CINCINNATI — Coming out of the weekend, turns out Texas has problems bigger than Oklahoma ever imagined.
But despite escaping the nonleague slate unscathed, the Sooners should be concerned with an alarming development heading into the Red River Rivalry.
The inability to stop the run.
A flaw that almost doomed the Sooners in narrow wins over Air Force and Cincinnati.
A flaw that almost certainly will doom them in the Big 12 — if not corrected.
"Someone having the ability to establish the run is very concerning," said defensive coordinator Brent Venables. "They're issues that are very correctable, but some of our good players are making mistakes technique and fundamental wise ... very simple concepts. Plays that we just have to stay in our gaps and play with discipline."
Up until now, a staple of the Bob Stoops era at OU has been the systematic stuffing of the run.
Last year, the Sooners ranked eighth nationally in run defense. In fact, every Sooner defense since 2000 has been in the top 25 in run defense.
But through four games this season, OU is No. 93 in run defense while surrendering almost 178 rushing yards a game.
A week after Air Force's triple-option attack churned out 351 yards on the ground in Norman, Cincinnati's Isaiah Pead gashed the Sooners for 171 yards on 21 carries.
"I thought, first, he's an excellent player ... he was able to find spaces, cut back and break tackles," Stoops said Saturday night. "But I thought, for us, there were a few times execution-wise that we didn't squeeze him out when he was bending it back, and there were times we missed tackles. We had 'backers there to make tackles a time or two, and he'd either break the tackle or go right by us."
After the game, Venables seemed most frustrated with middle linebacker Tom Wort, who was shaky in tackling and allowed Pead to cut back on him for big gains more than once. That explosive ground attack contributed to another big fourth quarter against the Sooners, who seem to be holding on for dear life every game.
"It's been a long time since we've been gashed for that many 10-plus-yard runs," Venables said. "We've got to improve; we've got to evaluate some personnel. It's not real tricky. It's just very basic and fundamental and it's technique and having gap integrity and then tackling. We've got to improve tackling. It was very, very poor interior-wise, particularly at (linebacker). I thought Travis (Lewis) really played well, but we've got to improve at some other positions. I think a lot of guys are doing well. It's really one or two guys for the most part."
While OU hasn't been dominant lately, the Sooners have a lot going for them on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Landry Jones showed he can play well on the road. Ryan Broyles continues to be un-guardable. And while leaky at times, the defense has come up with a boatload of critical turnovers.
OU also survived a tough nonconference schedule and is 4-0 heading into Big 12 play, something the Longhorns can't say.
But to come out on top of the Big 12, too, the Sooner defense needs to be better. Especially against the run.
OU against the run this season: Opponent, Rushing yards allowed per game Utah State, 80 Florida State, 123 Air Force, 351 Cincinnati, 156 Sooners against the run in the Bob Stoops era Year, Rushing yards allowed per game, Run defense ranking 2010, 178, 93 2009, 92, 8 2008, 116, 20 2007, 110, 17 2006, 99, 16 2005, 91, 4 2004, 95, 6 2003, 113, 20 2002, 108, 14 2001, 90, 7 2000, 108, 23 1999, 125, 37 Compiled by Jake Trotter