Tuesday, September 26, 2023

OU Sooners Defense

OU Sooners Defense by James Hale

OU had one of the worst defenses in college football last year, and that just doesn’t sit well with OU Head Coach Brent Venables, one of the most renowned defensive coaches in college football. Coach Venables has coached some of the best defenses in college football at OU and Clemson, and those defenses have played a big part in three National Championship teams. 

Coach Venables defenses are known for their aggressiveness and relentless pressure to pursue the ball. In his first year as head coach in 2022, the Sooners didn’t resemble that kind of defense at OU. OU’s defense finished 122 in total defense out of 131 teams, giving up a total of 461 yards per game. OU was solid rushing the quarterback and getting penetration in the backfield, but not elite, finishing fourth in the conference in sacks with 28. 

“We have not played good defense at Oklahoma in a long time,” said Coach Venables. “Throughout the history of college football, OU has been one of the best defensive teams, and since I have been at OU, we have played some great defense. Most of the time, we played pretty good defense. 

“Our National Championship year in 2000, we were a great defensive team led by Roy Williams, Dan Cody, Rocky Calmus, Torrance Marshall, and Derrick Strait. We might have been even a little better in 2001 and 2002, and for the next few years, we were always good defensively.

“The last few years, that has not been the case, and certainly wasn’t the case last year, where we lost four games by three points or less and five games on the last drive where we couldn’t get off the field defensively. We couldn’t make one play didn’t have one playmaker that could come up with one big play to help us get off the field and win that game. 

“Effort was not the problem, but the mindset it takes to play good defense was. Going through a schematic change didn’t help, but our guys got enough of an install that they should have been a lot better defensively last year. We were too busy beating Oklahoma most of the time, with penalties and busted assignments. 

“In training camp thus far, our guys have shown that they want to be good, are working to be good, and they want to be a great defense this year. That is part of the process. Do whatever it is that you have to do to become the best defensive player that you can be, and if that player does that and plays within the defensive scheme, then the defense will become the defense that we feel it can be.”

OU added some transfers to go along with some holdovers that OU feels good about. OU added some much-needed depth along the defensive line through the transfer portal. At defensive end, senior Rondell Bothroyd (6’3, 275) and senior Trace Ford (6’2, 257) have looked great in camp early, and both looked great in spring ball. Seniors Da’Jon Terry (6’3, 321) and Phil Paea (6’3, 305) arrived at defensive tackle from Tennessee and Utah State this summer. Senior Davon Sears (6’2, 287) and Jacob Lacey (6’1, 280) arrived for spring ball. Lacy has been limited through training camp due to blood clots, but the coaches hope he will be cleared to play by the end of September. 

The added talent along the defensive line will be a significant addition for the Sooners this fall.

“Everything happens really fast, and you have to play fast, play with leverage and pad level, and you have to be good at the point of attack,” said Coach Venables. “Defensive line is one of the hardest positions to play mentally and physically. We think we are a little better along the defensive line with these additions.

“I want to see it over time. I want guys to prove it, and that is across the board. That is not just the D-line, but I want our defensive players to show me that they are better. It’s easy to come out in shorts, run around, and look good. That growth and development is going to be everything on the defensive line.”

“Really it is the whole defense, but they do have better depth and a few more bodies along the defensive line.”

After a recent practice, the entire defensive line returned in the 102-degree heat and got extra drills in. Seniors Jordan Kelley (6’4, 302) and Isaiah Coe (6’2, 314) led the group back out of the locker room and called out the drills. The group worked for an additional 15 minutes before finally calling it a day and returning to the locker room.

“I am so glad to see this,” said Coach Venables. “It tells you that we have the right guys. Guys came here to get better, and they respect what it takes. That kind of effort is what it takes. We can’t change that, so having guys that believe in that and the leadership that brings out of guys means everything to that group’s continued growth and development.”

Terry really moves well, and while I haven’t seen him in pads yet, he looks like the real deal. Also, sophomore Kelvin Gilliam (6’3, 299) is a converted defensive end who has grown into a defensive tackle and looks good moving around.

OU just recently put on pads at camp, and the coaches will learn a lot more about the defense then, but through recruiting and the transfer portal, OU feels they have added depth to the defense. The fact that the defense is now in its second year in the Venables systems is also a benefit. 

If OU is going to improve from their 6-7 mark in 2022, the defense will have to start resembling that Oklahoma defense that Coach Venables has so proudly been a part of. 

By James Hale

James Hales is a longtime OU Sooners athletics insider and his been in the media world for decades. He can be heard Monday – Friday on KINB FM OKC’S CBS Sports Radio 105.3 or with our app Stream by PPBC that can be found in your App Store.

Related articles

Share article

Latest articles


Subscribe to stay updated.