EL PASO, Texas — When looking back at the forest fires that burned the Oklahoma defense in 2011, we always focus on Texas Tech, Baylor and Oklahoma State. Defeats all, the Sooners gave up 41, 45 and 44 in those games.
But David King remembers Kansas. The hapless Jayhawks had 246 first-half yards and 17 first-half points. The Sooners eventually won 47-17, but it foreshadowed what was to come.
“Last year, we got complacent,” said King, now a senior defensive tackle. “I told this to the guys. We started off 5-0, 6-0, we stomped Texas. Went to Kansas the next week, and we just went through the motions the first half.”
Time for no more motions with the OU defense, starting Saturday night in this Mountain time zone outpost, where Texas-El Paso awaits in Sun Bowl Stadium with no great offense but more fangs than the Sooners encountered at Kansas last October.
If the Sooners are to justify their No. 4 national ranking and status as Big 12 favorite, they've got to play better defense.
“The last two or three years, we haven't really been playing Oklahoma defense,” King said. “We're tired of hearing, ‘defense is the weak link, blah, blah, blah.' We want to come out and make a statement that we can ball like the Alabama defense, the LSU defense.”
Here's what's nutty. OU led the Big 12 in scoring defense, 22.1 points a game. In total defense, the Sooners were second in the Big 12, 376.2 yards per game. OU played some solid defense at times. Florida State scored just 13 points against OU; Kansas State scored just 17.
And Bob Stoops, so upset with the defensive deficiencies that he brought his brother back as coordinator, at the cost of long-time pal Brent Venables, is high on the potential of the 2012 OU defense.
Despite the departure of four defensive stars or leaders – Jamell Fleming, Frank Alexander, Ronnell Lewis and Travis Lewis – Stoops is undeterred.
“It's natural to graduate guys at the college level,” he said.
Stoops is high on his d-ends and raves about cornerback Aaron Colvin, calling him the equal of Fleming at cornerback.
Of course, individual talent never has been the knock on the Sooner defense. Big plays are the problem, and limiting them is a must if 2012 is going to a special season.
That might as well start Saturday night. UTEP is not an offensive juggernaut, but neither was Kansas, and last year the Jayhawks set the table for the meltdowns of later weeks.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.