Where's the D?

Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables talks about his Sooners' problems through the first three games. OU currently rankes 97th nationally in total defense and 75th in scoring defense. (AP Photo)

For the third straight week, the Oklahoma defense underachieved and didn't live up to expectations. In the Sooners' controversial loss to Oregon, they gave up 33 points and 501 yards total offense.

Big plays are killing the Sooners, as the defense continues to play pretty well for the most of the game but give up most of their yardage in a few big plays.

What can be done to turn things around?

On Monday, OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables stopped by to talk to the media even thought he normally does so on Tuesday. Venables knows that everybody has a lot of questions, and he didn't duck any of them on the OUInsider.com Two Minute Drill.

JH: You have been forced to make some unexpected changes at corner, wouldn't you agree?

BV: "At the first of the year, Reggie Smith and D.J. Wolfe were the guys because they had played better than anybody. But we had said at that time that both Lendy (Holmes) and Marcus (Walker) had played awfully well. Sometimes a guy doesn't play a couple of routes well in a game and you fire him. That doesn't mean that he is not capable of playing winning football. I know the guy in that regard played really good football for the last part of the year, through the spring, through the fall camp, but at some point it is make-or-break time and you don't have a lot of time to sit there and give him the benefit of the doubt either. Again, there is that fine line. At some positions, there is a little more margin for error. But in the back end, when guys are running behind you, there isn't. It is what it is."

JH: Before you closed practices D.J. Wolfe was playing well. And then when you closed practices and we heard that Lendy was the guy, so what separated Marcus and Lendy during practice?

BV: "It was both of them. I don't think there was as great margin of difference in regards to the two. Again, sometimes you don't know until they get out there. Then some guys are on edge. Marcus had not played in quite some time, but he also obviously has more experience so it doesn't surprise you how he came out there and played. That is especially true when things aren't necessarily going great and the guy is like, ‘Put me in, I am your guy.' What more could you ask? I mean, that is what you want. You don't want a guy back there and you have to go find him. Marcus was standing right beside me and he was saying, 'Coach, I am ready. I gave him the look and he is looking at me and saying, ‘I am ready!'

"I have had to go find guys and then I told them that I was going to put you in, but now I will never put you in. Now I am going to keep him out there and we are going to be screwed because he is hurt or he can't do it, and I was supposed to rely on you and that was your window open and it is closed in one day."

JH: Were you in the same defense on the play that Marcus tipped the ball away at the end of the first half, and the one that Lendy gave up the touchdown on at the start of the fourth quarter?

BV: "That was a zone coverage that Lendy let his guy score on. Marcus was in a zone too, but we were in a zone blitz with Lendy and we were in a zone with Marcus when he knocked the ball down."

JH: The switch of Reggie to the boundary corner worked out very well for you once Marcus came into the game at the field corner. It solidified your secondary, didn't it?

BV: "We thought if anybody could handle a move it was Reggie. In the first couple of games, we were being attacked on the boundary and that is typically what you see. You want a guy who can make plays there and we have a great deal of trust in Reggie and felt he could make a quick transition because of his natural instincts and ability. Reggie has a great understanding of things."

JH: Will you give Keenan Clayton another shot this week at strong safety?

BV: "We would like to. He is kind of the key to making everything else come together. We were really counting on him because our safety play was not what it needed to be last year. Some of that was physical and some of that was mental with some new guys, but it wasn't what this defense needs. You have to have a physical presence. You have to have guys who can come up and make tackles, and be spin down guys who are making plays in a box and also possess some range too. We have seen 'KC' do a lot of great things in practice, and then you get into those games sometimes guys are ready for it and sometimes they take a little while.

"You go back to 2000 and we had J.T. Thatcher and Brandon Everage. J.T. was a knucklehead, in a good way, and he led the nation in interceptions. But we were trying to fire him and trying to bring Everage along. J.T. was a starter and we were able to spot-play Brandon. Brandon wasn't ready yet though and so maybe that is what you try to do. You have to bring Keenan along, because that helps our defense. Obviously, our safety play is a real issue that we have to be better at and inside."

(Note: Sophomore Brett Bowers may finally get an opportunity to show what he can do. Bowers he is getting some legitimate reps this week at strong safety as the Sooners look for somebody who can not only know the assignments, but make tackles. Jason Carter did well in the assignment area against Oregon, but his missed tackles that cost the Sooners 86yards in total offense.)

JH: I have never seen you so disappointed after a game, but now that you have had a chance to break down the film what do you think about the defenses' performance?

BV: "We were able to bring the whole defense into the film room and pull out the 15 or so plays that we felt were glaring, in regards to us going out of our way to not do what the defense is designed to do. Again, we are six-inches off here — not being in the B gap, not staying in coverage, not playing the check-down on long yardage on the running back coming out and not being aggressive. We told them that they were going to run the wide receiver screen, and the second play of the game they go 67-yards.

"Later in the game, when Lendy was ready for it, he hit it for minus one. So that is a perfect example of executing the defense and being ready for it, and doing your job and they get minus one. Where on the second play of the game you give up a 67-yard gain. You have to be demanding and you can't change as far as the integrity of what you stand for defensively, and what your motto is. We are definitely not going to wholesale change the defense. There are no magical calls."

JH: You didn't secon- guess about doing this or that on those bad plays?

BV: "No, again in any particular game you say that is not a good call against that particular scheme. If they are running the all curl scheme being in a cover-three maybe isn't ideal, but that is not the difference in the game. That happens every game. As much of anything, just reasoning with the players, showing them here it is guys. I just ask them the call and say here it is, here is the call and here is what they did. Now is that them or is that us?

"For us to make the progress and improve like we need to, and we are definitely capable of, they have to see it for what it is and have to own up to it. Just like we as coaches do too. That is the biggest thing to be able to reach them to translate that out there onto the field, correct the mistakes and make them aware of how we are going out of our way not to help ourselves. We talk about going on the road and starting fast and doing things right and then, bang, we miss the interception and give up the 67-yard screen, we are one-on-one in the hole with the running back and he falls forward for four. Then we are one-on-one with the back on the edge and we miss the tackle and it is a touchdown. It is just like that. They are really very basic, simple things, yet at the same time they are problems that we are not consistent at doing the things that we need to do."

JH: You only have so much personnel, don't you? I mean, you only have so many options with players you can try, isn't that right? Everybody assumes that you have several different guys you can go to at different positions, but aren't you playing the guys right now that you feel are your best players?

BV: "At some point you have a little bit of wiggle room. OK, he is not doing it so lets put him in. But there comes a point and time where I just can't play some guys. I am not going to put Brandon Crow in there yet. He can't do it because he doesn't know how to get lined up at all. You're right, there does come a point that the guys that we have are the guys that we have. They are all good players that can play good football. Many of them played really good football for us last year. So again, you try to continue to reason with them. Can we be better in certain areas? I am not talking about being short-handed here-and-there, but capable of playing a hell of a lot better than what we are. No question. And we need to."

JH: At times, did the defense play well enough to win the game?

BV: "It is sad that we had chances to really be in position to make that happen, and not only to win the game, but it didn't even have to be close. It is unfortunate. We can sit here and look at it any way you want, but as a coach you always want to be realistic and see it for what it is and what it can be. Based on nothing more than the facts, we have not seen enough really good play at times, and some of that is mental and some of that is physical. It gives you a reason to be very optimistic, because you know if you can be consistent. And I am talking defensively, we can still be good.

"Stats are for bums. We don't ever talk about stats, but I will say this. If somebody has balance in what they are doing, if they are able to run the ball then they will be able to score points and we will not be able to respond and keep people out of the end zone. That is disgusting football form a defensive standpoint, and right now we are playing disgusting defense. Not all the time, but enough to where it is very poor. It is not our standard and it is not our nature. Again, you also try to keep it in perspective when it is done right and we have seen it done right a bunch around here, even in these first three games. But we need to quit doing it in spurts and put it all together and play like we can play every play, every series and every game. It is simple, yet complex. Are we capable? No question. Our players want to do it so I believe that we will do it."

JH: How much good are you seeing against how much bad? How often are you doing it right?

BV: "I would like to believe that it is a little bit more good than bad. I will say this to — when you are allowing somebody to run the football like Oregon did with the consistency that they did, there is more bad than good probably. Now they have balance and they got you where they want you. That is frustrating. I will say it again. It is not a lack of a player being able to do what he is supposed to do, but he also has to be in the right gap. If your guy folds or leaves and goes into that other gap, you have to go in there with him and it is some simple things like that. If you have the quarterback on the option, or you have the pitch on the option and if you are a little bit late we didn't turn anybody free. But if you are a little bit late and you don't defeat a perimeter block, then they are going to have success. Or you give up three runs of 20-yards on a basic zone play that we are gapped out in.

"Somebody is not staying in their gap. And again, they are a good team and they are just going expose you. Heck, a bad team can expose you for that matter. If they have five gaps and you have five guys and one of those guys gets in somebody else's gap, you can step in front of me that way and kind of go back underneath and there is the gap. I am in this gap with this guy and then it is out the gate 20-yards later. It is simple. What is frustrating is that we have really been consistent and disciplined on playing fundamental football and doing the basics to give ourselves a chance to make people one-dimensional. We are not doing it with any kind of consistency to have great success defensively."

JH: Should Zac (Latimer) have picked off that first pass?

BV: "Yeah, it hit him in both hands."

JH: Didn't he used to be a tight end?

BV: "Yeah, he was a running back and tight end. He did it later as he ricocheted it and Nic (Harris) intercepted it. Again, we are a little bit off. JC (Jason Carter) comes down and they run that little curl and he jumps in front of it and instead of securing it, he almost had it and the guy catches it and goes for 10. You put your finger in that hole and then there it goes, and then you put it that one and it goes. It can be amusing right now, but at some point it has got to stop. In my mind, that is what cost us. It did and I would be naive to believe anything else.

"However, there is a good part there where you are really playing and things are working. It is fluid and that is how it is supposed to be. What happens, and I know what happens at the end, you are not playing prevent and you are doing the same coverage as everything else. But your quarters guy, your quarter safety instead of being at 10 yards, is at 13 because he is saying that he doesn't want them to get behind him.

"That is not the system and the system doesn't work that way. Nothing works when you don't line up right. You are going to die a slow death. You leave your check-down and you have three over here and one over here, and they run a little check-down down the middle and the backer is responsible for him. But you sit there and try to help out on a receiver who is not your responsibility and we have him double-covered. You are trying to do what is right and you think, 'Oh, they are going to go there, but they dump it, get 20 yards and run out of bounds so they get yardage and they don't stop the clock. It is guys trying really hard, but we are not being smart there. And that is where it comes back to me making them more aware of the situation and demanding that they play with better discipline there. They are trying, but when they start pressing when your back is against the wall, they are pressing and trying to do too much when they just need to do what the defense ask you to do."

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