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Oklahoma football: More in tune with 3-4 defense

by Berry Tramel Published: August 5, 2014

OU's Geneo Grissom tackles Notre Dame tailback George Atkinson III in the Sooners' 35-21 victory in South Bend last season. (AP Photo)
OU's Geneo Grissom tackles Notre Dame tailback George Atkinson III in the Sooners' 35-21 victory in South Bend last season. (AP Photo)

Bob Stoops likes to remind everyone that in the end, OU had plenty of quality defensive linemen last season. What he doesn’t like to admit is that the Sooners found such depth in part by switching defenses. OU went to a 3-4 alignment last season, needing one fewer lineman. When asked last summer about a possible switch to the 3-4, Stoops downplayed the chances, saying the Sooners were dabbling.

In truth, OU went all in on the 3-4, and despite some struggles, it paid off in the end. The Sooners curtailed OSU’s high-powered offense to some extent in Bedlam, then put enough pressure on Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron to force turnovers and sacks that swung the Sugar Bowl OU’s way.

Now OU is in Year 2 of the 3-4 and should be in much better shape.

“Now, there isn’t any wonder about it,” Stoops said. “That should help us. Scheme wise, we’re light years ahead of where we were, how we’re handling the different formations from the offense.

“We’ve got a chance to be good.”

Special good? “We’ll see,” Stoops said. “We’ve got to be able to go out and do that. The fact that we’re much more in tune with what we want to do, scheme wise, how we want to approach other people. And our familiarity is much further along. How much better, we’ll see.”

The Sooners proved to be fine at nose tackle last season. Needing only one interior lineman instead of two proved to be invaluable after the back injury to Jordan Phillips. The Sooners survived adequately with Jordan Wade and Torrea Peterson at nose tackle. Had OU been in a 4-3, depth would have been a huge problem.

Now the Sooners are fully stocked along the line, so much so that Sugar Bowl star Geneo Grissom is taking a turn at outside linebacker. And the Sooners better know how to play a defense that is more spread out.

“There’s no comparison,” Stoops said. “A year ago, we were just implementing the basic 3-4 defense. Now our guys understand how we want to play that particular play. We have our different wrinkles how to screw up blocking schemes. All that’s a big deal. Now our players are comfortable with it. If we play it base, all our kids know, this is how we want it handled.”

2013 was a growing-pains season. The OU defense was battered against Texas and torched against Baylor. Even Kansas State and Alabama stung the Sooners with big plays, and Mike Stoops still bristles at OSU’s 200 rushing yards against the Sooners in Stillwater. Tailback Desmond Roland had 144 yards alone.

“Going through the whole 12 games helped us grow, learn about the system, strengths and weaknesses, personnel, adjustments,” said Mike Stoops, who enters his third season in his second stint as OU’s defensive coordinator. “When teams got big against us, and we were playing with (Julian) Wilson and (Eric) Striker, we were playing with almost six defensive backs. Certainly the Texas game, the Notre Dame game. We got pushed around. That helped us against Alabama, in trying to adapt to their style.

“We put this system in to handle the spread, then everyone got big on us, in trying to be physical with us.”

Now the Sooners know better how to handle such situations in Year 2 of the 3-4 defense.

by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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