Sack man Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (above) is a key for the Oklahoma defense
When the Auburn Tigers take the field on offense in Monday night’s Sugar Bowl game against the Oklahoma Sooners they will face a football team loaded with talent at every level, but a group that has struggled at times under coordinator Mike Stoops.
Allowing 29.7 points per game, Oklahoma has given up more than 40 points and more than 500 yards of total offense four times each. That is not what you expect from a 10-win football team, but that is what you get from this group of Sooners.
The most interesting part of the numbers for the Oklahoma defense comes on the ground. Giving up 160.8 yards per game and 14 touchdowns on the ground, the Sooners have allowed some big numbers this year to the most physical offensive teams they’ve faced.
West Virginia’s 388 yards were the most allowed by Oklahoma with Ohio State going for 291, Oklahoma State with 217 and Baylor with 212. The rushing yards by the Mountaineers, Cowboys and Bears all came in the final three weeks of the season.
"This Oklahoma defense is a pretty good defense now," Auburn Offensive Coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. "They do a really good job in their league. They're sound. They do a very good job of mixing up coverages and fronts. They're very multiple. They have got a player that can really get after the passer. Number 31 (Okoronkwo) is really, really good. He can really affect the game."
The rushing yards allowed isn’t a surprise when you look at the lack of size for the Sooners up front on defense. Playing a 3-4 scheme built on speed, Oklahoma starts redshirt freshman D.J. Ward (6-2, 265) at one end with senior Austin Roberts (6-6, 275) on the other side and fellow senior Jordan Wade (6-3, 310) in the middle. Top reserve Neville Gallimore (6-3, 305) gives the Sooners more size up front when he lines up at end.
Speed is the key for the Sooners at linebacker with leading tackler Jordan Evans (6-2, 235) and edge rusher Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (6-2, 245) doing the most damage. A senior, Evans has 89 stops this year and also leads the team with four interceptions. Okoronwko has nine sacks, 10 1/2 tackles for losses and 67 tackles on the season.
Jordan Evans has been productive for the Sooners this season.
Rounding out the starters for Oklahoma at linebacker are 6-0, 211 junior Emmanuel Beal and 6-3, 221 freshman Caleb Kelly. Beal is second on the team with 76 tackles this season and has also added two sacks and six quarterback hurries. Kelly has just 24 stops on the season and comes off the field when the Sooners add an extra defensive back.
That’s something Oklahoma does often with nickel Will Johnson (6-0, 192, Jr.) a physical player with 44 tackles on the year. At cornerback junior Jordan Thomas (6-0, 192) is one of the leaders in the secondary with 44 tackles and a team-high 16 passes broken up. On the other side freshman Jordan Parker (6-1, 190) gives the Sooners a pair of big cornerbacks.
At safety senior Ahmad Thomas (6-0, 215) and junior Steven Parker (6-1, 204) round out a group of defensive backs all over six-feet tall. Thomas is fourth on the team with 59 tackles while Parker is just behind him with 55 stops.
Parker also has a pair of interceptions, part of just eight on the year for the Sooners with four coming from Evans at linebacker.
Despite the lack of turnovers in the secondary the Sooners have fared well against the pass for the most part. Allowing 279 yards per game on the year and 28 touchdowns, a big chunk of that came from Texas Tech when the Red Raiders threw for 734 yards and five touchdowns in a 66-59 Oklahoma win.
Five times this year the Sooners allowed less than 200 yards passing in a game with the season low coming to Ohio State. In that game the Buckeyes threw for just 152 yards, but controlled the game on the ground and made the throws count with four going for touchdowns.
That’s the gameplan the Tigers would like to follow on Monday night and the Auburn offense will have some opportunities for success against this Oklahoma defense.