NORMAN — Mike Stoops’ Oklahoma defense improved dramatically between Years One and Two of his return to Norman, and not just in ways that can be tracked numerically.
OU rediscovered the swagger that made it one of the most daunting defenses in college football at several points throughout the game’s history.
Making that improvement all the more impressive is the fact that at this point a year ago, OU coaches hadn’t even started installing the 3-3-5 scheme that helped make the improvement possible.
“It was a work in progress through the season last year, and it was still good,” OU head coach Bob Stoops said in a recent interview with The Oklahoman.
The Sooners’ 2012 defense looked good throughout much of the early portion of the schedule, but it struggled mightily late against the high-powered spread offenses of Baylor, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M.
During those games, the Sooner coaches used either one or zero linebackers, replacing them with extra defensive backs, in an effort to slow down those potent attacks. What often happened, though, was a complete collapse in run defense. For the season, OU surrendered an average of 192.23 rushing yards per game, ranking 89th in the country in that category.
There were rumors throughout the last offseason that OU coaches were moving toward a 3-4 defense, but that was never installed last spring. When the Sooners played their annual spring game in April 2013, the defense came out with four down linemen.
“We were talking about it in the spring, Mike and I and the other guys, but we didn’t go to it until two-a-days,” Bob Stoops said.
By keeping at least two linebackers — and usually three — on the field at all times in 2013, the Sooner run defense made drastic improvement, even after senior linebacker and team captain Corey Nelson was lost to injury in the fourth game of the season.
The better system resulted in better play, which obviously created more confidence among Sooner defenders.
Even in Oklahoma’s embarrassing 41-12 loss at Baylor in November, the OU defense hung tough against the Bears’ powerful offense. The Sooners’ lack of offensive production eventually caused the defense to wear down in the second half.
Entering 2014, OU must replace most of its defensive backfield, but Bob Stoops said he’s confident moving forward because his staff has spent the offseason fine-tuning its scheme.
“We made all kinds of different tweaks and adjustments to it throughout the spring that we didn’t have the luxury of doing a year ago,” he said. “We’re definitely much further along in what we want to do and how we want to handle, not only Big 12 offenses, but any offense.”