Alabama vs Oklahoma: Getting to know the Sooner’s Defense
By Dave Friedman
The Sugar Bowl is rapidly approaching, and Alabama is hard at work scouting Oklahoma. The Sooners strength this season is on defense. OU ranks 14th nationally in total defense and are adapt in nearly every defensive category. Their ability to stymie the pass and run, stop opponents on every down, and hold opposition to just over 21 point a game is a big reason why Oklahoma is 10-2. Not shockingly, the only two times the defense has played poorly, OU has lost.
Emotions are always high when Oklahoma and Texas meet. Many thought if the Longhorns fell to the Sooners it would be Mack Brown’s final game at the helm of UT. While the Sooners defense can not really be blamed for Texas tallying touchdowns on special teams and defense, they were maimed for 445 yards including 255 on the ground. The OU defense forced a couple of turnovers, but Texas went 13/20 on third down, and held the ball for more than 35 minutes in a 36-20 Horns victory.
Against Baylor on November 7, not only was the defense shaky, they were undisciplined. Oklahoma led 5-3 midway through the second quarter and then an avalanche hit. Baylor scored three times including twice in the final minute of the half and led 24-5 at intermission. The Bears put together 459 yards of offense with 255 coming on the ground. Oklahoma committed 13 penalties, failed to force a turnover, and allowed two fourth down conversions in a 41-12 setback.
While giving up big yardage to Baylor, the best offensive team in the NCAA is understandable, it is hard to imagine what happened against Texas. However, even with those two outliers, the OU defense finished the regular season ranked 15th against the pass 27th versus the run, 13th on third down defense and ninth defending fourth downs. Strangely, the Sooners are one of the worst red zone defense in the nation. Opponents got to the OU 20 yard line 31 times this year and scored 28 times. Only eight teams in the NCAA stopped a smaller percentage of red zone scoring tries.
The Sooners do not force a ton of turnovers, but they pride themselves on being tough every single play. They don’t yield a huge number of big plays, and are just as stout on first down as they are on third and fourth downs. As for the personal, it starts with lineman Charles Tapper.
A first team Big XII selection at defensive end, Tapper had 5.5 sacks in his first year as a starter and nine tackles for a loss. Defensive back Aaron Colvin joined Tapper on the first team with 49 tackles, five for a loss, an interception and fumble recovery. Linebacker Dominique Alexander was named Big XII Defensive Freshman of the Year. Alexander finished second on the squad with 75 tackles including a sack and forced fumble. Fellow LB Eric Striker was named a second team selection after accounting for 43 tackles, including 7.5 for a loss, seven hurries, and a fumble recovery. Middle linebacker Frank Shannon led the team in tackles with 85.
Seven times this season Oklahoma limited an opponent to 21 points or fewer. They did so more with fundamentals and strong play down-after-down than any gimmicks or causing turnovers. The Sooners allowed only seven point the first two weeks of the year and fewer than 14 per game over the first five weeks of the season. Down the stretch they yielded 55 points over their last two games and more than 27 points per contest over the final five contests.
Nobody would compare Alabama’s offense to Baylor, however, it might have some similarities to Texas, and it wouldn’t be at all surprising if the Crimson Tide defense got on the scoreboard. It isn’t entirely clear exactly how many points Nick Saban’s crew will need to claim a Sugar Bowl victory, but the Sooners do present a challenge. Their defense has been the primary reason they’ve won 10 games.