted for a combined 26 tackles Saturday, said it was all about the scheme.
“The front seven did pretty well overall,” he said.
But junior middle linebacker Tom Wort was especially critical of himself — a stark change in attitude from three weeks ago — and even went so far as to say the team wasn't physical enough in practice.
“We definitely need to be more physical in practice,” Wort said. “That's one of the differences I've seen this year. We need to be more physical against the scouts.
“We're kinda being nice to those guys. That's something that hasn't been that way since I've been here. I don't know why it's changed, but (Tuesday) we'll turn it up.”
After coming under intense criticism from fans because of his perceived lack of production in the season opener at UTEP, Wort adamantly stood up for himself, saying he did exactly what was asked of him — gap maintenance — and was given a 93 percent grade from coaches.
So how did he grade out this week, with four tackles against the Wildcats?
“Not very good,” Wort admitted.
Through three games, Wort and fellow linebacker Corey Nelson have combined for just 30 stops overall, and three of OU's top-four tacklers are defensive backs.
Mike Stoops said people read too much into numbers like that, calling the linebackers' tackle number “insignificant.”
“You know, it's amazing,” he said. “No one looks at the first three quarters and what you do well. Everyone wants to look at what you do bad in the fourth quarter.
“I know it's a 60-minute game, but we're not gonna disregard what we did well. The media and the fans can; that's OK. That's what they do. But our players know what we did good, what we didn't do well and what we need to get better at.”
Wort attributes the declined number of linebacker tackles to OU's changed system under Mike Stoops, who replaced Brent Venables as defensive coordinator.
“It's definitely a different system,” Wort said. “It's more designed for the safeties to make plays, instead of linebackers.
“Coach V had it more funneled toward the linebackers, but it's not frustrating. I'm gonna do whatever I can do to help the team win.”
Bob Stoops opened his Monday news conference by declaring the 14-point swing off turnovers the “story of the game” Saturday.
There's truth to that; even after each of OU's quarterbacks fumbled — Landry Jones' was recovered in OU's endzone for a K-State touchdown; Blake Bell's came on the KSU 1-yard line when he just missed the shotgun snap — the Sooners held a three-point lead in the fourth quarter.
But then came Jones' ugly interception, which led to Kansas State's go-ahead touchdown drive.
Still, the opposite of Stoops' turnover argument holds true, also — Oklahoma's defense isn't getting takeaways, save for a first-quarter interception by safety Javon Harris against Florida A&M two weeks ago.
“It's a mindset and it's fundamentals,” Stoops said. “You have to credit those teams for taking care of the ball, but we have to do a better job of forcing turnovers, whether it's stripping the ball and forcing fumbles or getting interceptions.”