Sooners secondary coming of age

OU uses a next man up philosophy, and it's having to dig deep in the secondary. So far, though, it's working.

Believe me there is no way Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops wanted to play Steven Parker at cornerback in the fourth quarter of OU’s 63-27 win vs. Texas Tech.

He didn’t do it because he wanted to do so. He did it because he practically was forced into putting Parker in that situation.

Parker, who has sort of become a jack-of-all-trades among the secondary, handled it well as he has every other situation in the secondary and no problems arose from the brief switch.

That is the dilemma facing the Sooners secondary, however, entering this week’s matchup at winless Kansas. OU has always had a next man up mentality, and that will never be truer than what takes the field in Lawrence.

“We just got really beat up with injuries there,” head coach Bob Stoops said. “Zack gets hurt the first play. Marcus Green was out from a week ago with a sprained ankle. Dakota gets hurt. We even had to take our nickel, Will Johnson, out to try and play corner.

“Then he gets cramped up. Then we had to play Steven Parker at corner. Against a team like this, I’m just proud of all those guys and the way they fought through it, being short-manned. P.J. Mbanasor had a pulled muscle covering a kick off. He was our other one out.”

Facing a quarterback as talented as Tech’s Patrick Mahomes, this figured to be a real issue. Instead, the secondary and defense rose to the occasion with four interceptions. A game removed from a three-pick day at Kansas State, and you might start to believe the secondary has turned the corner.

First-year defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks had to build up the confidence first of a group that was much maligned and much targeted throughout the 2014 season.

With that job accomplished, it has become about developing what’s there. As it turns out, OU’s not that bad with what’s there already.

Sophomore cornerback Jordan Thomas has three interceptions this month. And obviously everybody thought the Sooners were going to be in a world of hurt when Zack Sanchez sprained his ankle on the first play, but OU’s next man up philosophy was well on display.

Dakota Austin, who has had zero meaningful reps since his freshman season, had 11 solo tackles and an interception.

“I think it’s starting to show some more maturity with our back end,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “Players and not panicking and let the moment get too big. Kerry has done a great job keeping those guys in position to play well regardless of the situation. They understand what their job is and are able to go out and execute.”

The secondary feels like the walking wounded, but at least it picked the right time. On paper, OU should be able to handle Kansas and Iowa State in the next two weeks before the mega-showdown happens in Waco against Baylor on Nov. 14.

When adversity struck the secondary last season, it didn’t have an answer. Guys like Parker, Thomas, Sanchez and Ahmad Thomas, though, have grown. Last year’s struggles have become this year’s triumphs when this group is at full health.

The move of Will Johnson to nickel has worked out tremendously in the last two weeks, and OU no longer looks overmatched when facing the spread offense.

Of course it could all turn in one fell swoop, especially with an offense like Baylor that routinely embarrasses opposing defenses with seemingly little effort. But for now, Cooks has this group doing exactly what it needs to be doing with hopefully the best still yet to come.

Sooners Illustrated Top Stories