NORMAN – Run defense was supposed to be a strength for the Oklahoma Sooners. A defensive line that had three returning contributors from last year, two starters and a potential All-American, bolstered it. Through the first two games of the season, it looked the part – allowing less than 85 yards per game against Houston and Louisiana-Monroe.
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said after the Sooners’ 45-24 loss to Ohio State that the run defense was the main problem. A strength had become a weakness and the look in Stoops’ eyes didn’t seem to have an answer to the problem in front of him.
“We got to regroup,” Stoops said. “. . .We’ve got to see systematically what gives us the best chance to stop people when a game is played like that. Now, that being said, we’re getting back into our league where the styles of play are conducive to what we’re used to. That’s not a great revelation there, the way they play, and it’s not the way we play in this league.”
Ohio State, which utilizes a power running spread attack, ran for 291 yards, mostly behind the two-headed attack of Mike Weber (123 yards) and Curtis Samuel (98 yards). Quarterback J.T. Barrett added another 7.4 yards to an attack that averaged more than 10 yards per carry through the first half.
Oklahoma (1-2) had no answer for the stretch outside runs and was consistently unable to hold the edge – mostly because of an overmatched Will Johnson, who was unable to play the pure outside linebacker position into which Ohio State forced him.
“I don’t think brute strength’s the issue,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “Some of it, the one run they get, it’s around the edge. . . . It’s perimeter speed. They cracked us. We didn’t do a good enough job getting up field and cutting ‘em off. There’s not a lot of brute strength to that.”
Matt Romar missed the game with an undisclosed injury. He had been going through concussion protocol for much of the preseason. Marquise Overton was lost this week for the season after ankle surgery. That left Jordan Wade as the lone nose guard.
Oklahoma was also forced out of its normal odd-man front because of Ohio State’s running style and played far more one-gap run defense than their usual scheme, which relies on a lot of two-gap assignments and keys off of the nose guard.
That wasn’t there on Saturday and turned into a major flaw in Oklahoma’s defense.
“We’ve seen it. We’ve prepared. It’s hard,” Mike Stoops said. “You’re limited in so many things you can do with the way they line up. That being said, I didn’t think we tackled well enough, I thought they made us stagnant. They got us out of our odd fronts. That’s what people are doing now. We got to keep finding some solutions.”
Ford breaks leg
Midway through the first half, Oklahoma lost left guard Cody Ford to a broken leg. He laid prone on the field briefly with the rest of the offensive line gathered around him before being carted off and waving to the crowd.
The Sooners struggled to get much push up front after shuffling the lineup.
Mixon’s big day and big gaff
Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon was clearly the bright spot in an otherwise mediocre offensive performance. He had 78 yards on the ground and averaged 8.7 yards per carry. He had two receptions for 15 yards, although he dropped one big opportunity early in the first half.
Mixon also had 132 yards returning kicks, including a 97-yard touchdown return that was the sixth longest in Oklahoma history.
“Joe had a great kickoff return and seemed to have a lot of other nice plays,” Bob Stoops said.
The big problem with the kick return was that it shouldn’t have counted. Mixon dropped the ball before he crossed the goal line, something Bob Stoops said they would talk about Monday. The play should have been ruled down at the one-yard line, but no official seemed to notice the gaff.
Picking on the corners
Ohio State receiver Noah Brown had three catches in the first half. All three went for touchdowns. He won a pair of jump balls against freshman Parrish Cobb, who never turned his head around to track the ball. Then with six seconds left, he caught converted receiver Michiah Quick with his arms and the ball on Quick’s back with his hands for a touchdown in the dying moments of the second quarter.
Brown added another touchdown catch against Jordan Thomas, Oklahoma’s No. 1 corner who looked lost on an end zone out route. Overall, it wasn’t a good day for anyone playing cornerback for Oklahoma.
“Trying to find a consistent playmaker has been somewhat problematic through the first three games,” Mike Stoops said. “. . . I wish we could just roll up and play cover 2, but that’s not the world we live in. When we play these quarterbacks that stretch you all over the field.”
Missed kick dooms Oklahoma again
It wasn’t a Kick-6, but Austin Seibert's early miss really set things adrift for Oklahoma. Seibert missed a 27-yard field goal on the Sooners’ opening drive and shanked a punt on the very next drive.
With a chance at a 50-yard field goal on the following drive, Bob Stoops opted not to allow Seibert to try the kick. Instead, it turned into a Pick-6 for Ohio State.
“I didn’t feel he was (having) any kind of confidence or shape to go for it,” Bob Stoops said.
Suddenly a game that could have been 7-6 was 14-0, and Oklahoma was immediately behind the 8-ball.