NORMAN — In the two games since senior linebacker Corey Nelson's season-ending injury, Oklahoma's run defense has been significantly less productive.
Texas rushed for 255 yards — with two individual 100-yard performances — then Kansas gained 118 yards rushing in the first quarter alone last weekend.
After halftime, though, the Jayhawks managed just 30 rushing yards. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said the problem was simply young, inexperienced players lining up incorrectly.
Against hapless Kansas, the Sooner defense could afford a bad start. But Saturday on Owen Field, No. 10-ranked Texas Tech could rout Oklahoma if it takes too long to figure things out defensively.
“We have to be able recognize it and react properly on the field,” Stoops said. “We're working hard on it, but obviously we have to keep doing it. It shouldn't take a quarter and a half to figure it out.”
Oklahoma's run defense played pretty well through the first five games of the season, although there were still occasional leaks. West Virginia's Dreamius Smith rushed for a 75-yard touchdown in Week 2, and Notre Dame's George Atkinson III scored on an 80-yard run in the Sooners' win in South Bend.
The past two weeks, though, the run defense has struggled more consistently without Nelson, who defensive coordinator Mike Stoops called the “conductor on the field.”
“He could get people lined up because he's a very experienced player,” Mike Stoops said.
Without Nelson, the Sooners are relying on linebackers lacking that experience. Sophomore Frank Shannon has been forced into that conductor role without Nelson, Mike Stoops said.
“Frank has to worry about getting Frank lined up, and then tries to help other people,” Mike Stoops said. “That's just familiarity of what you're doing. You have to know what you're doing before you can help anybody else. That's kind of what has happened; we're having a hard time helping each other because we're recognizing and seeing things late, then you really can't help anybody else out.”
True freshman Dominique Alexander and sophomore P.L. Lindley have each taken on greater roles since Nelson's injury. Lindley was recruited as a linebacker, but switched to defensive end early in his career.
After Nelson's injury, OU coaches moved him back to linebacker. He made two tackles and recovered a fumble in the Sooners' loss to Texas two weeks ago, then made his first career start last weekend at Kansas.
“Just overall — the problem we've been having as a team — just knowing my assignments better, reading formations, knowing what they're coming out in and knowing how to line up to them and play each fit differently,” Lindley responded when asked what he felt he needed to improve on personally.
Bob Stoops refused to blame the run defense's struggles on Nelson's absence.
“I don't want to say because it's an excuse and at the end of the day, he's not there and he's not going to be,” Bob Stoops said. “The other guys have to be able to do it.
“But I don't believe it's just them. It's stuff we should have been able to line up to because we anticipated it, worked it, we walked through on Friday and then we don't handle it.”