During the next two weeks, Sooners Illustrated will look back on the 2015 Oklahoma football season: Evaluating each possession group, recapping key moments, reliving the biggest surprises and assigning an overall grade for the year.
We’ll start with quarterback play and end with the kicking game.
Summary: Two seniors, both returning starters: If there was a position group that Oklahoma didn’t need to worry about this year, it was outside linebacker. Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops even joked that he moved to that position group because it didn’t require much coaching, and he could focus on coaching the whole team. The group lived up to that billing for much of the season, and even P.L. Lindley stood out when Devante Bond missed significant time. Eric Striker was dominant, as usual, and Bond was surprisingly good before his injury. There were some minor flaws – like individual plays when Striker got caught pinching on a read option or two. Overall, it was a stellar group.
Best player: Bond might have been Oklahoma’s best player in the non-conference season, but Striker was by far the best outside linebacker on the roster for the second-straight season. He finished with 19 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks – both led Oklahoma. He was a better player in the open field as well this season, improving his ability in coverage and his one-on-one tackling. Still, his run defense was a huge question mark and still will be as he moves on to the next level.
Biggest surprise: Many expected Bond to make a jump coming of his first year on campus after transferring in from junior college, but his pre-injury jump was significant. He was arguably the best player on defense for the Sooners through the first three games of the season. He finished with seven tackles for loss and three sacks in just nine games – compared to 13 for most of Oklahoma’s defense.
Best moment: Lindley had been a special teams player at best before this season and maybe would have been considered just a depth or scout player. He’d trudged along without any acclaim. That was until he emerged as a four-game starter, starting with Oklahoma’s loss to Texas. He finished that stretch with eight tackles, but Lindley had three tackles for loss and half a sack in his final season. He never even tallied one of either in his first three years.
Biggest weakness: Pass rushing wasn’t an issue for the outside linebackers. Stopping the run was different, though. Bond and Lindley had fewer issues than Striker, who still has a lot to improve in that category. Oklahoma allowed 161.7 yards per game on the ground, which isn’t something that just the outside linebackers can change on its own. Quarterback run was a bigger issue for Oklahoma too. Although moving forward, the challenge will be to figure out who is going to replace the three outside linebackers that actually played this season. They’re all seniors.
Final grade: A