John E. Hoover: Oklahoma State ground game another test for questionable OU defense
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Saturday, November 24, 2012
11/24/12 at 4:49 AM
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Go to John E. Hoover's blog.Original Print Headline: OSU ground game will test OU's shaky defense yet again
NORMAN - Mike Gundy and Todd Monken and Joseph Randle must have had quite the week studying film from Oklahoma's epic defensive detonation at West Virginia.
Who knew it was even possible for one player - a wide receiver, at that - to rush for 344 yards against one of college football's most historically acclaimed defenses - a defense, last we checked, coached by two Stoops brothers?
Randle, Oklahoma State's senior running back, leads the Big 12 Conference with 1,099 rushing yards. He's the sixth OSU runner with two 1,000-yard seasons, he's in the top 10 in Tailback U. history in rushing yards and the top five in rushing touchdowns.
But let's be honest. Joe Randle is no Tavon Austin.
Then again, nobody is. Even Tavon Austin wasn't Tavon Austin until WVU coach Dana Holgorsen turned his best receiver into his best running back with last week's classic performance against an outmanned, outwitted and out-of-place Sooner defense.
Austin said he had two plays - handoff left or handoff right - and simply ran to daylight. Get this: He gained only 22 yards after contact, meaning he got 322 before he was ever touched!
OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops' decision to bench his two linebackers in favor of two defensive backs was a disaster. Holgorsen countered Stoops' gambit by shifting Austin to tailback, and Stoops had no answers.
Oklahoma won 50-49, but on defense, the Sooners looked like an eight-man team playing against an 11-man team.
Stoops' move did work brilliantly the week before against Baylor. Flooding the secondary with defensive backs shut down the Bears' dangerous pass offense, and OU was able to contain Baylor's running game for 252 yards but it never broke any huge plays.
So if Baylor can gouge 252 rushing yards out of the Oklahoma defense, and if West Virginia can run for 458 - heck, if UTEP can rush for 207 and Kansas State and Notre Dame can average 214 - then what can the Big 12's best rushing offense, guided by Gundy and Monken and powered by Randle, do against the Sooners in Saturday's Bedlam matchup?
The Cowboys' game plan probably will remain as balanced as possible, even with an inexperienced quarterback. But don't count out Monken digging even deeper into the playbook Holgorsen left behind two years ago, or the one that outfoxed the Sooners last week.
For OU, will this get worse before it gets better? Will running teams continue to impose their will on the Sooner defense? Will passing teams continue to become running teams because Oklahoma can no longer stop the run?
The Sooners have three seniors rotating into the starting lineup at defensive tackle in Jamarkus McFarland, Stacy McGee and Casey Walker, three guys who have started since they were sophomores. They have a three-year starter at linebacker in Tom Wort next to a two-year starter in Corey Nelson.
Looking down at Milan Puskar Stadium last week, seeing Wort and Nelson on the sideline watching in stunned frustration as Austin set records, a serious query came to light:
The more OU plays against offenses like this, and the more Mike and Bob Stoops counter by masquerading defensive backs as middle linebackers, will the Sooners ever sign another elite linebacker prospect?
What high school stud linebacker in his right mind would want to play in a defense where he's on the sideline for half a game, or more?
For that matter, what about the man-child high school defensive tackles out there, elite prospects like Tommie Harris or Gerald McCoy?
Before Mike Stoops' seven-DB set the last two weeks, Oklahoma's solution to countering these wide-open passing offenses was to take one or both defensive tackles off the field in favor of a quicker defensive end or linebacker. It was mostly situational (third-and-long) but also had been used exclusively in some games (at OSU in 2010).
OU also had mixed results in recent years by putting safeties at linebacker - Nic Harris and Keenan Clayton did it - but both players ended up playing linebacker in the NFL. That kind of athlete is no longer on the OU roster.
Bob Stoops said this week the Sooners "have got a good number of linebackers that still play, and do well," and said he didn't think landing future blue-chip linebackers and tackles will be any more difficult "because we're still playing a good number of people that don't do that (type of offense)."
Realistically, this isn't on Bob Stoops or Mike Stoops or anyone else so much as it is the evolution of offensive football, particularly in the Big 12. The game has changed. To keep up with the Baylors and West Virginias of the world, the Sooners have to play radically different defense.
And when they do, the biggest, baddest linebackers and interior defensive linemen will keep stockpiling at places that don't mind playing old-school football, places like Alabama and Notre Dame and LSU and Georgia and Florida State and Florida and Stanford.
By the way, all seven of those teams show up in the top 11 of this week's Associated Press Top 25, and all seven live off their defensive toughness and ferocity.
Offensive football, indeed.
Like Barry Switzer told us months ago, the teams with superior talent at those positions will continue to compete for national prominence.
Everyone else, including Oklahoma, is just selling tickets.
Mike and Bob Stoops (left) shout at officials during the OU-Texas game earlier this season. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops' decision to bench his two linebackers in favor of two defensive backs didn't end well last week against West Virginia. JOHN CLANTON/Tulsa World