NORMAN — Earlier this week, safety Gabe Lynn said last season's Oklahoma defense was soft.
Julian Wilson said the defense got worn down last year as the Sooners' offense played at a frenetic pace and the defense allowed plenty of long drives.
“People got gassed, just being on the field a lot,” Wilson said, “I feel like coming into this season they're doing a way better job controlling the clock.”
Through two games, Oklahoma's offense has had the ball for nearly 2:30 per game more than it did last season. The Sooners have run the ball 30 more times through two games this season while throwing just five fewer times.
“It's a little different style than people are used to seeing from us,” Sooners coach Bob Stoops said.
It certainly is. In the past two weeks, Oklahoma has two of its top 10 team rushing performances since 2003.
The defense is drawing plenty of praise for its play so far, having given up just seven points total through two games. The offense, though, even with the issues at quarterback, is providing plenty of help.
“At times here when we've had some of the poor defensive performances, people don't look at the offensive performance right next to it, it wasn't very good either,” Stoops said. “It magnifies, especially if you're tempo and throwing the ball, you're out there for three plays, go three-and-out and use 30 seconds on the clock and the defense is right back out there. It's not real healthy.”
It's not that the Sooners have slowed things down offensively, although they have been able to pick and choose spots to crank up the speed.
“The tempo's still there of course,” wide receiver Jalen Saunders said. “But the rushing, stretching out the time of possession on our offense and giving some rest to the defense has definitely helped.
“We're still a tempo team, though. We're not trying to slow down our tempo. We're still trying to get the ball, get as many plays in as possible.”
In the wins over Louisiana-Monroe and West Virginia, the Sooners had nine drives lasting eight or more plays, with all but one of them taking at least 3:50 off the clock.
“Scoring every minute or two is not a factor,” Stoops said. “It's wasting a minute and punting the ball that's a factor, or going out for two plays and turning it over.”
Last season, it took nearly five games before OU had eight drives that lasted at least 3:50.
So this year's defense is getting plenty of time to catch their breaths — and adjust — between drives.
“For the offense to be able to pound defenses like that, for us to get our rest, we love that as a defense,” cornerback Zack Sanchez said. “We love cheering those guys on, so that helps a lot.”
Lynn felt an immediate difference in the opener, even when the Sooners did struggle offensively early.
Of ULM's 15 drives, 11 lasted four plays or less. Against West Virginia, OU's defense was off the field in three plays or less seven times out of 14.
“We were on defense a lot, but we were getting three-and-outs,” Lynn said. “I didn't feel winded at all. It definitely showed up.”
The Sooners aren't likely to keep up their average of more than 310 rushing yards per game — the most they've averaged since Stoops took over 15 years ago was 208.4 yards per game in 2004. But if the Sooners are able to keep up the improvement in the ground game and the corresponding bump in time of possession, the defense figures to benefit later in the year.
“If you are running the football, you are controlling the line of scrimmage.” Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “At times last year, we weren't able to do that on either side of the ball. That's what we have to get better at and we're making a conscious effort to be more physical on the line of scrimmage on both sides.”