Sooners hope to deny hat trick

NORMAN, Okla. — Two weeks ago, all the discussion was about the Sooner defense heading into its three most difficult offensive assignments yet in three consecutive weeks.

Round one with Baylor didn't fare so well; the Bears amassed 252 rushing yards--running back Lache Seastrunk and quarterback Nick Florence combined for 174 of those and four touchdowns--and 424 total yards.

Round two with West Virginia didn't go according to plan either; the Mountaineers gashed OU for 458 yards rushing, 458.

Stomach that for a second.

"We got run over pretty good," said OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. "That was a perfect storm. Just didn't have any answers. Very frustrating, very disappointing, but that's football in this league."

West Virginia had 320 more yards through the air for their 778 total on the night.

Well, then. Here comes round three.

Only the Big 12's leading rusher in Oklahoma State's Joseph Randle, who has accumulated 1,099 yards and 10 touchdowns on 213 carries, is set to come in to Norman.

Tally it up, and he's the only back in the league that's averaging more than 100 yards per game with his 109.9 mark.

No small task at hand, for sure.

Undoubtedly, the Sooners will have to shore some things up in order to avoid a repeat outing for the third straight week.

"Tackling, improving on executing assignments, just all-around playing good defense," said defensive tackle Casey Walker. "You can't really just pinpoint one or two things. It's just an all-around deal. We gotta play a thousand times better than that, especially to win now and for the rest of the games of the season."

Along with insuring they don't have 20 missed tackles again and they're in the right gaps for run support, they'll have to structurally shake some things up, too, in order to avoid doing so.

"We gotta do a lot of things differently," Stoops said. "It's very uncharacteristic to have three guys kind of single-handedly dominate you the whole night [like they did last week]. We've just gotta come up with a better plan."

There's not much argument that Randle isn't nearly as dynamic--the more Percy Harvin-type player--as West Virginia's Tavon Austin, who the Sooners saw carve them up for 344 rushing yards on his own and a pair of touchdowns last week.

Still, he might be the best downhill runner in the conference.

He reads holes out, possesses great power and has a nice little burst and certainly won't be an easy cover in the ground game.

"Randle does a great job making good cuts, has great vision, can make people miss him," said OU head coach Bob Stoops. "Does all of those things. He's an excellent back."

His sidekick Jeremy Smith has added 278 yards and seven touchdowns as well, so that, coupled with quarterback J.W. Walsh's ability to run the football, even thickens the plot.

"I mean you have to stop the run game to win the game," said defensive end David King. "And you stop the run game, you make them pass. We've been playing pretty well, pretty good pass defense as year. But if you can't stop the run game, you won't win the game."

Therefore, it's been the focus ever since last Saturday's embarrassing performance and will remain it throughout the week.

"Coach Stoops said we'll have a better game plan this week, so just put the faith in the coaches to have a game plan and put the faith in the players to go out there and execute it," King said. "We're gonna continue to prepare at the level we've been preparing at throughout the course of the season, and it's just come out on Saturday and try to put it all together and try to have a dominant performance."

All of that is good talk, but something else that begs discussion is simply why the Sooners have been so bad the past two weeks when they defended the run much better over the rest of the season.

That is to say, what has changed?

"Well, you know, it's hard to say," said OU defensive ends coach Bobby Jack Wright. "I think a little bit of it is different offenses scheming you a little bit differently, seeing things on tape that they think they can see that they can take advantage of. Baylor certainly was that way. Their blocking schemes schemed us pretty good in a way that we hadn't been previously. And then the other night was--against West Virginia--in all honesty we were just our whole defense was off a little bit all the time. I mean it was like 11 guys every play, somebody took their turn. And any time you do that and we've been pretty, as you said, up to now we've been pretty consistent of everybody being on the same page and getting calls.

"They went tempo on us a little bit and we got some guys moving a little bit fast, and we didn't get calls in to get everybody on the same page. One guy might have played one defense and 10 others played something else. So, we had some problems just getting ourselves, all 11 of us on the same page."

So, there.

Getting everyone together as a cohesive unit is the key.

And doing that Saturday could be the difference between a victory or, this time, the offense maybe not bailing them out, resulting in a Bedlam loss.

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