NORMAN — Optimism abounds around Sooner football, and defense is the reason.
Trevor Knight played an all-world Sugar Bowl and is protected by a deep and salty wall of blockers. But Knight has played two good games since San Antone’s Ronald Reagan High School, and veteran playmakers are in short supply. The Sooner offense might be gangbusters, but let’s see.
Defense, that’s the OU calling card in 2014. Even with the squishy status of linebacker Frank Shannon, the Sooners have gaggles of starters returning. Depth on the line. Proven playmakers. Just ask Alabama.
But speaking of the Crimson Tide, the Sugar Bowl brings a little caution to the revelry. Yes, OU beat ’Bama in part because Eric Striker and Geneo Grissom assaulted the Sons of Saban with Braveheart fury, and Zack Sanchez made an interception that will live in infamy, and the Sooners produced five, count ‘em, five takeaways.
Yet Alabama wounded the Sooners, too. The OU defense was boom-and-bust in New Orleans. ’Bama had 14 possessions and totaled four touchdowns and one field goal, which while not spectacular defense is OK, when you’re playing a behemoth quarterbacked by one of college football’s greatest winners, A.J. McCarron.
But the way ’Bama scored sounded alarms that should not yet have subsided. Pass plays of 67 and 61 yards. A 43-yard run. Non-scoring pass plays of 53 and 63 yards. Five takeaways, but also five plays of greater than 42 yards. That’s football on the margin. That’s football that could go either way.
“That’s where we need to get better,” said OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. “Consistency … our awareness on the field … we were very inconsistent at times.”
And Alabama was no aberration.
Even in the good times of OU’s season-ending three-game winning streak against favorites, all played away from Owen Field, big plays were prevalent.
In frigid weather, OSU had seven plays of at least 20 yards, including runs of 23 and 51 yards. In cold weather, Kansas State produced four touchdowns and one field goal in 11 possessions, thanks to pass plays of 90, 48, 43, 30 and 22 yards.
Bottom line, the Sooner defense got off the field unscathed enough to win all three games and reroute the course of Oklahoma football. But before we start hailing this defense as dominant or championship-caliber, fewer home run balls would be nice.