How was it going to respond? The numbers don’t reflect it, but it was the best performance of the season for OU as the No. 4-ranked Sooners rolled to a 34-10 victory against the Vols on Saturday night at Owen Field.
OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops isn’t about to crown his group champions. He’s coached those before, but he said something simple that might have made the most sense.
“A lot of guys are playing well,” Stoops said.
He’s not lying. One of the toughest jobs to do Saturday would be to pick the defensive player of the game for the Sooners. There were too many choices.
The OU defense had five sacks, a whopping 12 tackles for loss, one fumble recovery and two interceptions. One of those picks was returned 100 yards by Julian Wilson to put the game away in the fourth quarter.
“It was a total team effort,” defensive lineman Chuka Ndulue said. “It all starts upfront with the offensive and defensive line but everybody played a role.”
OU coach Bob Stoops compared Eric Striker to the Tazmanian Devil following his outing Saturday. Striker will be seen in the dreams of Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley for days to come. He was never credited with the sack, but he finished with six tackles and three quarterback hurries.
Wilson said he didn’t approach the game any differently. It’s tough to take him at his word as Wilson was fired up after every big play. And on this night, he had a lot of them.
Even before his pick-six made sure the Sooners were going to remain unbeaten, it had been one of the best games in his career. He had six tackles and two breakups.
“His coverage ability,” said Quentin Hayes about the biggest difference in Wilson’s game. “I mean you saw it. He has that coverage ability, and he can make big plays happen.”
Wilson’s pick-six continued a pretty impressive trend for the OU defense. That is the second game in a row and the fifth out of the last six games dating back to last season where the Sooners defense has scored at least one touchdown.
The Vols, through the third quarter, had 20 carries for 32 yards before tacking on some big gainers in the final 15 minutes.
Linebacker Dominique Alexander led the way with 12 tackles, and it was another solid game by Jordan Phillips. Alexander said Phillips makes the game easy with the way he plays and his four tackles did not tell the story of his performance.
“This is a very unique group,” Mike Stoops said. “There’s no real weak link. Everybody has a great attitude.”
Cornerback Zack Sanchez continued another solid trend of his own. The sophomore recorded his third interception of the season and also has five interceptions in the last six games.
Safety Quentin Hayes got into the act with a sack, forced fumble and recovery as part of his three-tackle for loss performance.
OU couldn’t have asked for a better start to the first fourth of the season. The Sooners are 3-0 and looking impressive heading into conference play.
The saying is defense wins championships. If that’s true, OU could very well be on its way to championship No. 8.