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Sooner Report: OU Defense Faces Stiff Test
October 29, 2013

Oklahoma Defense Meets Baylor Offense

Facing high-powered Big 12 offenses is nothing new for Oklahoma. As head coach Bob Stoops has frequently pointed out, the Big 12 has sent a long list of productive players to the NFL, particularly potent passers. Next Thursday, the Sooners will face the most potent offense they’ve faced this season when they square off against the Baylor Bears. Baylor owns the nation’s top-ranked scoring (63.9 ppg) and total offense (718.4 ypg).

However, the Oklahoma defense just faced a Texas Tech squad that entered Norman with the second-ranked pass offense in the nation and left after behind nearly 30 yards under their season average. This was also a Texas Tech offense that entered the game averaging 41.1 ppg and was held to 30 points by the Sooners, marking only the second time the Red Raiders had been held to 30 points or less this season.

Through eight games, Oklahoma ranks ninth in the nation in total defense, allowing 314.2 ypg. Put another way, that’s more than 400 fewer ypg than Baylor’s offense is averaging. Among teams that have played eight games, OU ranks fifth in the nation in total defense, only trailing Michigan State, Louisville, Virginia Tech and Alabama.

The Sooners also rank ninth in the nation in pass defense (179.5 ypg) and rank 14th among FBS squad in scoring defense (18.8). Oklahoma leads the Big 12 in first downs allowed per game (16.1) and is tied for the conference lead in time of possession (32:33).

OU has continued to perform at a high level despite season-ending injuries to critical defensive personnel, including junior LB Corey Nelson and sophomore DT Jordan Phillips. Among those filling in include some youngsters who have held their own.

“Defensively we had a bunch of really good stops on third and fourth downs and we came up with some turnovers,” said head coach Bob Stoops of the defense’s performance against Texas Tech. “We had two true freshmen at the linebacker spot [Dominique Alexander and Jordan Evans], and I’m really proud of those guys. They really played well. Jordan Evans came in and had about eight tackles and a couple of pass deflections. He was where he was supposed to be, and that’s the same with Dominique Alexander. Those young guys will have great, great futures and to get in the game like that and handle it the way they did, they really showed confidence.”

Safety Gabe Lynn has been playing side-by-side with the new additions and concurs.

“I think Dominique [Alexander] and some of the guys on the defensive line, Jordan Wade and Torrea [Peterson] are getting comfortable playing, especially Dominique,” Lynn said. “I’m pretty close with him and I just see him growing up every game. He’s just getting more confidence in himself. As far as the other guys on the team, we’re always going to miss Corey [Nelson] of his leadership and playmaking ability. We have faith in the young guys and everybody is helping them out and looking after each other.”

In OU’s last five meetings against Baylor dating back to 2008, OU has held the Bears to under 200 yards rushing three times, including a stifling six yards in 2009. Outside of the 2011 contest in which Baylor threw for 485 yards to win by a touchdown, Baylor has also struggled to throw against the Sooners, averaging 158.3 yards and throwing two total touchdowns in the other four games since ’08.

Oklahoma will need another stellar defensive performance next Thursday against a Baylor team that joins Oklahoma as two of only eight FBS teams with a game of 400 or more passing yards and a game of 315 or more rushing yards this season – a tribute to both teams’ balanced attacks.

The Running Game Is Also an Important Factor vs. Baylor

While high-flying exploits in the passing game often grab the attention of ESPN’s SportsCenter, there’s little doubt that the running game will play a key factor in the outcome of this Big 12 showdown. Baylor and Oklahoma rank first and second in the conference in rushing, respectively. Both teams have consistently enjoyed great production on the ground, but the Sooners and Bears have very different approaches towards achieving that outcome.

On the Oklahoma side, four different players account for 77 percent of the Sooners’ rushing yards. Senior running backs Brennan Clay (90 carries for 538 yards), Damien Williams (97 carries for 412 yards) and Roy Finch (35 carries for 245 yards) have shared the workload, while junior quarterback Blake Bell has contributed 66 carries for 245 yards.

“It is good,” said Clay of OU’s collection of backfield options. “Especially being able to run the ball with the amount of guys we have and make plays. It is great to have a carousel of running backs that can go out there and get four or five [yards] a pop. We are doing a great job, but we have to continue to protect the ball. I had a fumble last game, and there are no excuses. We have to keep growing. Damien [Williams] did a great job of making big plays; Roy [Finch] as well. We are going to continue to carry the load for this offense and protect the quarterback.”

Baylor, meanwhile, has mainly relied on one man – junior Lache Seastrunk, who has 96 carries for 869 yards this season. His 124.1 yards-per-game average leads the Big 12 and ranks 12th in the country. The Sooners are no stranger to Seastrunk, who was held to 91 yards, but did score three touchdowns in Oklahoma’s 42-35 home win against Baylor last season.

“They space you out so far and then they have such a great running back when he gets the ball with any kind of space,” said Stoops of the Baylor rushing game. “He [Seastrunk] is strong to run through you and he’s fast to run by you or around you. So that’s a big part of the challenge – being able to be in position to tackle him and to have your feet and hips in position to tackle him.”

Baylor’s Unique Offensive Philosophy

Head coach Art Briles is in his sixth season with Baylor, but his offensive philosophy began evolving during his days as a Texas high school coach and has continued to develop at both the University of Houston and at Baylor.

“We try to play with good tempo and we’d like for our guys to play extremely hard,” Briles said of his philosophy. “So if that equates to looking like there is a lot of speed, then that’s a good thing. All we’re really trying to do is max out with tempo and with effort.”

Stoops has seen enough of Baylor both in person and on tape to know the challenges that their offense presents.

“It’s hard to stop them; there’s so much speed in the way they space you out,” said Oklahoma’s head coach, who owns a 13-1 career record against Baylor. “A lot of times it isn’t real complicated, it’s being able to match up and run with them and cover them and eliminate so many big plays.”

Stoops acknowledges that the way Baylor spreads the field “literally sideline to sideline” presents unique challenges for any defense. And then there’s quarterback Bryce Petty, who triggers it all. Asked this week what impresses him most about Petty, Stoops’ had plenty of praise for the passer who has produced gaudy numbers for the Bears.

“Everything really,” said Stoops of what impresses him about Petty. “Great arm, great poise, throws a great ball. You can tell he has a great understanding of their offense and where he wants to go with everything so he does a great job.”

Chris Brown of Grantland took an interesting look at Baylor offense in an article last week. Below is an interesting excerpt from that expansive piece:

Superficially, Baylor is yet another shotgun spread that pushes the tempo and rarely huddles. But when you watch the Bears, it's evident that this is an offense unlike the others. While more and more college and NFL teams are adopting the same up-tempo spread philosophy Briles used at Stephenville, Baylor has stayed one step ahead by taking these ideas — from formations to play-calling aggressiveness to pace — to their extremes.

The first thing to notice when watching Baylor is the splits of the wide receivers. While most teams put their wide receivers on the numbers, the Bears line theirs up well outside, sometimes directly on the sideline. By doing this, they force defenses to account for the entire width of the field.

To read more on the Baylor offense via Chris Brown of Grantland, visit http://es.pn/17qXtGi

Keeping Drives Alive

After keeping the explosive Texas Tech offense off the scoreboard for most of the first quarter last week, a three-and-out and a 24-yard punt return gave the Red Raiders excellent field position their own 49 with 5:44 left in the opening period. Nine plays later, Texas Tech held a 7-0 lead after executing a nine-play scoring drive in a little over two minutes.

Oklahoma‘s initial drive of the second quarter provided a much-needed and time-consuming reponse that the Sooners would like to replicate against Baylor. After being backed up at their own three-yard line by a Texas Tech punt, the Sooners proceeded to orchestrate a 16-play, 97-yard drive that was capped by a 15-yard from Blake Bell to Jalen Saunders. In addition to evening the scoreboard at 7-7, that scoring march ate 7:36 off the clock, consuming a little over half of the quarter.

With the Red Raiders poised to go ahead, the Oklahoma defense forced a fumble that was immediately cashed in with a 76-yard scoring strike from Bell to Saunders, giving the Sooners a 14-7 advantage and a lead they would not relinquish.

“We had four drives over 70 yards,” Stoops said of the Texas Tech contest. “We had one for 90 something. Those are big because you’re not only chewing up clock, but also scoring points and that was a big factor.”

OU’s scoring drives on the day went for 97, 76, 86, 75, 58 and 53 yards, respectively. This season, Oklahoma has produced a total of 16 drives spanning 70 yards or more. More of the same will be necessary to help keep Baylor’s offense from generating video game numbers next week.

It’s no secret to Stoops and the Sooners that winning up front helps lay the foundation for getting into manageable third-down situations. Against Texas Tech, Oklahoma converted 50 percent (7 of 14) of its third-down attempts.

“They’re doing a great job up front,” Stoops said. “They have a great camaraderie - they really communicate well with each other. It all starts with Gabe [Ikard], the leader out there and recognizing things - getting it communicated. So it’s very pleasing to see and it gives you a lot of confidence when you’re in those games and it’s late like that and you’re able to run it and keep moving chains and burning timeouts and still get points. The first drive in the third quarter we had one pass the whole drive, we go right down running the football. So hopefully we can keep doing that.”

The Sooner Secondary Will Be Tested

Senior cornerback Aaron Colvin was named one of 15 semifinalists for the 2013 Jim Thorpe Award, presented annually to the top defensive back in college football. A team captain, Colvin ranks fourth on the squad with 39 tackles (30 solo). He is third on the team with 5.0 tackles for loss (-11 yards) and also has an interception, a sack, a fumble recovery and three pass breakups.

No doubt Colvin’s candidacy would be bolstered if he and his teammates could help Oklahoma hand Baylor its first loss of the season.

While not grabbing as much attention as Colvin, another senior in the Sooners’ secondary has also been playing at a high level this season, safety Gabe Lynn. Lynn leads OU with three interceptions, while also adding 31 tackles and a 27-yard fumble recovery return. After bouncing around several spots in the secondary during his tenure in Norman, head coach Bob Stoops indicates that Lynn has finally found a home at free safety.

“He’s playing great, great football and the free safety position is best for him,” said Stoops of Lynn. “He had a really good year a year ago and he’s again having a great year this year for us. Had a ton of tackles – I think led the team in tackles the other day along with another interception. And as I’ve been saying, is really a strong leader out there – getting people on the same page and getting things communicated.”

Lynn knows that Baylor presents problems with a host of talented and speedy skill players.

“I have seen a lot of highlights and its Baylor so there is a lot of speed on the field,” he said. “We’re going to have our hands full trying to stop them so it will be fun. I know No. 16, [Tevin] Reese, is really good, a fast guy. They have some other receivers. [Lache] Seastrunk is a good running back. They’re a tempo team, so we’re going to have to be in shape and work hard in practice to be able to keep up with that speed.”

While Texas Tech may not spread the field quite as dramatically as Baylor will, Lynn also indicates that seeing some up-tempo looks from Texas Tech last week has given the Sooners a small taste of what they can expect in larger doses when facing Baylor.

“It helps a lot with the tempo, and we have kind of been seeing that, not really much against Kansas, but against Texas and now Tech, so we’ll be going into Baylor already having played some games with that speed. I think we’ll be prepared for it.”

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