OU looks to exorcise Morgantown demons

OU won the game 50-49, but it's hard to tell that to the defense two years ago at West Virginia.

It has been two years since Oklahoma made its first trip to Morgantown to play West Virginia. A lot of the names involved in that one are no longer on the Sooners roster.

But the memory remains. The names still bring out an exasperated sigh. The yardage total still makes OU players squirm.

Tavon Austin. Stedman Bailey. A 50-49 win that didn’t feel like a win on the night of the game and still feels a bit hollow nearly two years later.

If it wasn’t for a just as crazy night from OU’s Landry Jones and Kenny Stills snatching victory away in the final seconds, this game would be mentioned even more about the defensive struggles.

Austin, who had never lined up at running back before during that season, scorched OU for 344 yards and a ridiculous 572 all-purpose yards to set a Big 12 record.

Bailey, known primarily as the No. 2 option to Austin, had 13 catches for 205 yards and four touchdowns. OU allowed 32 points in the second half.

Yet none of those numbers stand out more than 778. Unheard of before, the Sooners allowed a jaw-dropping 778 total yards of offense to the Mountaineers.

It’s a feeling not lost on junior defensive end Charles Tapper. A true freshman at the time, Tapper didn’t play that night. However, he remembers.

“Watching the coaches and their whole facial expressions,” Tapper said. “Most of the coaches, when we got to the locker room, they were like crying. Everybody was just so down. I hope I can never feel like that again.”

It was the first season of Mike Stoops back in Norman as defensive coordinator. It had everybody scratching their heads, believing maybe Mike Stoops simply didn’t have it anymore as a guru of defense.

Mike Stoops, to his credit, has never shied away from talking about the game. The only word that describes it is bad.

“That was a bad night for all of us,” Mike Stoops said. “Bad game plan, bad execution, bad everything. We’re going to have to play a lot better than the last time we went there.”

Only two defensive players on this year’s squad played vital roles in that one. Defensive lineman Chuka Ndulue finished with three tackles.

But nobody symbolizes how far this defense has come in year No. 3 under Mike Stoops than senior cornerback Julian Wilson.

Wilson, a sophomore at the time, was told at the beginning of that game in 2012 that he was playing middle linebacker.


“I never thought I’d see the day I would play middle linebacker,” said Wilson on Monday.

Wilson, usually playful with the media, looked like he still couldn’t shake off that feeling on that November day when he was asked if he enjoyed it.

“No, I don’t feel comfortable in that position,” Wilson said. “I don’t know what to do.”

The Sooners know what they’re doing now. The 4-3 defensive front being used at that time has been kicked to the curb in favor of a 3-4 defense that has caused havoc since the end of last season and has continued to do so through three games this season.

The coaching staff went through changes with defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery adding a fresh attitude and outlook.

“Part of it was we felt it fit our personnel the best,” OU coach Bob Stoops said Monday. “You have more flexibility in what you’re doing.

“Now we have a full year a year ago and we refined what we liked the most, and we have enough flexibility to give the offense enough to deal with without having too much where we make mistakes. Right now we have a pretty good balance with it.”

Guess you can say that. The OU defense has scored a touchdown in five of the last six games, dating back to the final three games of last season.

The defense is only allowing 11 points per game, hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown this season and is giving up just 87 yards per game on the ground.

It was through failure and frustration that the OU defense has been able to find its identity once again. This year’s team isn’t playing for the 2012 team, but the lesson learned that day has been etched into their minds ever since.

“We know if we don’t come out there with our A game, one of those guys could put up 700 yards,” Tapper said. “That chip and that huger to redeem ourselves and come back and play West Virginia up front, that has been the biggest chip.”

It has been 22 months since that encounter. OU is looking to exorcise the demons and put that game away permanently this weekend.

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