It has taken more than 80 years, but offenses in college football have finally figured out that they can use the entire field. It has made playing defense much harder – and almost impossible in some cases.
When Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops walked off the field in Morgantown, WV in 2012, it was the first time the Sooners defense had allowed more than 45 points in five years. It was only the second time since 1999.
Looking back, Stoops called the game a nightmare – still ruining his day Tuesday when it was brought up again. He probably never thought it would become a new trend. Oklahoma State scored 48 points the very next game, and Oklahoma has allowed at least 35 points in eight games since.
The way teams look at success on defense has changed. It’s no longer about shutting teams out or stifling an offense – especially not in the Big 12.
“A win. A win,” said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who helped transform a defense that allowed at least 40 points nine times in the four years before his arrival. “. . . A team win any way you can get it.”
“TCU’s probably pretty satisfied,” he said with a smile.
Michigan State came into last year’s Cotton Bowl with one of the elite defenses in the country but needed a 42-point outburst from its offense to hold off Baylor. The Spartans had allowed more than 31 points just twice all season – to a pair of teams that made the College Football Playoff.
“You’ve got to be able to hold serve and do it as well,” Bob Stoops said. “. . . It’s a challenge, and you’ve got to hold serve. You’ve got to find ways to win as a team.”
In the Big 12, it’s still very different. Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker acknowledged last week that he finally understands that there are no shutdown defenses in the league, saying it with a bit of nostalgia for what once was.
Through four weeks this season, Big 12 teams are three of the top five scoring offenses in the country. And the league has three more teams in the top-26. That’s more than half the league in the top quarter of the nation.
It’s not just points. Baylor has the top rushing offense in the nation. TCU is No. 3 in passing yards with the Bears and the Sooners both in the top eight.
Measuring defensive success has changed.
“We kind of look at all of it,” Oklahoma nickel back Steven Parker said. “We look at the yardage totals. We look at the turnover margin. We look at the pressures. We look at all that kind of stuff. Our goal as a defense is to put more pressure on the offense than their defense put on our offense.
“Basically, the person with the higher total number of points wins. We’re just trying to stop people from scoring on us.”
Oklahoma got a taste of the trend three years ago against West Virginia, when the Mountaineers had a NFL quarterback and a pair of NFL receivers on their roster. Still, the Sooners outlasted, walking out of Milar Puskar Stadium with a victory.
Oklahoma beat Oklahoma State the following week even with the Cowboys’ offensive output. There aren’t a lot of answers for a defense to provide. Football is a team game, Bob Stoops said. The offense and the defense have to win together.
Things have changed for Oklahoma since that miserable day against West Virginia. Mike Stoops is in the booth this year. It’s allowed him to see the field better and not just try and match-up with opposing offenses by relying on man schemes.
Substitution packages are smoother, and the Sooners have seen an increase in zone defenses this year, something that might have helped during a game that made Tavon Austin a household name.
That night was a bad dream that Mike Stoops is still reliving.
“It was just like a nightmare,” Mike Stoops said. “. . . There were a lot of things we could’ve done in hindsight. It just wasn’t a very good … it wasn’t one of my more memorable coaching days that’s for sure.”
“Most embarrassing night that’s for sure.”
It was just the start of a terrorizing trend that has sent Mike Stoops riding a wave of highs and lows with every passing week.