NORMAN — Over the past nine months, record-setting offensive statistics and intense criticism have left Oklahoma defenders wounded.
These aren't injuries that prevent anyone from playing; on the contrary, playing is virtually the only way to cure a football player's hurt pride. The Sooner defense begins that healing process Saturday evening against Louisiana-Monroe on Owen Field in the 2013 season opener.
“I can see the guys' mentality,” said senior cornerback Aaron Colvin. “We hear a lot of the negative things that are going around. Sometimes we talk about it, sometimes we don't. But we all know the expectations for us.”
Oklahoma played relatively well defensively through its first eight games last season, but often looked completely overmatched against the high-powered spread attacks of Baylor, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, which averaged 43 points and 581.25 yards against the Sooners.
In many statistical categories, including yards and points per game allowed and takeaways, 2012 ranked as the worst defensive season in Oklahoma's Bob Stoops era.
The Sooners were 112th in the nation in tackles-for-loss per game, and recovered only three fumbles, the program's lowest number ever.
Expectations for the 2013 Sooner defense are low because of those facts, plus the seven starters Oklahoma must replace in key spots, particularly in the secondary and on the defensive line.
Senior linebacker Corey Nelson — who, along with Colvin, was named a team captain this week — asked reporters to excuse his language before describing the way OU's defensive linemen feel about the widespread, negative opinion many have of them.
“They get (ticked) off about it to hear that the D-line is iffy this year,” Nelson said. “It puts a fire up under those guys. They told me that. They've got something to prove this year more than anybody.”
Nelson added that he feels the same way about how the overall defense is publicly perceived.
For Nelson, 2013 is not only his last season of eligibility, but also the final opportunity to fulfill his extremely high potential and consistently become the player Stoops called “the best player out there on defense … In fact, it's not even close,” two springs ago.