OU defense rises to second half challenge

The OU defense looked confused in the first half but found the answers in a major way in the second half of a 45-33 win.

MORGANTOWN, W.V. – The similarities were there between Oklahoma and West Virginia.

In the crazy 2012 outing at West Virginia, the Sooners and Mountaineers combined for 48 points in the first half.

On Saturday night, the two teams combined for 48 points in the first 30 minutes. It had all the makings of another one of those 50-49 type games.

Only problem was this wasn’t the 2012 OU defense. This defense didn’t follow the script. This defense figured out its issues and took away the drama of the game in a 45-33 victory for No. 4-ranked OU to open up Big 12 conference action.

The Mountaineers had 286 yards on 42 plays in the first half. The yards did eventually come for the Mountaineers late in the fourth quarter, but it was after OU’s defense had helped make the statement it needed to make.

In the pivotal third quarter where OU outscored West Virginia 14-3, the Sooners only allowed 92 yards of total offense. Seventy-five of West Virginia’s 135 yards in the fourth quarter came with the Sooners already holding a commanding 45-27 lead.

When this defense needed a big play, it knew who to turn to. There were a number of them. Safety Quentin Hayes had a crucial interception in the third quarter. Outside linebacker Geneo Grissom had a sack and forced fumble recovered by OU in the fourth quarter.

“We did deploy a couple different coverages to help us out, and they were effective,” head coach Bob Stoops said. “We made a couple of adjustments scheme wise, and they helped us get a fumble in the fourth quarter.”

Stoops and the players talked all week about the improvement made by West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett. In the first half, he repeatedly gashed the OU defense to the tune of 211 yards and two touchdowns.

The Sooners were able to force those two turnovers, but maybe even more importantly, didn’t allow for the big play to alter the game.

“We didn’t let them get deep balls in the second half that and that made the difference,” Stoops said. “That really was the biggest part of the first half.”

It was another sign of how much this defense has matured now in the third year under Mike Stoops. In 2012 in a game like this, there were no answers. It was just a glorified track meet where whoever had the ball last would secure the win.

The Sooners didn’t need to feel desperate. They were staggered in the first half, but they weren’t knocked out. They regrouped, found their footing and made sure the Sooners would go 4-0 heading into their first bye week.

West Virginia (2-2, 0-1) couldn’t mount much of a running attack as the Mountaineers averaged 3.4 yards per rush on 40 attempts. Conversely, the Sooners averaged 6.4 yards per carry and rushed for 301 yards on the night. Most of that was by freshman Samaje Perine, who introduced himself to the country Saturday with 32 carries for 242 yards and four touchdowns.

Linebacker Jordan Evans led the team with 11 tackles, while Eric Striker had eight with a sack and two for loss. Cornerback Zack Sanchez, clearly not 100 percent with his shoulder, earned his fourth interception of the season and his sixth in the last seven games.

Stoops knows OU hasn’t won anything yet. There is a lot to improve. But faced with a hostile environment at night, his defense came up big when it mattered most.

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