Sooners defense hopes to show versatility

NORMAN, Okla. -- Mike Stoops’ decision to make Oklahoma’s defense more versatile, athletic and faster has paid off this season.

The Sooners’ defensive coordinator has OU among the nation’s top 20 in points allowed (No. 19 at 20.1), yards per game (No. 13 at 326.4), passing yards per game (No. 10 at 182.8) and passing yards per attempt (No.10 at 5.8).

But this defense wasn’t built for Kansas State.

OU’s offseason changes were made with the spread offensive attacks run by the Baylors, Texas Techs and Oklahoma States of the Big 12 in mind.

The Wildcats will take the field with a physical running attack that will test OU’s defense in ways it hasn’t really been tested this season. KSU ranks third in the Big 12 in rushing (193.3), but it is the way it rushes and its use of big personnel that will make OU’s preparation more difficult. KSU uses its tight ends in ways the rest of the league does not, although with quarterbacks struggling around the league, offensive coordinators have turned to more big packages this season with the hope of leaning on their running games instead.

“We’re seeing more bigger sets this year than we have in a long time,” Stoops said. “Compared to last year, it’s almost like a [180] the reemerging of the tight end is becoming the focal point of all offenses, now you have to bring bigger people in. We’ll have to make some adjustments to their big people and physical sets. It’s something we need to look at.”

OU will have to alter its base three-man front, bringing in bigger bodies like defensive end P.L. Lindley to help make the Sooners’ defense bigger and more physical, essentially making it a four-man defensive set to try to offset the size disadvantage.

“P.L. is a guy that we have to continue to define, he’s a good player,” Stoops said. “He’s a guy that makes us more physical at the point of attack in bigger sets. That’s where we try to implement a more physical player and that’s what we need to do. He’s going to be a guy that’s able to do those things as we move forward with what we’re doing.”

More importantly the Sooners will need to play solid, assignment football and must have freshman linebacker Dominique Alexander to continue to exceed expectations and fellow linebacker Frank Shannon to play well. Alexander and Shannon will need to show their versatility. Two weeks ago, they were dealing with the space and athletes that make Baylor so potent. Saturday, they’ll have to deal with fundamentally sound KSU offensive linemen looking to drive them deep into the Sooners’ defensive backfield.

“It’s not a 180. Football is football,” Alexander said. “They’re either going to run or pass it, and they’re going to do both on Saturday. They’re a strong and powerful team, but we’re going to prepare well for them and execute.”

Adding to the quandary is K-State’s use of quarterbacks Daniel Sams and Jake Waters. Both quarterbacks can make you pay with their arms and legs, yet are quite different in their approaches. Sams is the better runner, Waters the better passer but both have the proven ability to take advantage of defensive game plans that focus on stopping one or the other.

“It gives you a lot more to work on,” Stoops said of the two-quarterback approach. “It’s like they have two different offenses. It will take a lot more practice time and attention to detail to get familiar with the two different ways that they are trying to move the ball.”

OU’s defense has been the foundation of the majority of the Sooners’ success this season. If they hope to continue that trend, they will have to prove they could be more versatile than ever.

“It’s going to be fun,” Alexander said. “I like physical play. I like smashmouth football. That’s how I was raised playing. So it’s going to be fun playing the run and the pass. Like I said, it’s just football.”