Justin Hite - Sooners Illustrated

Oklahoma's focus on stopping quarterback Greg Ward doesn't stop with the defense

Entire team game plan has some impact on stopping Houston's potent attack

NORMAN – Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley smiled sarcastically and said, “maybe” as the crowd around him laughed.

The question – about whether or not his offensive game plan took into account Houston’s offense, specifically quarterback Greg Ward – probably required more of an answer, if he was going to give one. But he wasn’t about to give away any big secrets.

Oklahoma Sooners head coach Bob Stoops has always talked about game planning as a team, not as individual units. That seems to be, at least a little bit, the focus going into Saturday morning’s season opener against the Houston Cougars.

That game plan revolves around Ward.

“In every game, you have to have discipline,” Stoops said. “You have to be in position to make good tackles in the open field. It’s always a challenge because you’re limited in how much you can do it out of season. Greg Ward is guy who can really break you down and make you miss. It will be imperative that we squeeze him and stay in good position on him.”

Riley has to figure out a way to hold on to the ball or score consistently, which might be tempting to do rapidly against a secondary replacing four starters. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, who will spend this season coordinating from the press box again, has to plan for the unexpected.

Redshirting transfer Kyler Murray is serving as faux Greg Ward for the scout team.

Then, there’s the responsibility of each specific defensive player, and they might be the toughest.

Starting defensive tackle Jordan Wade has to get a push in the middle of the line – double-team or not. Charles Walker and Matt Dimon can’t get sucked up field and create running lanes for Ward, but they still have to get pressure on him while keeping him in a hopefully collapsing pocket. Free safety Ahmad Thomas has to play a little bit deeper and can’t fade to either side. He can’t sell out to stop a short quarterback run only to give up a deep touchdown either.

“With a quarterback like that, of course he can also run and I don’t want to get pulled down by that and give up a big play in the middle of the field because of that,” Thomas said.

Will Johnson and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo have to be strong tacklers in the flat, and middle linebackers Jordan Evans and Tay Evans can’t get caught cheating. They just can’t get caught – along with matching Ward’s athleticism.

The cornerbacks and strong safety Steven Parker – and Johnson in coverage – have to find a way to not get beat in a scramble drill, which might be the toughest task of all. Covering a slant or an out route is tough enough, but Ward gives Houston a chance to run its own back-yard style plays on every down.

“You just have to stay strong and stay focused, keep your eyes out of the back field,” corner back Dakota Austin said. “The biggest thing he does is take advantage of blitzing teams or D-ends running up field. He’s just going to step up and try to get down field or get a scramble drill going.”

Bob Stoops laid it out even simpler.

“Everything goes through Greg Ward Jr.,” he said.

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