NORMAN — Corey Nelson was all smiles after Oklahoma's 34-0 thumping of Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday night.
But he delivered a serious message after the Sooners posted their first shutout since 2010 — this is just the start.
“We're not satisfied at all,” the Sooners linebacker said. “I will make sure that the defense won't be satisfied with this win that we got, especially a shutout. We have to continue to stay hungry and stay humble.”
After giving up 40 points in three of its final four games last season, Oklahoma's defense was plenty humbled.
But they started Mike Stoops' second season back as defensive coordinator in fine form.
Louisiana-Monroe, which averaged more than 400 yards of total offense last season and returned most of its starters, managed just 166 yards against the Sooners. Only 38 of those yards came on the ground and only three of those came from quarterback Kolton Browning.
Browning was hurt early, limiting his mobility, but the Sooners still didn't allow him much room to work.
The Sooners did it with plenty of pressure, an element that was all-too-often missing from last year's defense.
OU's defense also came up big at opportune moments, holding Monroe to just 2 of 16 on third-down conversions.
Oklahoma's defense mostly lined up in a three-man front and kept Browning scrambling with a healthy dose of defensive linemen Charles Tapper and Jordan Phillips.
Tapper saw some playing time last season but will play a leading role at defensive end this year.
The Baltimore product who didn't start playing football until he was a junior in high school lived up to the hype, with three tackles, a quarterback hurry and plenty more that didn't show up on the stat sheet.
The pressure by Tapper and the rest of the defensive line was certainly appreciated by freshman cornerback Zack Sanchez, Tapper's roommate.
“It makes our job completely easier,” cornerback Zack Sanchez said. “We have an athletic D-line this year. It's a lot different from last year's D-line. Those guys, they get after it and they pressure the quarterback and it makes things easier.”
Plenty of young players contributed on defense, with Tapper, Eric Striker and Sanchez leading the way and junior college transfer Quincy Russell getting some work up front
“We have a bright future looking ahead,” Tapper said. “We're going to try to do this every game, try to hold them under 100 yards rushing.”
Another sophomore, Striker, didn't have eye-popping numbers either, recording just one tackle, but did plenty to disrupt the Warhawks.
Striker started, creeping toward the line in his linebacker spot and made things difficult for ULM.
“That's his spot,” Nelson said. “That's where we needed him at. He was balling in fall camp at that position and he kept that up.”
Nelson was the Sooners top linebacker last year but by the end of the season, linebackers had grown obsolete in the defensive scheme as Stoops adjusted to Big 12 offenses that were vastly different from what he coached against during his first term.
While Nelson preached about not being satisfied and staying hungry, he also said this was a positive first step toward the redemption of the defense.
“Absolutely it is,” Nelson said with a laugh. “We just played out there with a chip on our shoulder. I feel like every week this whole season we have to play with a chip on our shoulder. We have to stay hungry and we have to stay humble in what we're doing.”