OU game notes and analysis: defense

Notes and analysis on the Horns' defensive performance in OU's 14-3 win:

Just as Carl Reese had suggested last week, the Horns threw a lot of defensive looks at the Sooners. The Texas D opened in a 3-2 formation with Cory Redding, Marcus Tubbs and Kalen Thornton on the D-line, D.D. Lewis and Derrick Johnson at linebacker and Quentin Jammer, Rod Babers, Nathan Vasher, Ahmad Brooks, Dakarai Pearson and Phillip Geiggar in the secondary (although Geiggar played the rover position, which is a hybrid of LB and DB, so the formation could also be called a 3-3). On the Sooners' first offensive play from scrimmage (after a holding call pushed them back 10 yards), Tubbs made a great play on a shovel pass to Quentin Griffin, dropping the OU running back for a four-yard loss on the play and pushing the Sooners into a second-and-24 situation. One of the Horns' main efforts in the game was to limit Griffin's effectiveness, and they did just that, holding the explosive back to 27 yards on 16 carries (1.7 per rush) and just 14 yards on five receptions. Aside from a 17-yard run and an 18-yard catch, Griffin averaged far less than a yard per touch. He did add to his TD total, though, with a two-yard option pitch left in the second quarter for Oklahoma's only offensive score.

The here-we-go-again thought crossed my mind on the Sooners' first drive when, after the play by Tubbs described above, OU WR Mark Clayton caught a pass in the right flat on second-and-24 and slipped the grasp of Geiggar and blew by Lewis for a 23-yard gain. The Sooners picked up the first down on the next play with a quick hitter to Curtis Fagan, but the D, and particularly Johnson, stepped it up on the next three plays. The Horns' true freshman 'backer caught the attention of the non-UT media members, who verbalized their awe in the press box, by chasing down Griffin on a pitch to the right and stopping him after only two yards on a play that looked destined to gain 10 at the outset. Johnson, who finished with five tackles, including a TFL, and three QB hurries, and Thornton applied pressure on Nate Hybl on the second down play, forcing an incompletion, and Pearson blanketed Griffin on the third down play, leading to another incompletion. The final three plays of the drive would turn out to be much more indicative of the D's performance that the earlier big gainer by Clayton. Matter of fact, that 23-yard play would be OU's longest of the game.

The Horns forced the Sooners into two straight three-and-outs in the late first and early second quarter using either the more traditional 3-3 (with Tyrone Jones at strongside linebacker) or the 3-2 (with Geiggar at rover). The overall speed of the Texas D was particularly evident through OU's first three drives, with the Longhorns getting close to QB Hybl on the speed rush, forcing running plays far outside and towards the boundary and sticking like glue on the Sooners' darting receivers.

OU's O, though, lit the board on its next (fourth) drive after taking over at its own 39 following Andre Woolfolk's block of a Dusty Mangum field goal attempt. The Sooners moved the 61 yards in 11 plays and probably benefited from the big hit Tubbs put on Hybl. The Sooner starting QB, who had had little luck piercing the Texas D, gave way to back-up Jason White, whose scrambling and option ability threw the UT defenders a bit of an unexpected change-up. White took over with Oklahoma at the 50 and, interspersed with a couple of Griffin runs, completed three passes to Clayton, one for eight, one for 11 and another for two to set up a fourth-and-one at the Texas 30. On the fourth down play, the Sooners burned the Horns (and particularly MLB Lewis) with a beautifully executed misdirection option left to Griffin that went to the 13. White followed that up with an 11-yard keeper and Griffin finished the scoring drive off with the two-yard option run. Reese called it a "nightmare" to have White come in off the bench, a QB who the Horns had virtually no film on. "He did a good job avoiding the rush," the Texas defensive coordinator said. "Those are plays that we needed to make, we didn't make them and that was the difference in the game." On the drive, the Sooners not only benefited from the Hybl injury, but they received a bit of help from the refs as well. Facing a second-and-15 at the UT 43, White completed an 11-yard pass to Clayton. But instead of a third-and-four, OU should have faced a second-and-25 from back in its own territory. True frosh backer Johnson, coming through the middle of the defense, was held by a Sooner lineman, allowing White to connect with Clayton. Texas received its share of gifts from the guys in the striped shirts (the questionable pass interference call on Woolfolk covering B.J. Johnson in the second quarter and the very generous fourth quarter mark of an Ivan Williams third down run), but OU turned their opportunity into points. Texas, of course, did not.

After stuffing the Sooners on three straight possessions to start the second half, the UT D seemed to fatigue down the stretch, allowing two long drives. Neither resulted directly in points -- the first, which straddled the third and the fourth quarter, went for 51 yards on 14 plays and ended in a missed field goal while the second covered 53 yards in 12 plays, ate up almost six-and-a-half minutes of the fourth quarter and ended on OU kicker Tim Duncan's pooch punt from the Texas 27 that Vasher caught and downed at the three. That drive and the play by Vasher led to OU's defensive score on Teddy Lehman's INT of Chris Simms at the two yardline. The only ball that the Texas D got its hands on came on the Sooners' long fourth quarter drive when, on second-and-16 from the UT 27 with about two-and-a-half minutes to play, Jammer almost picked off a White attempt for Fagan. As on the scoring drive in the first half, White was the key to the OU O's success on both late drives, scrambling for 33 yards and completing six of 10 passes for 53 yards. The Horns used 3-2, 3-3 and 3-4 defensive sets on those final OU drives.

Texas held the OU O to just 98 total yards through its first eight possessions. The Sooners ended the game with 206, almost 200 yards below their season average. The Horns limited Griffin, but the Longhorn D often let White slither away on scrambles and did not cause a single turnover while the Oklahoma D took four TOs from the Texas offense, which means according to Reese, that OU's defense outplayed UT's. And because of that, Reese said his D did not do its job against the Sooners. I asked Reese post-game what his defenders could do to create more turnovers. No. 1, he said, is putting pressure on the quarterback and getting him "ahead of schedule." Somewhere in that equation, though, the DBs and LBs need to simply start making plays.

Rawls, despite giving up his starting spot to Derrick Johnson, led the team in tackles with six, including two TFLs. Redding, Vasher and Johnson all totaled five tackles.

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