The UCLA Bruins will host the #1 offense in the country on Saturday and, while things may seem bleak, there is a very dim light at the end of the tunnel.
Historically, Oklahoma has struggled on defense. In 2012, Mike Stoops rejoined the Sooners as co-defensive coordinator alongside Brent Venables but, by 2018, it had become readily apparent that there were massive issues with Oklahoma’s defense. Stoops was fired mid-season and replaced by former Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Alex Grinch during the off-season.
Fast forward to the 2019 season and it looks like the Sooners may still be struggling to right the ship. When researching college stats, fans may be astounded to find that Oklahoma ranks 71st nationally in total defense, while UCLA is sitting just slightly lower at 84th. OU is giving up an average 373 yards per game, and this was against schools that are definitely not considered football powerhouses by any stretch of the imagination—Houston and South Dakota.
Let’s break down the defense by unit and discover where the real weaknesses are.
The Sooners have five sacks so far this year, which is good for some schools, but maybe less than you’d expect from Oklahoma considering their previous opponents and Oklahoma’s obvious size and skill advantage. Sophomore defensive end Ronnie Perkins has had the most success up front so far this season with five tackles including two for a loss and one sack. He will be manning the front with redshirt senior Neville Gallimore and junior LaRon Stokes.
Oklahoma is actually tied for 90th in red zone defense and Bruin fans might be shocked to find out UCLA is ranked much higher, tied for 14th in the country. This could be an area where UCLA could have some success if Dorian Thompson-Robinson and company can actually get to the red zone.
Junior Kenneth Murray is leading the Sooner linebacking corps so far this year with eight solo tackles and nine assists. So, it’s no surprise he was chosen the Big 12 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year and is on the Butkus Award Watch List. He’s a Texas product but crossed enemy lines to play for Oklahoma because he “likes to win.” He will be playing alongside sophomore Dashaun White and redshirt junior Jon-Michael Terry, both of whom have recorded sacks within these first two weeks.
Additionally, redshirt freshmen Nik Bonitto and Jalen Redmond will be in the mix and both of these players have had an immediate impact on the Sooner defense.
The most popular name on the Sooner secondary is probably sophomore Brendan Radley-Hiles, who was offered a scholarship to UCLA back in 2017 but chose to take his talents to Oklahoma. He is already a top tackler for Oklahoma and is going to be the future of this unit.
Sophomore safety Pat Fields is also leading this group with six solo tackles along with fellow sophomore Delarrin Turner-Yell. Senior cornerback Parnell Motley will also be on the field Saturday, and while his background could have made him a statistic, he used it as motivation which has earned him the nickname D.C. Island. Junior Tre Brown will be on the opposite side at cornerback and he has four tackles of his own to start the season.
While UCLA is nowhere near where they need to be to win this game, if the offense can stay on the field and exploit Oklahoma’s defensive front to move the ball, the Bruins may be able to put up a fight and stay in the game. Maybe last week’s embarrassing loss and awful attendance will motivate them to get it together.