Sunday morning Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, along with five members of the Sooner defense met with the media to discuss the upcoming 2014 Allstate Sugar Bowl, featuring No. 11 Oklahoma against No. 3 Alabama.
COACH STOOPS: Thank you. Well, we're certainly excited to be here and anxious to get to the game. Ultimately, that is the most important part of all this. But excited for our players to finish the way we did I thought was exciting. Gives us a lot of momentum. Obviously heading into this challenge facing a tremendous Alabama football team. Offensively, they are probably the most complete or they are the most complete team we have faced when you look at the offensive line, you look at the skill, you look at the running backs, you look at the tight ends, they present huge challenges across the board. They make you defend the football field a little differently than a lot of teams we see in our conference. So that physicality that they can play with along with their speed on the perimeter, their running backs present, it will be a big challenge for our defense across the board. This will be the most physical game that we have played all year. So that's the part that's probably a little bit different than what we see in our league as to the way they come at you run at you downhill and that's definitely something we'll have to be ready for. And those are things that we've worked hard on and hopefully will be prepared once Thursday night comes around.
Q. Can you expand a little bit on how you're kind of built I guess more to stop the spread with the recruiting philosophy and schemes and how you adjust the personnel you have after this?
COACH STOOPS: We've been a little bit in transition defensively, philosophically and where we're trying to move to in getting all the pieces semantically set the way we want them, size, speed, all that takes a little bit of time. And we just kind of maneuvered our best 11, 12 guys and tried to get them on the field continuously. And it adapted pretty well to the spread offense. Obviously this is a more pro%u2011style offense that comes at you with a lot of tight ends and a lot of size and physicality like I said. So we've had to adjust some personnel for this game and tried to get bigger people in position to defend the things we're going to see with Alabama.
Q. I understand Alabama's coaches helped you a little bit with the transition, gave you some advice transitioning to your defense. How did that come about and what ways were they able to help you?
COACH STOOPS: Well, you always look at people that are successful. I think that's where it all, we all kind of steal and try to emulate other people. And certainly Alabama and Coach Saban and Kirby have been at the forefront of defense and have shown a lot of defense in what they do. So moving to a 3%u20114 is something we had done at Oklahoma prior to me coming back it was kind of in the middle part there. So it's a little different system and semantically positioning players. So Nick has coached, Coach Saban has coached all different styles and types of defense. So and we had a guy on our staff, Chad Walker, that was coach's quality control guy for three years with the Dolphins and at LSU. So we knew a lot of %u2011%u2011 we had a lot of information. It's just information we tried to curtail to our system and how we wanted to make it unique with our own system. But they'll recognize a lot of stuff that's going on when we play Saturday night. So we're going to have to try to change some things a little bit to try to create some different illusions. But, again, it's stuff they'll be familiar with.
Q. Mike, you make transition trying to guard the spread more. But seems like this year you're more physical than you were last year both defensively and offensively, can you talk about trying to retain a physical mindset when you are trying to defend the spread?
COACH STOOPS: Well, things are cyclical in football. And it was interesting, when you line up in the 3%u20114, you're more apt to get more tight ends. And it's interesting, that's what people always said. Because they want to protect the edges. So as the year went on, with teams that have been spread, have gone to bigger tight end sets trying to spread the edges out a little bit. So it was interesting to see the evolution. And, again, we're just starting this evolution and we learned a great deal, and this will be another %u2011%u2011 I think our offense has gotten more physical. We've tried to do, help each other become a more physical team. But we're just learning a lot about what we're trying to do, our personnel, and I think we'll get better from this experience. This will be another huge test for what we're trying to evolve to systematically long term with our defense. So as physical as we've had to be, at times we've managed, but again for 60 minutes this will be a big test for us to see where we need to improve and we certainly need to make improvements size at positions to play this system more effectively I think we'll be better prepared in a year's period of time just growing and getting bigger and more physical across the board. We lost some middle players in the middle part of our defense earlier in the year. And if we can get some of those pieces back I think we can across the board be much better in a year's period of time.
Q. As an old school defensive football coach, do you have an appreciation for the way Alabama does play offense physically and tight ends and that whole thing, big backs? As football has evolved, I've seen you guys defensive coordinators become more and more frustrated with spread offenses and I just wonder if you can appreciate defending these guys?
COACH STOOPS: It is. It's old school. It's NFL%u2011style of football. And they come at you in a variety of different sets, shifts, motions. You know, they window dress things very well. It's very well organized. It's very well orchestrated. Its system is foolproof. So it is. It's refreshing to see a team that wants to %u2011%u2011 there isn't anything tricky about what they're trying to do. They try to window dress their formations, but they're going to come at you and they're going to run their zone plays and they're going to get a man on a man and see if you can get to where you're supposed to get. So it's good to play %u2011%u2011 I'm excited to play in a game like this. I say that now. I don't know come Thursday night about 11 I might not feel the same way, because if you can't stop the run, you can't win. And that's just how this game is set up. And that's going to be a big challenge for us Thursday night.
Q. Mike, A.J. McCarron, does he compare to any quarterback you've coached against this year or anyone in seasons past?
COACH STOOPS: He compares more to probably guys we've had at Oklahoma, the Jason Whites, the prototypical throwers, that play behind traditional sets. Under center, probably 75 - 70 percent of the game. So it's different than what we've seen. They're a little bit like Notre Dame in some of the things they do, Texas and what they do. But he's more comparable to the guys we had at Oklahoma. I guess that's probably why we recruited him.
Q. Along the line of being physical, your linebackers are a little bit undersized. How big of a challenge is that for them?
COACH STOOPS: Our whole defense is a little bit undersized as a whole. We're built more speed. So, again, we're going to have to do some things to create some plays with our speed. And that's just how it is right now. But they're going to have to play physical. These are big physical backs and a big physical offensive line. So that's going to be a big part of the game.
Q. Mike, you mentioned having to move some personnel around to adjust to Alabama, who are some guys you're going to look to to need to step up in this game?
COACH STOOPS: I think they put bigger personnel in the game. You have to get bigger as well. PL Lindley is a guy. Chaz Nelson. Our edge guys are going to have to be bigger guys to create better matchups for us. Eric is an undersized outside linebacker and getting him matched up on a 6'6", 260 pound tight end gets tough. So we're going to have to be creative in what we do and how we do it.
Q. Mike, historically, for whatever reason, Oklahoma has not done great in close games over the years. Bob had a great record, won a bunch of them by blow out. The last couple of years you started winning close games that go down to the last minute or two, what have you seen that made you guys do well in games that go to the wire?
COACH STOOPS: That's a hard question to answer, because we believe every game is different and unique in its own way. But I just think that's how things go sometimes in close games. We're always in games at Oklahoma, you're never going to be too far out of a game. We never have. And I don't see us being too far out of many games where we just don't have an opportunity to win. So you're in a lot of those games. And I just think it's a belief, it's a confidence in what we do day in, day out. I think it has to do with Bob, he's so even keel and knows what he has to do to win the game in each situation. That's experience as a head coach and as a team. And I think that always bodes well in close games, is knowing how to manage the game and know what you're dealing with and what you have to do to win the game. I think that's what great head coaches have to do.
Q. Were you surprised with how well Dominic Alexander has played this season being a true freshman, and do you think he'll be ready for this game on Thursday?
COACH STOOPS: There ain't any question he'll be ready for it. I mean, he's played. He's an experienced player now. The sky's the limit for him as a player. He has all the movements. He has the vision. He has the awareness. He has the skill set. He'll be a great player. I don't think there's any question about that, if he stays on the path that he's on right now, the sky's the limit for him as a player. He can go down as one of the great players of Oklahoma. But it's a long career, and he's off to a fabulous start. His demeanor gives him that opportunity. Above all, his temperament, his willingness to learn, to be a great player, ultimately that's what makes players great, is their attitude to want to be great and to understand what it takes to be great. And right now, you know, he's been far beyond his years when you look at a maturity of a player of this magnitude playing in such a key role for us. We couldn't have managed this without him stepping in for Cory. As great as Cory was, you know, he's made it manageable. For a true freshman that's very difficult to do.
Q. Mike, from your perspective, Oklahoma has very seldom be a big underdog in any game. But from your perspective, I'm wondering how have the guys handled [been] handled that underdog row. Nationally the perception is Alabama is going to have an easy time. I'm just wondering what your perspective is on that?
COACH STOOPS: Well, I think, you know, the only way - I can compare it to the Orange Bowl back in 2000 when we were a 10- or 12-point underdog in the National Championship game. What it did for us going back then, just reminiscing a little bit, it just made our players, I think, pay more attention to detail, prepare to understand what they need to do and understand the challenge. And it's a pride thing. So the players have prepared well. They've looked at it as a great opportunity to see where we're at against the elite program in college football, and that's how you go into this game. Again, there's nobody fearful, that's for sure. We're excited to see where we're at and how we match up. And our players prepared well. Hopefully we can finish out the week in a positive way and go into this game with a strong attitude.
Oklahoma Defensive Back Aaron Colvin
(On AJ McCarron and the wide receivers) He (AJ McCarron) is a smart quarterback. He’s a really focused player and he knows what he is doing all the time. McCarron gets the ball out to his receivers, and the receivers can really catch. We will definitely have to be on our P’s and Q’s, but we have prepared, and we’re ready for them.
(On shoulder injuries) The time off, before we came out to New Orleans, has really helped me. I feel even better than before.
(On match up against Amari cooper) I am definitely excited for the matchup. I realize that he is a great player, but at the same time he’s not the only good player Alabama has. They have a lot of great wide receivers that are going to present us with different challenges. We are going to have be ready on the secondary.
(On overall physical matchup with Alabama) They are a great team and coached by one of the best coaches in the country. We are excited, and ready to go out there and give it all we got. It will be a good game.
(On senior leadership) I am one of the team captains, and I have to do anything my team needs me to do. Working with the other captains, we try to lead this team to the best of our ability.
Oklahoma Defensive Back Gabe Lynn
(On reflecting on the season so far) “I think our defense has played pretty well, and our offense. We overcame some injuries and young guys stepped up on our roster. Overall I thought we did well.”
(On the defensive performance in the Oklahoma State game) “We got some important stops early on, one was on the goal line and then we had a lot of three-and-outs. The defense was just fired up and we were flying around.”
(On the mentality of the defense) “We try to get off the field as quickly as possible and fly around, play physical. Really we want to get off the field as much as we can and help our offense out.”
(On adjusting for this game because of Alabama’s physical offense) “We have to change some things, but I think we’ve seen some similar things from other offenses, such as Texas’ offense. We have some guys who can move around and can play, so we will be fine.”
(On countering a physical offense) “We are going to have to put some bigger players out there in short yardage and goal line [situations]. For the most part, though, I think we have enough players in our starting eleven that match up well with them. It’s going to come down to who wants it more and playing physical.”
(On his position specifically, what to do to defend against a physical offense) “We have to play every play to the whistle. Their receivers have good size and they’re strong guys, so we have to fight off our blocks and play the run as well.”
Oklahoma Defensive Tackle Chuka Ndulue
(On facing a tough Alabama team) “They’re a tough-minded team. They’re very physical. This is probably going to be the most physical game we’re going to play all season. They’re a football team, so we’re going to go out there and play football. ”
(On the confidence boost the Oklahoma State game gave the team) “The thing is, their defense and their coaching staff, they’re great at what they do. That’s why they’ve been so successful. We’ve got to execute what the coaches are telling us the game plan is at a high level, and we can be successful. That showed at Oklahoma State and, if we can do it the same way against Alabama, we have a chance of being successful out there.”
(On the progression of the defense throughout the season) “It’s involved a lot of guys going down and a lot of young guys stepping up due to injuries. That’s how we’ve evolved slowly. The young cats have stepped up, and they’re playing a big role. With them doing that at such an early age, it just makes the future look so bright for them and the rest of the team. So, that’s pretty much how we’ve evolved. We came together, persevered through all the injuries. So, things are looking good right now. ”
(On what the young players have to do and how long it takes for them to ‘get it’) “Well, it’s not all of the young guys. It’s the group around them, the seniors, and the older guys. You’ve got to have them under your wing and let them know how it’s going to be. You’re not going to let them go out there and just leave them hanging by themselves. This is why this team is so situated, especially the defense from my perspective. We’re a tight-knit group. We all love each other. We all care for each other, and that’s what makes this team so good.”
(On the extra time spent on the practice field or in the film room) “Studying film is just as important as playing the football game. Film is where you see what they do. You learn their tendencies, what they like to do on first and second down. As a defensive lineman, I can see what kind of pass stance that offensive lineman has, and stuff like that, once you pick up on film. After practice we were leaving and Drew Brees was still looking at film. He’s a great quarterback, and you can see because he spends so much time watching film. They were done at three o’clock and we were leaving practice at seven, and he was still in there. So, that just shows you how important film is for anybody.
Oklahoma Linebacker Eric Striker
(On reflecting on camp and his growth during this season) “I had to earn my stripes and I was working hard to earn my starting position. Coming together as a team; seeing some of the new guys playing together; being on that first team, and working with the older guys like Gabe [Lynn] and Aaron [Colvin].”
(On what he’s most proud of on the defense) “When you come together and play as a team. I know we can do this.”
(On the Oklahoma State game giving the team more confidence) “I wouldn’t say that. It’s a football game. We beat Oklahoma State and that was it. We beat Oklahoma State like we were supposed to.”
(On stopping A.J. McCarron) “How do you stop him? Play sound defense, it’s not just one guy you have to stop. He’s really sound, they have a really sound offense, but - all around - we have to play good defense.”
Oklahoma Defensive End Charles Tapper
(On how to stop Alabama) “We have to stop the run game. We have to stop T.J. Yeldon from making the amazing plays, like he always does. We have to get some push on the offensive line and make sure we get into the backfield. ”
(On being in New Orleans) “We are having a great time. This is a great experience. The Sugar Bowl is treating us very well.”
(On the practice facility) “It is great being in a NFL practice facility. The atmosphere is amazing. You get to see where you could be in a couple of years.”
(On his growth as a player) “I played well this season. I made a few mistakes here and there, but Coach (Jerry) Montgomery and the entire defensive line has kept my motor going. They kept me feeling like a great person and player. I have been listening to the coaches and trying to be a great guy on the field and off.”
(On being an underdog) “We have been an underdog all season. We’ve had a chip on our shoulder all season. To have to chance to go out there and play against the best team in the nation is a great feeling.”