Sanchez, Tapper bust out for Sooners

No unit had more questions about it heading into the season than the OU defense. The group answered the questions with some breakout seasons.

Nobody knew what to expect from this year's Oklahoma defense. The questions were plentiful and there were no easy answers.

But in order for the Sooners to reach the 2014 Allstate Sugar Bowl against Alabama, a number of defenders had to have breakout seasons. They did and got it from a variety of players and positions.

Linebacker Frank Shannon

One linebacker after another here. If linebackers were going to be a vital part of OU's defense, the belief was Shannon would be a big reason why. They did, and he was. Shannon, despite battling various nagging injuries, leads the team in tackles and has made numerous big plays throughout the season.

Best moment: A lot to choose from, but we'll go with his interception in the first quarter against Notre Dame. It helped OU run out to a 14-0 lead on the road and a historic win against the Irish.

Linebacker Dominique Alexander

What in the world was OU going to do without team captain Corey Nelson? To go from a senior leader to a true freshman is not ideal, but Alexander has done a magnificent job. With each game, he got more comfortable, and he definitely has OU fans more excited about the future of the position than they were going into the season.

Best moment: Alexander arguably had his two best games in OU's two losses but still going to give the nod to Alexander forcing the safety against Baylor.

Linebacker Eric Striker

This was the season OU let Striker do what he does best – strike. At least once a game, he would come off the edge and either sack the quarterback or force him into a bad decision. Not the biggest pass rusher in the world, nobody had the answer about how to stop Striker from getting the job done.

Best moment: Has to be Notre Dame when Striker hit quarterback Tommy Rees. The ball flew right into the hands of Nelson, who scored the first touchdown of the game.

Safety Gabe Lynn

Lynn had been the laughingstock of the OU defense in the last couple of years but had the definition of a breakout season. The leader of the defense, Lynn made play after play throughout the season with 52 tackles and three interceptions. On a team full of youngsters, the leadership of Lynn and Aaron Colvin became even more apparent.

Best moment: Tough to choose. Going to go with the Bedlam goal line stand. Lynn missed the tackle on Desmond Roland that led to the huge run. But he bounced back with two of the four tackles on the stand, combining with Chuka Ndulue for the stop on fourth down.

Defensive end Charles Tapper

His goal was 10 sacks this season. He didn't quite reach it, but it wasn't for lack of trying. Tapper entered the season as a raw defensive end that people weren't too sure what to make of him. He leaves as OU's best pass rusher on the line and as somebody to really look out for in his last two years in Norman…and with one magnificent beard. Tapper had nine tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.

Best moment: No doubt about it. Tapper running down TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin is one of the best plays this season. No way a defensive end should be able to do that.

Cornerback Zack Sanchez

The question going into the season is who would be the other corner. One side of the field was a no-brainer in All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin. Who was going to join him? Sanchez answered the call early and never let up in having a fantastic redshirt freshman season. Susceptible to the double move, he still has a lot to work on, but his confidence is rightfully high right now. He leads the team by far with 13 pass breakups.

Best moment: A season full of tips and deflections, Sanchez finally got one with an interception returned for a touchdown against Kansas State that sealed the deal.

Sooners Illustrated Top Stories