Oklahoma defense still struggling after coordinator change
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma changed defensive coordinators mid-season, yet the results have been painfully familiar.
The past two weeks under interim coordinator Ruffin McNeill, the Sooners have been forced to try to win shootouts in the fourth quarter. No. 6 Oklahoma defeated Texas Tech 51-46 two weeks ago, then fought off a late 2-point conversion attempt to defeat Oklahoma State 48-47 on Saturday night . Statistically, those performances haven’t been much different than the 48-45 loss to Texas that got defensive coordinator Mike Stoops fired.
The Sooners’ offense has continued to purr, with quarterback Kyler Murray continuing his run at the Heisman Trophy. But they know the defense still isn’t where it needs to be for Oklahoma to have a shot at a national title.
“I’m not satisfied,” Oklahoma linebacker Curtis Bolton said after the Sooners gave up 640 yards to Oklahoma State. “I’m not happy with how we played. We’ve got to play better. We can’t give up 50 points and expect to be a playoff defense, a playoff team.”
The Sooners have made big plays at times on defense — Robert Barnes ran back an interception on a 2-point conversion for two critical points against Texas Tech and Tre Brown got a deflection on the 2-point conversion against Oklahoma State.
“Getting critical stops?” McNeill said. “Is that a category? Maybe somebody should look that up. Getting critical stops and stopping the two-point play was pretty big. The two-point play last week for an interception, it helped us win.”
But the Sooners are struggling, especially in the first half of games. Oklahoma allowed 24 points in the first half against TCU, though one of those scores was on a kickoff return; 31 in the first half against Texas Tech and 28 in the first half against Oklahoma State.
McNeill aware that there are critics, but he’s focused on his FIDO mantra — Forget It and Drive On. He likes the challenge of trying to get the defense to a higher level.
“I don’t listen to radio and stuff like that,” he said. “I know that’s a part of it now, being the complete team and making sure we do our part. It doesn’t intimidate me. It even motivates not just me, but our staff and our players.”
And Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley sees progress in the past four games, all wins, under McNeill’s watch.
“Some of our, the way we run to the football, our mentality — I do think there’s absolute growth,” Riley said. “And there’s going to have to be, no doubt. The challenges that we got coming up are going to be there. But the great thing for us right now is that every goal we want to be in front of us is right there in front of us.”
Oklahoma’s next chance to show improvement will be Saturday against Kansas. The Sooners want to get things right before they face West Virginia’s powerful offense the following week. But even if the Sooners don’t put up the numbers they want, they are most concerned with the number on the scoreboard.
“What do I think?” McNeill said. “Win by one. Win the game. Because when you’ve been in it as long as I have, you know how hard wins are.”
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP