The non-conference season is in the rear-view mirror, and now it’s time for nine-straight games (no bye weeks) as Oklahoma trudges its way through the Big 12 season. Over the next three days, Sooners Illustrated’s Justin Hite will take a look at what we’ve learned about Oklahoma, what we still need to find out and who some of the top performers have been.
It continues with the defense.
Defensive line - B
On the whole, Oklahoma’s defensive line might be better than last year’s version, which included two players who are in the NFL right now. The line is deeper than last year and has been bolstered by a few surprises.
The numbers just aren’t great.
Oklahoma has allowed 147.7 yards per game on the ground and has just Walker’s 1.5 sacks as a total for the unit. Obviously, they are making huge holes for the linebackers. There’s room for growth as a whole, especially with an interior pass rush. It’s been a pretty good start to the season.
Another unit with more depth this year than last, but the linebackers are the best unit on defense in elite talent as well. Somehow, Oklahoma’s linebackers have still looked really good even with just half a sack from Eric Striker, who does have two quarterback hurries.
That’s because everybody else has been spectacular.
Devante Bond has been the gem of the defense, adding a team-high two sacks. Dominique Alexander has taken his game to another level, tying for a team-high 3.5 tackles for loss and leading Oklahoma in tackles by three per game. Jordan Evans has been solid.
The tackling of the unit has been the best part. It’s been sound, and it’s been solid. There haven’t been a ton of missed tackles on the field, and that’s a good sign.
If Striker ups his game, the linebacker could get an A.
Secondary - C+
What started out as an A+ plummeted to just barely above average after the Tulsa fiasco. Oklahoma’s secondary wasn’t a complete failure, but it’s a bad sign. After holding Tennessee and Akron to a combined 213 pass yards, Tulsa blew the secondary out of the water – but it was mostly against true freshman P.J. Mbanasor.
But the offense we saw against Tulsa is what we’ll see for a majority of the season. It’s something that Oklahoma has to be ready for.
Oklahoma’s secondary is still above average because everything else had been solid all season, except for a few blown coverages against Tulsa (maybe more than a few). The secondary has tackled well, and there haven’t been too many huge passing plays.
The Sooners have kept things in front of them, which is a starting point for success in the Big 12.
Best player - There are plenty to choose from, but it has probably been Bond, who has been Oklahoma’s best pass rusher – better than Striker. Alexander and Walker have also been stellar, but Bond continues to find himself in the right place. And he’s making all the plays.
Needs-improvement player - Evans needs to be better a linebacker, and an even greater improvement from Tapper would help Oklahoma as well. But it’s Jordan Thomas who needs the most improvement. The Sooners need a better Thomas, who seems to have more mental hurdles to climb than physical.
He has to clean up his act, because that would be the best thing for Oklahoma.>
Biggest surprise - Bond has been a bit of a shock, and Walker’s explosion has been more than some thought. It’s Hatari Byrd though, who has been remarkably sound. Combined with Ahmad Thomas, the Sooners’ safety tandem hasn’t cracked yet. Oklahoma hasn’t had to go to it true freshman trio, which seemed almost like a guarantee before the season started. That’s a compliment to Byrd, who was considered the lesser of the two.
What needs to change? - Stopping an opposing passing attack is two-fold: Get to the quarterback or shut down the receivers. Oklahoma has its choice, but one thing has to change before the Big 12 season starts. The Sooners need more pressure than the two sacks and fewer than three quarterback hurries per game.
Or they need to figure out a way to lock down receivers.
What needs to stay the same? - More than any other unit with any other characteristics, Oklahoma’s linebackers have been incredibly consistent. Minimal missed tackles, effective edge play, solid middle linebacker play: All of those things have been a big part of the Oklahoma defense thus far.