Oklahoma Sooner fans have good reason to be optimistic that their defense will improve with the return of Mike Stoops. A quick look at the history of the defense shows just how much of a difference his departure may have made.
When Stoops ran the unit from 1999-2003 the Sooners gave up an average of 15.5 points per game. This helped lead the crimson and cream to a BCS Championship victory over Florida State, a game in which the Seminoles managed only 2 points, and a 4-1 bowl record overall. The only bowl loss in those five years was at the hands of LSU. In that BCS title game, it was the Sooner offense (137 yards from scrimmage) that struggled.
In the eight seasons after Stoops departed to take the head coaching reigns at the University of Arizona, the defense did not perform as well. The points per game jumped to 20.1 and the Sooners wobbled to a 4-4 record in bowl games, including famously embarrassing defensive performances against USC, Boise State and West Virginia.
While many players and coaches have been quick to defend Brent Venables, now the defensive coordinator at Clemson, there’s a palpable buzz in Norman as they get ready to begin their 2012 season this Saturday against the UTEP Miners.
The talent has always been there. Tony Jefferson, Demontre Hurst and Tom Wort lead a talented veteran group that may only start one underclassman. But as former Oklahoma defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek told SoonerNation, “There’s something about Mike Stoops…he will get you to run through that wall. You want to show him so bad that you can do it; it gets you that motivated and amped up.”
Gone, he says, will be the chest-thumping and self-aggrandizing nicknames—the “Sharks” in the defensive backfield looked more like guppies in 2011. Instead, Stoops will drive them to focus and perform.
Much of the season’s success will be riding on the DB’s in the pass happy Big XII. It is one thing to give up big plays to Heisman winner Robert Griffin III or fellow 1st round pick Brandon Weeden. Sooner fans were horrified, though, after watching Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege throw for 441 yards passing while ending Oklahoma’s best-in-the-nation 39-game home winning streak.
For the defense and its new coordinator, the challenge is a personal one. Stoops told the Associated Press, “I didn’t all of a sudden become a bad coach. A lot of the media in Arizona may think so, but I was offered about ten different jobs. It’s personal for me, too.”