Back before the season, made a list of who would be the top 11 OU performers on defense. Now that regular season is in the books, time to look back and see how it all shook out.No. 11 DE Chuka Ndulue
Why he was No. 11: As a technician of the game, Ndulue’s play in the 3-4 was going to be important as a run stuffer and edge setter. He’s not as big to Oklahoma has a disruptor, but he had to do his job so that Oklahoma’s other players could do their jobs.
What he did in 2014: Ndulue finished with 45 tackles and 3.5 sacks – tied for second on the team and the most of any defensive lineman.
Verdict: Too low. Ndulue was more than just another player on the team this season. He was a fantastic leader and did more than at least I expected of him. He probably played his way on to an NFL roster next year.
No. 10 CB Dakota Austin
Why he was No. 10: More than Austin, my No. 10 spot was reserved for Oklahoma’s No. 3 corner. It clearly wasn’t Austin.
What he did in 2014:Not a lot of anything. He had four total tackles in limited playing time.
Verdict: Too high for Austin. Too low for Oklahoma’s No. 3 corner.
No. 9 DT Jordan Phillips
Why he was No. 9: Anything that Phillips added to the pass rush out of the 3-4 was going to be a bonus. His role as a run-stopper was expected to just be filling gaps. A great player, but Oklahoma didn’t need much more for him.
What he did in 2014: Phillips was disruptive in spurts. Whether it was because of conditioning, injury or any other issue, Phillips didn’t have that constant drive. He showed enough flashes – seven tackles for loss, two sacks and a blocked kick – to give him an immediate shot at the NFL this upcoming draft – if he wants it.
Verdict: Too low. Having never seen him, I underestimated Phillips’ impact on the game. He shouldn’t have been a lot higher, but at the very least closer to the top half.
No. 8 S Quentin Hayes
Why he was No. 8: Hayes’ diversity put him here for me. I didn’t think he was going to make a highlight reel, but his ability to play all three safety positions made him the most versatile member of the secondary.
What he did in 2014: He was definitely good. Better early than late, Hayes had three sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and 48 tackles on the year. He was one of only two Sooners’ players to mark the stat sheet in every column – tackles, sacks, interceptions, fumble recoveries, forced fumbles and passes defended.
Verdict: About right. It wouldn’t have hurt to put Hayes just a couple spots higher but anywhere between No. 6 and No. 8 was probably his landing spot.
No. 7 LB Frank Shannon
Why he was No. 7: Shannon was Oklahoma’s big middle linebacker. He was going to be needed in run support and in pass coverage with his size.
What he did in 2014: Except he wasn’t. As everybody knows, Shannon didn’t play, and he might not even make this list next year.
Verdict: Too high. Pretty obvious why.
No. 6 CB Julian Wilson
Why he was No. 6: Like the No. 10 spot, I saved No. 6 for Oklahoma’s No. 2 corner. Wilson needed to be just good enough to keep teams from picking on the Sooners’ non-Zack Sanchez secondary.
What he did in 2014: Wilson’s problems seemed to embody the issues Oklahoma had, and when Jordan Thomas stepped in for him after a broken thumb, things didn’t get much better. Wilson had the early Pick 6 to help seal a victory against Tennessee, but he wasn’t consistent enough in the secondary.
Verdict: Too low. The play needed to be higher on this list. The players just weren’t.
No. 5 LB Geneo Grissom
Why he was No. 5: Grissom had ultra-athleticism at the position and making the change to linebacker was going to be tough. It was a necessary switch for the Sooners and a place for Grissom to shine.
What he did in 2014: Before his season ended with an MCL sprain, Grissom was doing everything right. He learned to drop into coverage and even rushed the passer a bit. He finished second on the team in tackles for loss despite missing the final two games of the season.
Verdict: About right. Maybe a tad higher because of the importance of his position, but Grissom did everything he could to stay atop the list.
No. 4 LB Dominique Alexander
Why he was No. 4: Maybe more than anything else, Oklahoma needed unrelenting consistency on its defense. As the middle linebacker, Alexander was going to be leaned on to supply that.
What he did in 2014: No surprise here, Alexander led the Sooners in tackles and should eclipse the 100-tackle mark in the bowl game this season. He did become a bit of a surprise by making plays behind the line of scrimmage – something that probably came with a little bit of experience.
Verdict: About right. Alexander deserved and needed to be pretty high on this list. He was solid all year, but with Oklahoma’s issues elsewhere, the Sooners needed him to be better.
No. 3 DE Charles Tapper
Why he was No. 3: With the inexperienced secondary – and an emphasis on that in hindsight – the Sooners needed a second dominant pass rusher. It was supposed to be Tapper. It needed to be Tapper.
What he did in 2014: The defensive end went almost unheard from the first half of the season, mired by what he called “personal problems.” He eventually started finding his way to the football and had his best game of the season in Bedlam – at least from my perspective. A player of his stature really need to have a better year to disguise Oklahoma’s other major issues.
Verdict: Too high. His play just wasn’t up to par. Anything big would have been a surprise contribution, but with the way everyone played around him, it wound up being necessary for Oklahoma to reach its goals. It just wasn’t there.
No. 2 CB Zack Sanchez
Why he was No. 2: After a big freshman season and a ton of question marks surrounding him in the secondary, Sanchez needed to have a big year for Oklahoma to go undefeated and reach the national championship. He had the talent to do it.
What he did in 2014: Sanchez’s interception streak extended, and he took away an entire side of the field. By the end of the season, even his tackling was much better. A lockdown corner isn’t there to make tackles, though. He was potentially too good, scaring all teams away from him for much of the season and exposing the rest of the secondary because no one wanted to test him. He led the Big 12 with six interceptions: A few that helped win games and one that should have sealed a Bedlam win.
Verdict: Just right. Sanchez made all the plays he needed to make. Period. End of discussion.
No. 1 LB Eric Striker
Why he was No. 1: Oklahoma needed a pass rush to try and hide an inexperienced – and what became a bad – secondary. Striker was the prime candidate to do that. He needed a big year for Oklahoma to succeed.
What he did in 2014: It’s hard to argue with 7.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss and four quarterback hurries – which seems like a stingy amount of hurries. That’s probably because most of his hurries became his teammates’ sacks. Striker showed an ability to drop into cover although he was exposed at times. Doing what he does best though, nobody was a better pass rush for the Sooners’ this season than Striker.
Verdict: Just right. Striker definitely needed to be disruptive, probably a little more than he was this year.
Best pick: No. 2 Zack Sanchez. He met the expectations of him as the only consistent performer in the secondary outside of Hayes. Sanchez saved a handful of games with interceptions, and Oklahoma’s record could have had another loss or two if he didn’t play like he did.
Worst pick: No. 7 Frank Shannon. When someone doesn’t even play, they shouldn’t be on the top 20, let alone the top 11. Boo, Justin.