Oklahoma’s never been known for it’s defense, unless of course the defense completely soiled the bed. Drunken late night Taco Bell defecating. Throw those sheets away and buy new ones.
Think back to the Georgia game in the Rose Bowl during Bake Mayfield’s final season in Norman, Okla. The Sooners couldn’t stop the run to save their lives (317 yards), a stat that was punctuated by a 27-yard game-winning touchdown run by Sony Michel that gave the Bulldogs the win in the third overtime.
Coming into this season, there were two questions facing Oklahoma: What would the new defense look like underneath first-year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch and how would the new defense fair against an offense that was, well, worth a damn?
The first quarter of the season answered the first question. The game against Texas last weekend answered the latter.
By the numbers
Texas QB Sam Ehlinger completed about 68% of his passes for 210 yards, which is a farily solid stat-line. However, the Sooners defense kept the Texas’ passing game to a minimum. The Longhorns average pass attempt was around five yards. It’s average pass completion was around eight yards.
Those value of those averages rose because of a second-half surge by Texas because in the first half, Oklahoma hardly allowed the Longhorns to move the ball.
The first drive set the tone for the defense and Texas’ conservative approach didn’t help the Longhorns any.
Before the ball was even snapped, defensive back Brendan Radly Hiles recognized the eventual swing pass and made a beeline for the receiver. While he didn’t make the tackle, Radley-Hiles cleared the path for the three other Sooners behind him to make the tackle-for-loss, the first of 16 on the afternoon.
On this play, I believe Texas tried to sell a decoy fake to Ehlinger’s right. At the top of the screen, you can see a wide receiver shuffle toward the sideline for a screen pass, an “option” Ehlinger doesn’t even look toward, so the defense doesn’t buy it. Even if it was a real option, the safety playing man over the receiver came down almost immediately.
The real play came near the bottom of the screen to receiver Devin Duvernay, who runs a 1-yard comeback route. The original design was to have Duvernay run behind three offensive linemen at the second level. But the linemen are slow to get there. This allows linebacker Kenneth Murray to go unblocked to make the tackle for no gain.
This is just an impressive spin move by nose tackle Neville Gallimore. Off the snao, Gallimore beats the center who his helpless in the defensive lineman’s pursuit of Ehlinger and the eventual sack. It was the first of Oklahoma’s nine sacks on the afternoon.
As stated earlier, the Sooners racked up nine sacks. Eight different sooners dropped Ehlinger for a loss, including defensive backs like Pat Fields.
Of all the play calls Grinch had on Saturday afternoon, this was by far my favorite.
Grinch lines up six in the box and actually sends a seventh pass-rusher from the defensive backfield. What’s great about this play is that Ehlinger doesn’t even see Fields coming until he’s about to break the through the pocket. Ehlinger actually looks at Fields right before defensive back wraps him up. Great call and great execution.
Murray, who leads the Sooners with 42 tackles, played maybe his sharpest game of the year against the Longhorns. He rarely missed a tackle and was very keen on recognizing Texas’ plays off the snap.
This play showcases Murray’s raw talent because as he blitzes, the linebacker initially believes the running back is going to get the ball on the RPO. However, Murray is able to recognize in a split second that Ehlinger is keeping the ball and makes a quick cut to change his direction and try to tackle the quarterback. Like Radley-Hiles, Murray misses the tackle but disrupts the play and allows his teammates behind him to make the play.
In Oklahoma’s man protection, Murray already has responsibility for the running back. But off the snap, Murray immediately pursues his man on the swing route and drops him for a loss.
On this play, Oklahoma lines up to show they’re sending six men. But Murray drops back to shadow Ehlinger and one he sees the Texas quarterback make a cut to run left for the scramble, Murray pursues him for the tackle and the third-down stop.
Texas only racked up 210 passing yards, partially because Oklahoma didn’t allow the Longhorns to gain any yards after the catch. Oklahoma’s man-coverage is so good at meeting receivers at the destination of the catch and wrapping them up.
Oklahoma’s defensive backs, especially their safeties, did such a great job picking up on the play and coming downfield to make the tackle. By the time Ehlinger turns his head to make the throw, Oklahoma already has a safety meeting the receiver at the catch.
Remember the first play of the game? The swing pass that Radley-Hiles wasn’t able to make the tackle on?
Once again, the defensive back was able to immediately pick it up and prevent Ehlinger from dumping the ball off. This allowed for the pass-rush to eventually get to him and bring him down for a big loss.
While Ehlinger went with another swing pass following the sack, I can’t imagine this was the first choice. It was most likely the quarterbacks’ response to the aggressive pass-rush. He can’t take another sack. So, his best option was to give it to his running back who, unfortunately for the Longhorns, was swallowed up by a defender who met him almost immediately after the catch.
Texas actually tied Oklahoma with 24 second half points which helped the Longhorns make it a closer game than what it was. Had it not been for Oklahoma’s defense in the first half, maybe Texas wins this game again. The Sooner offense only scored 10 points in the first half which is uncharacteristic for this years’ team.
But the Sooners’ defense came through when the team needed them. They prevented Texas from taking advantage of empty Sooner drives and kept the Longhorns behind all afternoon.
This was the first true test the Sooners defense faced this year and they passed with flying colors, in my opinion. There’s always work to be done, as Jalen Hurts can attest to. But this is a Sooners defense that’s proven it can hold it’s own against a ranked opponent.
If the Sooners can avoid the trap game loss the rest of the way, the next true test for the defense will come in the College Football Playoff.