Oklahoma is getting ready for the stretch run, the three-game gauntlet everybody has been talking about since the 2015 schedule was released.
The Sooners are exactly where they need to be, but it definitely could have gone another direction. Injuries are a part of the process, understand that. And though OU didn’t have any crippling season-ending injuries, it’s not like the Sooners got out unscathed in October.
For a good chunk of the month, the Sooners had to deal with missing three defensive starters. Linebacker Devante Bond was injured in the second half against West Virginia. Linebacker Jordan Evans was injured in the second half against Kansas State. And cornerback Zack Sanchez was injured on the first play from scrimmage against Texas Tech.
It had to be a next man up mentality, but you never know how things are going to go when that happens. What the Sooners got was probably better than what anybody had anticipated.
Cornerback Dakota Austin stepped right in for Sanchez and played the best three games of his OU career. It goes beyond the 25 tackles and two interceptions, there was a sense of belong from Austin that you had no idea if you were going to see.
“It is pleasing,” head coach Bob Stoops said. “I can’t say it’s at all surprising just because of the attitude and the way Dakota competes. He’s always out there scrapping with our guys. He’s been a fighter that way. You expected to see that when he had that opportunity and that’s what we’ve seen.”
You had a feeling Frank Shannon would be ready when his name was called. Although he has definitely embraced being a mentor to the younger guys, there’s still a player and competitor there. For the season, he has 33 tackles and an interception. And in his first start, he led the team in tackles and had that interception.
The unknown was Lindley just because he had never really shown signs of being a starter. Lindley wasn’t flashy, never been his game, but he was effective. He has 13 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss in helping hold down the fort until Bond returned.
“All those guys have stepped in and played really well,” Stoops said. “P.L. Lindley at outside ’backer and then Frank Shannon and Dakota have all come in and played well. They’ve done a really good job, knowing what to do and being competitive and making plays.”
Then there was Saturday at linebacker. Evans and Bond back, looking like they hadn’t missed a day. They’re allowed to look like that because OU didn’t have to rush them back since Lindley and Shannon were doing so well.
Austin recorded his second interception and did everything he could in his three games. If Zack Sanchez is healthy, he will be the guy Saturday in Waco.
You knew this Big 12 season would be a grind, playing nine consecutive weeks. Injuries were going to happen. But OU weathered that storm and is as healthy as you can expect to be at this point of the season because of these unsung heroes on defense.