Oklahoma’s defense showed signs of promise Sunday night in Oklahoma’s 49-31 season opening victory over the Houston Cougars. It was far from a perfect performance from the Sooners but there was enough energy, pressure, and consistent coverage to give the fans hope for improvement.
Now, with a trip to UCLA looming, the focus of the Sooner defense will be to tweak a few things, gain more experience in Alex Grinch’s “speed” defensive scheme, and continue to improve on fundamentals.
Here are three things to look for from Oklahoma’s defense on Saturday night.
Be On The Hunt For Turnovers
The defensive coaching staff was unapologetic on the fact that they demand at least two turnovers per game from their squad. That’s the floor they’ve set for themselves and last week they were in the basement against Houston because they failed to record one. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t opportunity though. There were a couple of chances for interceptions and a forced fumble that Houston ultimately recovered.
Look for the defense to be slightly more aggressive in pursuing turnovers against a lesser opponent. Defensive backs could be more prone to take chances and break on the ball while linebackers and defensive linemen will be attempting to strip it away from ball carriers.
This type of aggressiveness leads to two possibilities for the defense. First, it could lead to them actually forcing turnovers. Second, it could open the door for South Dakota to have a big play here or there. I would suspect we see a little bit of both.
Stuff The Run
The Coyotes didn’t appear to be a strong running team in the season opener against Montana. They mustered just 106 yards on 30 carries (3.5 YPC) with sophomore Canaan Brooks leading the team, producing 41 yards on 13 carries.
Meanwhile, the Sooners were gashed to the tune of 241 yards, at a pace of 5.7 yards per carry, against the Cougars on Sunday night. Some of that can be placed on the burden of defending a dual-threat quarterback the caliber of D’Eriq King but there were also some missed tackles and blown assignments in run support.
With the threat of King removed this week, expect a more focused effort against the run.
Dial Up The Quarterback Pressure
Again, the D’Eriq King factor comes to play here. Last week the Sooners had to be a bit selective with how they chose to come after the quarterback. This week, not so much. Oklahoma recorded three sacks last week against the Cougars, if they don’t improve on that number this week then it’ll be a bit of a disappointment.
South Dakota receiver Kody Case exploded for 144 receiving yards and two scores, on 11 catches, last week to emerge as the top receiving threat for the Coyotes. He’ll be able to challenge Oklahoma’s defensive backs, which is a welcomed sight for a group still learning a new system, but keeping him covered should cause quarterback Austin Simmons to delay a quick throw and read through progressions. That opens the door for an aggressive pass rush to do damage, especially if Neville Gallimore and company can bring pressure up the middle.
The Coyotes only allowed one sack against Montana last week, and that came on a designed quarterback run, so Oklahoma’s defensive front won’t be going up against air. We should still expect positive results though.
Follow us on Twitter: @SportsHeartland