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UCLA Football Preview: The Oklahoma Defense is on the Rise

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After dismantling Lane Kiffin’s Florida Atlantic Owls last weekend, the Sooners welcome the Bruins to Norman.

NCAA Football: Big 12 Championship-Texas Christian vs Oklahoma Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Last week was not fun to sit through and I don’t have any reason to believe this weekend is going to be any better. What we can do is look for overall improvement against a much more talented team and, hopefully, have something to build on before conference play starts.

Oklahoma only allowed two touchdowns and sacked Florida Atlantic’s quarterback three times. Both of FAU’s touchdown’s were in the second half, when it was likely that Oklahoma pulled some starters—a total of 23 players logged stats on defense. However, Oklahoma came out of the weekend ranked 53rd in total defense, according to NCAA.com. Meanwhile, our Bruins ranked 43rd, which literally cut our rank from three digits to two from last year.

Sooner fans felt their team was lacking on defense in past years and that side of the ball is possibly what prevented them from reaching the National Championship. Tackling had been inconsistent and the whole unit just didn’t seem to be on the same page. However, Mike Stoops seems to have come into his own, even playing freshmen that wound up being standouts in Saturday’s contest.

Don’t get me wrong, FAU is not to be taken lightly, as they are coached by former Southern Cal head coach Lane Kiffin and have one of the best tailbacks in the country in Devin Singletary. In two seasons, he had almost 3,000 yards and 44 touchdowns. They averaged 498.4 yards per game and 40.6 points in 2017, but the Sooners were able to completely shut down the Owls’ offense in the first half and held them to no passing and only two rushing touchdowns in the second half.

Oklahoma runs a 4-2-5 defense that is designed to shut down the typical Big 12 aerial assault. According to the Crimson and Cream Machine, this is how that style of defense breaks down:

The 4-2-5 is a nickel package that allows a defense to substitute a linebacker for a defensive back. This in effect would tighten passing windows for quarterbacks simply because there are fewer open spaces to work with. The tricky part to fielding a successful 4-2-5 is having a player with the unique skill-set required to play that fifth DB.

Let’s take a look at the defense we’re up against this Saturday.

Defensive Line

The Sooners will play four men up front, so we’ll most likely see redshirt juniors Neville Gallimore and Dillon Faamatau at tackle, with either redshirt junior Kenneth Mann or true freshman Ronnie Perkins on the right and junior Amani Bledsoe on the left. Perkins came out with his hair on fire last Saturday logging four tackles, cementing his place on the starting line up since starter Addison Gumbs was lost last Friday to a non-contact knee injury. Head coach Lincoln Riley had this to say about Perkins:

Perkins was what I would say one of the highlights as far as the young guys. As much as any of them, it looked like he belonged from the first snap. He got off some blocks, made some plays and was really close to making a couple of others. But with not playing a ton of snaps, he had an impact on the game.

Gallimore, aka “Big Canada”, comes in at 6’2” tall and 330 pounds but he has an athleticism of someone much smaller. He has no problem with double teams and can push around running backs like none other. Gallimore and Bledsoe are considered to be the veteran anchors of this line.

Linebackers

In this unit, the Sooners are looking to replace first-team All-American Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, who went in the fifth round to the Los Angeles Rams. He was the 2017 Co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. In the last two seasons, he recorded 17 sacks and 29.5 tackles for loss and also provided leadership for the team only found in senior players. He was flanked by leading tackler Emmanuel Beal, who led the team in tackles in 2017 and was second in 2016.

Sophomore Kenneth Murray is considered to be a top replacement. He was the 2017 Co-Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, started all 14 games last season, and ranked second on the team with 78 tackles. Redshirt senior Curtis Bolton and Junior Caleb Kelly, who moved from the strong side to the weak side, both tied for second most tackles in last weekend’s game against FAU. They each had three solo tackles, but Bolton had one for a loss and will be one of the leading linebackers this season.

Two big recruits that will see time on the field are true freshmen outside linebacker Nik Bonitto and inside linebacker DaShaun White. Both were high school All-Americans and consensus four-star recruits last season and they have already made a difference for the Sooner linebacking corps. Bonitto had four tackles last weekend including two for a loss, and White had two of his own. These guys are freshmen but play with maturity and will bring a ton of depth to this side of the ball.

Secondary

Junior cornerback Parnell Motley had a monster game last week and led the team with seven total tackles, five of which were solo. Sophomore Tre Norwood will also start at cornerback, with help from sophomore Tre Brown and freshman Miguel Edwards. Both Motley and Norwood have several starts under their belts from the 2017 season and Brown played in all 14 games last year. The secondary is looking to make a new name for themselves, since the Sooners ranked 87th in the nation in passing yards allowed at 238.4 per game and 58th in defensive passing S&P+ last season.

Oklahoma’s safeties are young, but, in no way, should these guys be underestimated. Brendan Radley-Hiles had five tackles including one solo and one pass break up last week, so he is definitely living up to his five-star ranking out of high school. Redshirt freshman Justin Broiles also saw game action last week and will keep adding his efforts to this group as the season progresses.

Here are game highlights from their match-up against Florida Atlantic, courtesy of the Big 12 Conference:

Analysis

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell you that Oklahoma is going to have a pretty good showing against us on Saturday. It’s only Chip Kelly’s second game and we’re not even sure who our quarterback is. In my dream world, Devon Modster starts and it turns out that Chip was just saving him for Oklahoma and we come out and upset the Sooners, but we all know that won’t happen. We need to think beyond wins and losses here. Are we giving our quarterback time to throw? Can our offensive line give our running backs space to move? (I’d love to see what Kazmeir Allen can do once he has the room to run.) Can we switch up plays to effectively manage their defensive schemes? For Pete’s sake, can we NOT have too many men on the field at a key, game-changing moment?!?!? Let’s look for progress. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Growing pains hurt and we’re feeling it right now. But the future has promise if we’re patient.


Go Bruins!