Oklahoma football: Why Zack Sanchez is a symbol of the Sooners' defense

Frankly, as the Sooners conclude spring football on Saturday and point toward the fall, no one better embodies the big-play potential of this defense.
by Jenni Carlson Published: April 11, 2014
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photo -  Oklahoma's Zack Sanchez (15) returns a interception as Alabama's Amari Cooper (9) and Arie Kouandjio (77) chase him down during the NCAA football BCS Sugar Bowl game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the University of Alabama Crimson Tide (UA) at the Superdome in New Orleans, La., Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014.  Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman
Oklahoma's Zack Sanchez (15) returns a interception as Alabama's Amari Cooper (9) and Arie Kouandjio (77) chase him down during the NCAA football BCS Sugar Bowl game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the University of Alabama Crimson Tide (UA) at the Superdome in New Orleans, La., Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman

NORMAN — One photograph captured Zack Sanchez’s back, the No. 15 on his white jersey blurred because Kansas State receiver Tyler Lockett was so far away — and so wide open — that the camera couldn’t keep both in focus.

The other photograph had a clear view of Sanchez. You could see his eyes locking on a point down field, his right arm cradling an intercepted football. And this time, Alabama players giving chase were the blurry ones in the picture.

But shown black-and-white printouts of those photos freeze-framing two vastly different moments from last season, Sanchez had the same reaction.

“Frustration,” the Oklahoma cornerback said.

On the first? That’s understandable.

But the second?

“I didn’t score,” Sanchez explained. “I was mad I didn’t score. My legs kind of gave out on me.”

Fair enough, though the rest of the Sooner Nation looks back on that play fondly. It was one of the many highlights that Sanchez had the final few games of last season. Frankly, as the Sooners conclude spring football on Saturday and point toward the fall, no one better embodies the big-play potential of this defense.

But Sanchez also embodies the work that remains.

In the final three games of last season — a good win at Kansas State, a great win at Oklahoma State and a shock-the-world win against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl — Sanchez intercepted two passes. The first was returned for a victory-sealing touchdown at K-State. The second was a near touchdown right before halftime against Alabama.

But as electric as those plays were, Sanchez still had serious struggles in those games. Lockett had six catches for 206 yards — 206 yards! — and three touchdowns — three touchdowns! — before halftime. While it wasn’t all Sanchez’s fault, Aaron Colvin had to limp out of the hospital ward to cool off Lockett in the second half.

Then against Alabama, Sanchez missed a couple tackles and struggled in coverage allowing the Crimson Tide to hit a couple big plays early on.

His boom-and-bust play mirrored the overall performance of the Sooner defense. In those three big wins to end the season, OU gave up a whopping 430.0 yards a game. K-State’s 372 yards wasn’t bad, considering how nuts Lockett went in the first half. OSU’s 402 yards wasn’t great, but Alabama’s 516 yards?

Yikes.

For as vaunted as the Alabama offense was last season, the only other games the Crimson Tide went over 500 yards were against Texas A&M, Kentucky and Arkansas. Last I checked, none of those squads are being lauded for their defensive prowess.


by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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