NEW ORLEANS — A lot of things can happen in a month, but Oklahoma’s defensive line and linebackers cannot add 20 pounds of muscle each in that span.
If the Sooners could’ve, they would’ve in preparation for Thursday night’s meeting with No. 3 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
The scheme it’s employed this season — which Sooner defensive coordinator Mike Stoops freely admits is heavily borrowed on what the Crimson Tide has used for several seasons — was implemented to help them better match up with spread teams.
Alabama uses a pro style offense. The Crimson Tide puts a lot of speed on the field, but also a lot of bulk. They will use at least three tight ends Thursday.
“We’ve had to adjust some personnel for this game and tried to get bigger people in position to defend the things we’re going to see with Alabama,” Mike Stoops said Sunday morning.
That will mean more snaps for outside linebacker P.L. Lindley and defensive end Chaz Nelson. They’ve been situational players all season. Their situation comes when the Sooners have faced bulkier offenses that use multiple tight ends.
Those that are effective as both receivers and blockers are like unicorns in the Big 12 Conference. Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro is as good a receiver as there is in college football. But he isn’t going to knock a defensive end off the ball. Every team has some they can put in the game as an effective blocker.
The Crimson Tide’s do not give away tendencies so easily. O.J. Howard and Brian Vogler are both at least 6-foot-6 and weigh at least 240 — towering over Sooner nickel linebacker Julian Wilson and outweighing him by 40 pounds. It’s a physical mismatch at the line of scrimmage.
The lack of bulk in OU’s front seven isn’t a concern that cropped up after the bowl announcement. OU’s defensive coordinator has voiced concerns since the victory over Notre Dame in September.
Only nose guard Jordan Wade comes close to weighing 300 pounds. Defensive end Chuka Ndulue bulked up to 285 season, which is close to the ideal weight for a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. Charles Tapper is still at least 15 pounds below his target weight. Linebackers Frank Shannon, Dominique Alexander and Eric Striker all weigh less than 230 pounds. It’s good for chasing slot receivers in the middle of the field. Bad for butting heads with interior offensive linemen.
“We’ve got to go out there and be technicians on the field, stick to our technique like we’ve been doing all season; go out there and throw off of blocks, don’t let them hold us tight, and third downs, we’ve got to finesse those guys,” Tapper said.
Easier said than done. Tactics are essential, but so is being physically able to handle the four-quarter grind.
It isn’t the first time this concern has come up. Stoops was frank about it after OU’s victory over Notre Dame in September and was saying the same things after the loss to Texas a couple weeks later.
“We certainly need to make improvements in size at positions to play this system more effectively. I think we’ll be better prepared in a year’s period of time just growing and getting bigger and more physical across the board,” he said.
The Sooners may very well get there with another winter and summer in the weight room. The offseason is when that kind of molding occurs. It doesn’t happen during the regular season and certainly not during bowl preparation.
“We’ve got what we’ve got. We gotta go play,” Striker said.
OU football notebook
Watch and learn: OU freshman linebacker Dominique Alexander won’t have to lineup against Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley Thursday, but he will be watching him intently. It’s been that way since Alexander was a junior at Tulsa Washington.
“I remember it was my junior year I really focused in on him, that he really is something special,” Alexander said.
Mosley, who won the Butkus Award this season, is widely considered the best inside linebacker in college football. Alexander, who was a high school senior at this point a year ago, wants to follow in Mosley’s footsteps.
“I want to win it one day,” Alexander said. “I might as well look up to somebody who’s doing it right now. He’s around every play. He’s flying around the ball, and that’s something you want to do as a football player.”
Wait and see: OU won’t have offensive linemen Tyrus Thompson or Adam Shead available Thursday. Both have been ruled out due to late season injuries.
Derek Farniok will start at left tackle for the second straight game. Shead’s absence mean Nila Kasitati and Bronson Irwin have to handle the guard duties instead of alternating at the right guard spot.
“I think we’re doing good without them and they’re good players,” right tackle Daryl Williams said Saturday. “Without them people probably think we’ll be weaker but I think we’ve been just as good so far.”
Don’t ask about conferences: OU coach Bob Stoops always causes a stir when he says anything about the SEC. He’s refused to go down that path since OU received its Sugar Bowl bid Dec. 8.
Players are now staying mum on the topic, too.
“I think I’m going to stay out of that one,” OU defensive end Geneo Grissom said when asked about it Saturday.
Time to breathe: The Sooners will face an offense that huddles for just the second time in the last six games.
“I feel like that will play to our advantage because we mostly play against fast pace in the Big 12. It’ll help us because we’ll be able to focus even harder,” OU middle linebacker Frank Shannon said.
No word on the QB: OU coach Bob Stoops reiterated when the team arrived in New Orleans Friday he will not name a starting quarterback for the game.
“We intend to be unsettled about quarterback all the way up until the game. I wouldn’t say it’s unsettled, I would say that it’s purposeful,” he said.
Shepard gave no insight to the situation Saturday, but said getting both Trevor Knight and Blake Bell ready to play gives OU’s offense more options.