OU defense stands on its own

Oklahoma’s defense has played second fiddle to its record-breaking offense all season long. The Sooners have set records for points scored and have a Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Sam Bradford, so it’s understandable.

Still, the question remains: How good is the Oklahoma defense?

Anyone who knows the history of Florida football and its former defensive coordinator Bob Stoops, the architect of the defense which helped Steve Spurrier’s Gators win the 1996 national championship, realizes this man knows defense. Stoops won his only national championship at Oklahoma following the 2000 season by shutting down one of the best offenses in Florida State’s football history.

With a month to get ready, I expect Oklahoma’s defense to show up in Miami looking to make a name for itself and the Big 12. How it plays will help determine if the Big 12 was a conference of great offenses or if the Big 12 was one with average defenses.

The Sooners play a 4-3 defense which likes to pressure and squeeze offenses. Bob Stoops cut his teeth teaching man cover 1 in his early days, but as he has gotten better athletes he has allowed them to play a more attacking zone-style defense. OU will give you plenty of looks in the front seven and the Sooners do like to bring linebacker blitzes. They had 42 sacks in the pass-happy Big 12, including four against Texas and four against Texas Tech.

Oklahoma can get after the quarterback, but the defense also will give up the big play.  Oklahoma gave up 29 pass plays over 25 yards in 2008, compared to just 11 for Florida. Big 12 apologists will say look at the teams the Sooners played and the margin of victory and that may be true, but on film OU looks vulnerable. The secondary had 17 interceptions led by gambling free safety Lendy Holmes with five. Dominque Franks is a young but talented cover corner and the freshman weakside linebacker Travis Lewis had four interceptions.

One interesting stat I found about the Sooners’ secondary is that it gave up 20 touchdowns all season, but all of them were when they were ahead or tied. Much like Florida, the Sooners hardly trailed all season. They look vulnerable across the middle to me and that bodes well for Aaron Hernandez, Percy Harvin and Deonte Thompson.

The run defense is led by sophomores – defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and defensive end Jeremy Beal who combined for 24 tackles for loss. These guys are big and physical and will get off the rock in passing situations. The defense is weak at middle linebacker but has been good out of the gate dominating the first quarter when teams have tried to run. The opposition scored just one touchdown and averaged 1.8 yards per carry coming out of the gate.

Florida wants to be balanced and the first quarter will provide a good test to see if OU has done its homework on the Gators’ rushing attack.  Nebraska had 208 yards rushing on the Sooners but got blown out. The Texas game was a good barometer – the Longhorns didn’t have an established run threat at the time but was able to get 161 yards on Oklahoma.

Florida will look at the Missouri and Texas games closely because both have similar offensive styles to the Gators. The Sooners have given up just 30 points all season in the first quarter. They have led every game this season at the half. So if you are Florida, it is best to break down only the first half of most of the rout games plus the Texas game, the Sooners’ only defeat. The Sooners have given up most of their yards on the ground and touchdowns in the second half.

So how good is Oklahoma’s defense? I think it is pretty good. The Sooners have dominated the first quarter of games and have put away almost all of their opponents by halftime. Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma State hung around at the half but all the others were extinguished by this aggressive defense.

I think the Sooners are vulnerable to big plays and it will be interesting to see how they respond in a close game. They never really slowed down Oklahoma State late in the season and that leads me to believe they have a good defense but not a great one. Oklahoma State does not run Florida’s offense like Missouri and Texas do, but the Cowboys did run the ball well and that is something UF will look at closely. 

I think on tape Florida has a better defense but there are too many variables to take into account with Oklahoma. How good were the Big 12 offenses? In games which Oklahoma scored 60 points, does it matter that it gave up 27 points per game? Is this the defense on paper that looks average or the one in the first quarter that is dominant when challenged? And how come Texas figured this defense out and OU could not stop them in the second half?

I will say that I have a lot of respect for Bob Stoops. I think the Sooners will play better than they look on paper and on film, and with the one-month layoff, I expect a spirited effort from the Sooners on defense.

This and That: Congratulations to Steve Addazio for being named the offensive coordinator job at Florida, replacing Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen. This is the right hire for Urban Meyer and the University of Florida. Addazio knows Meyer’s system and will command immediate respect from the returning players in the spring. By doing this Meyer can take his time adding one assistant and continue to groom within his staff once Addazio leaves to take a head coaching position. 

I do have to wonder whether Billy Gonzalez will stay at Florida or get an offer to go to Mississippi State to be with Dan Mullen. Gonzalez has done an outstanding job keeping a lot of top recruits happy and is himself a great recruiter.

Florida is in phase two of its preparations for Oklahoma and trying to make sure it hits its stride when it gets to Miami. I think the layoff will benefit the defense, but the offense will need to keep its momentum going. I mentioned earlier that the Sooners’ defense has played tough in the first quarter, but look for UF to keep it simple. I expect Florida to save its exotic plays for the second quarter when the Sooners have struggled. Expect UF to come out with its base offense and see how OU will react. This could provide a feeling-out process but will open things up for Tebow and the Gators in the second quarter. I think this will be a much different game than the 2006 national championship game against Ohio State. Both teams will be highly motivated and ready to play.

Statistically speaking: Teams convert against Oklahoma’s defense only 33 percent of the time on third-down plays. … Texas converted 46 percent of its third downs in its 45-35 victory over the Sooners. … The Sooners’ secondary has given up 12 touchdown passes in the red zone; Florida’s secondary has give up 10 touchdown passes all season. … Oklahoma held seven opponents under 100 yards rushing in a game this season; Florida held five opponents under 100 yards rushing in a game this season. … The opposition converted 50 percent of time on fourth down (15 of 30). … Oklahoma’s defense forced 32 turnovers. … Oklahoma was -2 in turnover margin in its loss to Texas; Florida was -2 in turnover margin in its loss to Mississippi.