Stop the run and force the quarterback to beat you. It’s a bold strategy that takes advantage of the strength of Oklahoma’s defensive front but puts pressure on the back end. It’s a strategy that has produced close calls in four of OU’s five games. It’s a strategy that is paying off for the 5-0 Sooners.
It’s been a while since Oklahoma’s defense was defined by anything other than mistakes, frustrations, and blown coverages. However, in year three of Alex Grinch and the Speed D things have changed. They actually started changing midway through year two but as year three approaches the midway point it’s a full blown identity.
It took Kansas State 27 rushing attempts to get to 100 yards on Saturday. That’s an average of 3.7 yards per rush for a team that came into the game averaging 184.8 yards on the ground. Duece Vaughn was giving the Wildcats nearly 100 yards per outing (98.3) at a clip of 5.2 yards per carry. Against OU he managed just 51 yards and 3.4 yards per carry. That’s what this defense does. They stop the run. The Sooner defense has allowed 100 or fewer rushing yards in all five games this season and 11 times in 16 games since the start of the 2020 season.
Removing an aspect from the opponent’s offensive attack is causing those teams to press. When a team presses it increases the tendency to make mistakes and that brings us to the second aspect of Oklahoma’s defensive identity which is forcing turnovers.
Nik Bonitto set a program record with his 70-yard fumble return on Saturday. The fumble was forced by Reggie Grimes and continued a streak, that goes back to last season, where the Sooners have registered at least one takeaway in 12 straight games and are +14 in turnover margin during that span.
What Went Right Against Kansas State
Run Defense – I know that we just spent five paragraphs talking about this but stopping the Wildcat rushing attack was paramount for the Sooners on Saturday because of the uncertainty of the K-State quarterback situation. A rule of thumb is to control what you can control and that’s exactly what they did in Manhattan on Saturday.
Tackles For Loss – The Sooners may have only gotten to KSU quarterback Skylar Thompson one time for a sack but they also continued their barrage of plays behind the line of scrimmage. Led by Nik Bonitto, Justin Broiles, and Isaiah Thomas (Who recorded two each) the OU defenders made a total of 8 tackles for loss on Saturday.
Pat Fields – With Oklahoma’s secondary a bit depleted due to injury (Delarrin Turner-Yell and Woodi Washington were out) Fields took the reigns of leadership and was fantastic. He led the team with 9 total tackles and in an indicator of what his mentality was like on Saturday he was flagged for tackling too hard.
Oklahoma is in an 11-way tie at 24th in total sacks with 15. They are also tied with the same group at 24th with an average of three sacks per game. The Sooners are 84th among FBS schools in pass defense with opponents averaging 241.4 yards per game against them. Oklahoma is holding opponents to 79.4 rushing yards per game which ranks them 7th in the FBS. The Sooners are also tied for 7th in fumble recoveries at 6 and tied for 25th in total turnovers gained at 9.
OU is 42nd in total defense at an average of 320.8 yards given up per game.
Top 3 Defensive Plays Against Kansas State
3. Isaiah Thomas sacks Skylar Thompson
2. Justin Broiles blasts Malik Knowles for a 4-yard loss
1. Nik Bonitto’s 70-yard fumble return
What did we get miss?
What Went Wrong
Pass Defense – I already mentioned that the Sooners were shorthanded in the secondary and that certainly played a hand in some of the struggles Oklahoma faced on Saturday. They actually did a decent job against Kansas State’s receivers but the inability to pick up Deuce Vaughn coming out of the backfield was extremely frustrating…and a bit frightening.
Third And Fourth Downs – The Sooners failed to get off the field on the money downs. Kansas State converted on 53% of its third down attempts (8-of-15) and 80% of its fourth down attempts (4-of-5). It doesn’t matter if you consistently win first and second down if you also consistently lose third and fourth down.
Missed Opportunities – Nik Bonitto’s fumble recovery was the only turnover of the day for the Sooner defense but it wasn’t for lack of opportunity. Dropped interceptions by Jaden Davis and Key Lawrence should have given OU three turnovers. In failing to capitalize on those opportunities they also failed to keep points off the board for Kansas State.
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