NORMAN, Okla. – If you know one thing about Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker, he’s not afraid to speak his mind.
The senior has sort of become the unofficial team spokesman on every issue going on with the Sooners, on and off the field. But through three games, you could have made a valid argument his bark had been nastier than his bite.
That changed Saturday as Striker was the leading force behind a stellar defensive effort in OU’s 44-24 win against visiting West Virginia on Saturday afternoon to start Big 12 conference play.
Striker nearly equaled his season totals through three games with one dynamic performance against the previously undefeated Mountaineers.
“It has been coming,” defensive lineman Matt Dimon said. “(First three games) didn’t give him much of a chance to do a lot. We knew they were going to put their big men against him, and he won a lot of those.
“Everybody knows how good of a player he is. The way he contributes is so much more than just on the field.”
OU, though, needed that production on the field. Already playing probably his best game since the Sugar Bowl win against Alabama, Striker punctuated his performance in the fourth quarter.
With just under 10 minutes left and OU holding onto a 34-24 lead, Striker forced a false start. On the ensuing play, Striker sacked quarterback Skyler Howard and forced a fumble that Jordan Evans returned 41 yards for a touchdown to guarantee the Sooners would be 4-0.
The defensive touchdown was the first one for OU this season.
Striker’s performance highlighted a major day for the OU defense. The unit entered the game with just two forced turnovers in three games but was able to produce five against the Mountaineers.
Two of those came from cornerback Jordan Thomas. Coming off serving a one-game suspension, Thomas recorded his first two career interceptions.
“It’s always a blast when you’re playing like that,” Thomas said. “We were making plays and just celebrating with your teammates. It was all smiles everywhere.”
OU picked off three passes, recovered two fumbles, had seven sacks and had 12 tackles for loss. Striker had a game-high 13 tackles with two sacks and three tackles for loss.
“I was just really ready,” Striker said. “I was focused. I was ready to have fun. Starting conference play, every game gets bigger. Now we have eight straight. We know what’s at stake. Personally, myself, I want to do the best I can for my team and put us in the best position to win.”
Striker wasn’t able to have a lot of fun during the first three games. The way the games played out, it didn’t allow for Striker to do what he does best. He wants to be a disruptive force. OU needs him to cause that type of pressure. It just can’t always work out that way. His opportunity came vs. the Mountaineers.
With Striker rolling, it was about finally making the big plays happen defensively. OU coach Bob Stoops called it the law of averages. In the non-conference games, OU had plenty of chances to create turnovers, pick up loose balls but just couldn’t corral them in time. The averages were with the Sooners (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) on this day.
“We fixed a lot of things that Tulsa exposed us on,” Dimon said. “At a certain point, it was just our day. It was good to get those turnovers.”
And after going 1-3 at Owen Field last year in Big 12 conference play, good to start this year off on the right note.