NORMAN — Mike Stoops admits being embarrassed by the way Oklahoma’s defense performed over the final few games of his first season back as defensive coordinator.
“Certainly, you always take it personal,” Stoops said. “I don’t think there’s a coach that doesn’t take each particular game very personal. A lot of it was schematic. Some of it was personnel. Some it was coaching as well. You’ve gotta look yourself in the mirror and try to get your players in a better position, and that’s what we were able to do from one year to the next.”
There’s no doubt about that. For all the hype surrounding Trevor Knight and the Oklahoma offense entering 2014, there has been no greater transformation for the Sooners than the one made by Stoops and his defense.
The entire unit is in an entirely different place than it was last spring. Stoops spent the 2013 offseason installing a new scheme while licking the wounds left by Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and West Virginia’s Tavon Austin, both of whom humiliated the Sooner defense late in the 2012 season.
“We had to reestablish ourselves as a defensive football team,” Stoops said. “Obviously the year before was disappointing in a lot of ways for all of us. Schematically it wasn’t what it needed to be, and certainly our execution wasn’t what we needed to be.”
Austin rushed for a stunning 345 yards in the Sooners’ 50-49 shootout victory on Nov. 17, 2012. Then less than two months later, Manziel made OU’s defense look foolish throughout a 41-13 Cotton Bowl rout.
All told, the Sooner defense surrendered 2,675 yards and 189 points over the five-game stretch that ended the 2012 season.
Stoops switched to a 3-3-5 defensive scheme, and the results were impressive for most of the 2013 season. Even in OU’s 41-12 loss at Baylor last November, the defense was hardly to blame. It held the Bears’ high-powered offense in check for most of the first half, but the Sooner defenders never had much of a chance to catch their breath because of offensive struggles.
“From doing extra after workouts to studying in the film room to just buying into what the coaches were trying to tell us,” defensive end Chuka Ndulue said when asked what changed after the Cotton Bowl embarrassment. “There were a few years when we didn’t finish strong, and lost when we came toward the end of the season. This year, it was just preached over and over again and we bought into that.”
Oklahoma certainly finished strong in 2013. After the Baylor game, the Sooners ended the season on a four-game winning streak that culminated in a 45-31 Sugar Bowl upset of Alabama.
Senior defensive end Geneo Grissom said he’s rewatched the Sugar Bowl twice since he played in it, recording 2.5 sacks and returning a late fumble for a touchdown.
“Don’t ever let that happen again,” Grissom said when asked what he thinks today about the 2013 Cotton Bowl.
“It's just for me a matter of realizing that I don't have much time left here, and if I want to do what I came here to do, I’ve just got to start making plays and making sure that the coaches see that.”