Early in the season, Sooners prove to be more than offense
The Sooners are 78-2 in Norman under coach Bob Stoops, but if they’re going to put up win No. 79, they will need their defense to step up against a Tigers offense that put up more than 700 yards of offense and 400 yards rushing against Western Illinois last week.
Oklahoma’s defense proved it is on par with the top defenses in the country against a stout Florida State team, holding the Seminoles to just 27 yards rushing on 26 attempts and forcing three interceptions.
OU’s win over FSU opened eyes to the caliber of football team Stoops and his staff have put together this season. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel was effusive in his praise of the No. 1 team.
“Oklahoma is an outstanding football team,” Pinkel said. “I don’t think they have any weaknesses. They are very impressive on both sides of the football and are playing very well.”
OU’s defensive performance against the fifth-ranked Seminoles wasn’t lost on Stoops either.
“If we can get everyone back at full speed and healthy, we have the chance to be one of the best defenses we’ve had,” Stoops said. “A big positive was Javon Harris’ play since he didn’t play much a year ago.”
A big positive, indeed.
The junior safety had one of the biggest games of his life under the lights of Doak Campbell Stadium, accounting for three tackles and two interceptions. Also, senior linebacker Travis Lewis led the team with eight tackles in his 2011 season debut.
The captain wasn’t expected to play against the Seminoles, but when he came out fully dressed and charged through warm-ups, no one would have been wrong to expect a great game out of him, Stoops said.
“You really rely on Travis’ experience,” Stoops said. “He has played a long time. We trusted he would be ready to play, and he was. Conditioning-wise, he said he really only tired at the beginning of the game, which is natural with the excitement — plus going out there full-speed for the first time in five weeks — but he adjusted really quickly after that.”
Stoops has alluded to Lewis sitting out the game against Missouri, but if he starts, Stoops’s staff will have to trust Lewis’ experience and leadership once again. With dual-threat quarterback James Franklin, running back Henry Josey and wide receiver Jerrell Jackson, Oklahoma’s defense will have its hands full.
“He’s got a lot of ability,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said of Jackson. “He can make plays — we’ve seen that. It will be nice to get him back to full [health].”
Jackson played his first game of the season against Western Illinois and caught one ball for three yards. But he proved he is a game-breaker last season when he caught nine passes for 139 yards and a touchdown in a 36-27 loss for the Sooners.
To combat Missouri’s offense, Oklahoma will try to hurry Franklin and force him out of his comfort zone.
“When you have good blitzers like we do, it is just going to be effective and cause the quarterback to throw pretty fast,” sophomore linebacker Tony Jefferson said.
Stoops said the Sooners didn’t play their best football against the Tigers last season, and he wasn’t above saying the Sooners were whipped by a better team.
But he doesn’t want a repeat performance.
“We got embarrassed with the way we played last year against Missouri,” Stoops said. “We are looking forward to it, and we are going to be prepared come Saturday.”