The Oklahoma Sooners defense has fallen on tough times over the past few years.
After ending the 2009 season ranked in the top 10 in total defense, the Sooners have been ranked in the middle of the pack of FBS defenses across the country the past two seasons.
Saturday’s spring game was the first glimpse of the new and supposedly improved unit under new defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. However, it was a bit tough to get a good handle on how the unit performed, due to player substitutions, and injuries that prevented several normal starters from playing.
The first team offense marched straight down the field for a field goal on the first drive of the game, but the defense stiffened for the rest of the game, something head coach Bob Stoops praised after the game.
“Early on I didn’t feel like they played the run like they should,” Stoops said. “But then we settled in and were a little more gap responsible. I thought for the most part they showed good discipline.”
The defense did force 12 punts on the afternoon, and at one point forced three consecutive three and outs.
New coordinator Mike Stoops said the defense ran a more basic set instead of breaking out a lot of complex things. However, it’s more of Stoops’ plan to keep things simple rather than make a defense with a lot of complex formations.
“Some things that we’ve worked on and what we’re going to attempt to do in the fall come from some forms of what we did today but it was pretty generic today,” Stoops said.
The players seem to be extremely excited about Stoops’ policy of making things simple. In addition to that, junior linebacker Corey Nelson said there hasn’t been a drop in intensity at all, despite the change from Brent Venables to Stoops.
“There haven’t been any changes at all,” Nelson said. “So far, we haven’t skipped a beat. They came and knew exactly what type of attitude we needed to have and what the attitude of this Oklahoma football team was. The transition was very smooth.”
Stoops said he’s been encouraged by the progress the defense made in the spring. He especially emphasized the importance of playing together as an 11-man unit rather than three separate groups, or 11 individuals.
“When we’re playing good we have to work together,” Stoops said. “We’re not a team that can’t be in the right place, understand your responsibility. We’re not that type of team. When we play together we’re really solid across the board.
Stoops also said he is extremely optimistic for the potential the unit has to be an elite group.
“I think we’re going to be a very complete defense,” Stoops said. “When we come back in August we’ll have some guys that weren’t with us today that we desperately need. Our pass rush needs to improve, but we’ll need to continue keeping position on the football when it comes to deep balls.”