OU secondary still without answers for spread

Sooners victimized against 'mirror image' of some Big 12 offenses

NORMAN – Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops’ wide eyes gave it away.

He stood at the podium Saturday after Oklahoma’s victory against Tulsa and handed out reasons why the Sooners’ defense struggled, but his eyes said that he had no real answer.

The players were lethargic. The tempo gave Oklahoma issues. The coverage and fronts couldn’t get together. Tulsa’s speed and tempo were faster than it had been in the past. They spread the field from sideline-to-sideline.

No real answers.

“We have to simplify things for them,” Stoops said of the secondary that played without starting cornerback Jordan Thomas. “Within the scheme, too, so there is maybe less communication. There’s things we as a staff have to continually dig to find a better way to do things. And come up with a better scheme.

“We’ve had trouble spreading out against these teams. They spread us out, and you don’t get consistent pressure, you’re going to give up some consistent plays.”

Missing Thomas, who was suspended for the game after an undisclosed action Friday night, took out a building block from a secondary that was supposed to be better than last year’s abysmal performance – ranking near the bottom of the nation in pass defense.

Communication was supposed to be better. All five starters were a year older – and supposedly a year better.

Facing the first Big 12-type spread offense of the season, Oklahoma gave up more than 600 yards for the first time since the 2013 Cotton Bowl. It’s clear that things aren’t exactly better.

“We’ve got to find a better way to deal with it,” Stoops said of facing an offense that he called a mirror image to Baylor, where Tulsa head coach Philip Montgomery was the offensive coordinator last season when the Bears scored 48 points in Norman.

Since Stoops returned to Oklahoma to be the Sooners’ defensive coordinator, Oklahoma has allowed more than 500 yards six times. A secondary that was the only defense in the nation to allow 125 yards or less in each of its first two games of this season now has some serious flaws.

It’s not just the absence of Thomas, although replacement and true freshman P.J. Mbanasor looked lost on multiple occasions.

The Sooners front seven didn’t help its secondary out much, like it had the previous two games.

Oklahoma, which also had just one sack and forced no turnovers, had no real scheme answer for a Tulsa offense that mixed formations and receiver groupings. The tide slowed only slightly in the second half, once the Sooners’ offense began taking more time off the clock with its drives.

Tulsa ran up 397 of its 603 yards in the first half. Twenty-four first half points, including a botched coverage on a last-second Hail Mary, trimmed down to just 14 points in the second half.

“We’re not discouraged,” Oklahoma nickel back Steven Parker said. “This is basically a step for us to say, ‘Hey, we can’t get too big-headed.’ We have to come and work every single day. We do come to work every single day, but we can’t sleep on any team. Any team is capable of beating anybody. We have to come out and just be ready to play.”

Saturday’s game is a preview for Oklahoma. It’s the offense the Sooners will see in the Big 12 – from West Virginia and TCU and Baylor and even from Oklahoma State and Texas to some extent.

The goal for the Sooners during the next two weeks before the Big 12 schedule opens against the Mountaineers is to figure out how to stop it from being a recurring theme week in a week out – 603 total yards, 427 passing yards and 38 points.

Baylor beat Oklahoma with stop route after stop route. Tulsa did it Saturday with slant routes.

“They’re identical. We’ve got to find a better way to deal with it,” Stoops said. “. . . You’re going to give up plays. Defense is still about an attitude and an edge. Our attention to detail, we had problems. That’s communication. That’s focus. That’s intensity. That’s edginess.”

Last week, Oklahoma shut down Tennessee – a more conventional attack with a little bit of spread philosophy. The defense had a swagger about itself, after allowing just 58 yards in the second half.

Oklahoma – really nobody – can fully shut down a spread offense. With each completed pass on Saturday, Oklahoma lost a little bit of its defensive mojo. No pressure and no answer, Tulsa chipped away at the Sooners’ façade that had built up through two stout performances.

The offense led by Baker Mayfield, who set a new school record for single-game total yardage, bailed out the defense. That’s won’t always be the case.

“We’ve got to do a better job,” Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops said. “Hopefully after watching this game, we can find some adjustments that will help us in that way.”

Hopefully.

Now, Oklahoma enters Big 12 play tested on defense but still very unsure of itself.

“I would have liked to have been more confident going into a situation like that,” Mike Stoops said. “There’s no secrets playing them. They run the ball and they stretch your DBs. You’ve gotta be able to cover people or you’re not going to win. You’ve got to cover and make competitive plays. There’s only so much stretching you can do or they’re going to run the football. . . . You’ve got to keep trying to find new ways. Their system is foolproof.”


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