During the early portion of the schedule, fans quickly came restless with the defensive product put on the field by the Sooners. Suffering the first loss of the season, the conversation boiled over. Holding a meeting, the program decided to part ways with Mike Stoops beginning a new era in Oklahoma Football — an era without a Stoops on staff.
Stepping in to fill the void, Ruffin McNeill assumed to responsibilities vacated by the former defensive coordinator. Finding initial success, the defense appeared to respond to a new voice in the locker room by holding the TCU Horned Frogs to less than 300 yards of offense. Following up the success, the defense repeated the feat the next week against Kansas State. For the first time, fans rejoiced as the bar climbed higher and higher.
Yet, it still seemed premature as the Kenneth Murray led defense had yet to face a quality offense with McNeill in the booth. That fact changed as the Sooners stepped onto the field in Lubbock, Texas.
Surrendering 473 yards of offense to Texas Tech, the Red Raiders managed to score 46 points thanks to forcing two early turnovers. In pursuit of an upset bid, Alan Bowman and Jett Duffey fell just short. While each played a single half, the duo brought up questions once again concerning the Sooner defense. By the end of the contest, fans voiced their displeasure of the “new” product.
I’m here to tell urge fans to hold off judgement of the performance for at least another week for a couple of reasons.
First and foremost, Oklahoma found themselves without Brendan Radley-Hiles and Kahlil Haughton on the field — both starting safeties. Knowing two receivers of 6’4″ and over plotted a challenge to the secondary, McNeill clearly tried to compensate. Attempting to cover the youth of the group, the coordinator dropped corners into soft coverages. The next move was to sacrifice a linebacker for anther defensive back. In doing so, I believe McNeill’s “simple” defense gained a level of complication that moved players out of position to make an instinctual play.
Secondly, defenses are dependent upon rotations and the ability to make substitutions. However, those opportunities are cut down tremendously by the hurry-up air-raid offenses like Tech brings to the field. By doing this one thing, offenses gain a significant edge over any opponent. That’s what makes getting off the field so important for a defense in the Big 12 Conference. Unfortunately, the Sooner defense could not do just that. On the first and second drives of the game Kyler Murray threw an interception on the putting the defense back on the field with no break.
Lastly, Mike Stoops defense racked up numerous missed tackled during his stay in Norman. It made me question if defenders were allowed to tackle in practice or not. Regardless, old habits die hard. It’s unrealistic to expect this group to deconstruct the mental highways and habits in the short stint of three weeks. While I see progress, I refuse to believe this is the final product.
Either way, the jury is still out on the defense.