Saturday evening in Norman should provide the Oklahoma Sooners with a mini benchmark to test their defense’s off-season improvements. Instead of a defunct and rebuilding Arkansas State team, their defense will have to take on an SMU team with playmakers at every skill position and a veteran offensive line.
It won’t be a walk in the park, and Oklahoma’s defense knows this because their head coach knows this. Earlier this week, Brent Venables addressed the media and had this to say.
“The challenge is going to be greater this week for obvious reasons,” Venables said. “You’re looking at a team that’s probably got more depth and certainly got more experience. Arkansas State was a very young team. (SMU) has 15 seniors starting between the offense and the defense. That’s a bunch of seniors.”
SMU’s offense has multiple playmakers capable of giving Oklahoma problems. Still, the Sooners’ team speed and their improvement in overall talent can shine through if they play smart.
There are a handful of things Oklahoma can’t allow to happen if they want to win this game. Here are three defensive keys to a Sooners win Saturday night in Norman.
Up Next: 3 Keys to the Game
Crank the pressure up
Much was made about the Sooners’ lack of pressure and low sack totals in their win over Arkansas State. A deeper look at the game film revealed Arkansas State came into the game knowing they’d have no shot if they allowed Oklahoma to rush against five and six-man protections. S
o, the Red Wolves upped their protections to seven and eight-man fronts to neutralize Oklahoma’s pass rush while getting the ball out in under 3 seconds.
This week, it’s hard to imagine SMU will adopt a similar approach because of the confidence they have in the offensive side of the ball.
Preston Stone can move within the pocket, so bringing him down won’t be easy. He’s mobile enough to get away from pressure and make plays outside the pocket. However, Oklahoma cannot let Stone have time to get comfortable in the pocket.
There were a lot of basic looks from Oklahoma in Week 1. There were no exotic blitzes from the Sooners, so it feels like Oklahoma may go into its bag this week to generate some pressure to keep Stone from getting comfortable.
Force SMU to pass the ball
Oklahoma wants to put their defense in pass rushing situations so they can let their guys pin their ears back and rush the QB.
They must bottle up the Mustangs’ ground game to do that.
In our players-to-know from SMU, we highlighted Jaylan Knighton and L.J. Johnson.
Johnson and Knighton are two different types of running backs, but potential headaches for the Sooners in their own ways.
Knighton is a speed merchant. An open running lane could see him off to the endzone. Johnson has speed but a more powerful back that won’t go down easily.
Oklahoma bottled up their last opponent for just 48 yards rushing. It’ll be a more difficult task this week. But if the Sooners can slow them down, it’ll force Stone to shoulder the load and win the game himself. That plays into the Sooners plans.
Get off the field
An area where Oklahoma struggled defensively last year was getting off the field on third down.
Yes, the defense was far from perfect, but Oklahoma sometimes gave what felt like an extra possession or two throughout the game because they couldn’t get off the field on money downs. They were really good on third down a week ago against Arkansas State. If they can keep that going this week, it’ll be smooth sailing on their way to a win.
It’s not ridiculous to think Oklahoma can run away with this game if they string two or three stops together.