By CLAY HORNING
NORMAN — I asked Bob Stoops a form of the question I asked several other conference coaches on the first day of Big 12 Media Days. And, how about that, received a straight answer.
What’s good defense?
Because Oklahoma is rebuilding a defense that wasn’t very good last season and is about to play a team that hardly anybody’s ever heard of, yet is a team that scored almost 34 points and picked up more than 430 yards an outing last season.
The best part about Stoops’ answer was his insistence that it was “simple.”
“Getting off the field, executing and not having mental breakdowns. Make plays you’re in position to make,” he said. “That’s simple. If a guy runs into a hole and you make that play … And the big things, third downs and scoring defense. You have to get your stops.”
In a lot of ways, it was better than anything Mike Gundy or Charlie Weis or Kliff Kingbury said back in Dallas in July, when the Oklahoma State, Kansas and Texas Tech coach, in so many words, basically said a new standard would be required, because shutdown defenses appear to be a thing of the past.
Stoops didn’t make the case for pitching shutouts, yet he came close, because if you can force punts and get off the field, it kind of goes without saying you’re not being scored upon.
It was a strong comment not only in the wake of OU really wanting to do something about a defense that turned more and more porous last season, but in the wake of who’s coming to Owen Field Saturday.
Honestly, it’s a game far better than the pay-per-view-place-on-the-dial it’s been relegated to.
Of course, OU could win by 50. Trevor Knight could be every bit as effective as Sam Bradford was in his debut, when he completed 21 of 23 passes for 363 yards and three scores in a 79-10 victory over North Texas. It could all come together very quickly and a very uncertain season could suddenly appear stunningly solid.
Only it’s not likely.
More likely, the Sooners will have to earn it. Stoops said he didn’t care what the fans thought about Saturday’s season-opening opponent, Louisiana-Monroe, just as long as his players have received the message about how dangerous the Warhawks can be.
“I hope that the players understand that this is tough, this is a challenge, these guys are really good,” Stoops said.
They appear to get it.
“The first game is always the one where you want to come out and get tested,” fullback Trey Millard said. “They are a good team, upset some teams. They have played a lot of close games with some good teams.”
Still, you wonder.
ULM beat Arkansas in overtime last season, took Auburn to overtime, played Baylor within 47-42 and, without a couple of losses in games it likely feels it should have won — against Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas State — it could have won 10 games.
Only against Frank Solich-coached Ohio, at the Independence Bowl, did the Warhawks fail to score at least 20 points. And, from games three through eight, against Baylor, Tulane, Middle Tennessee, Florida Atlantic, Western Kentucky and South Alabama, they put up 42, 63, 31, 35, 43 and 38 points, only losing to the Bears.
Of that list, only Baylor may compare to OU, but UL-M is still a team used to moving the ball and putting points on the board.
“We’re ready for them,” linebacker Corey Nelson said. “We don’t take any team lightly.”
Also, easier said than done.
Anyway, it’s opening week, there’s excitement in the air and the possibilities seem endless.
Given that, it’s good to remember that one of those possibilities is a very bad one for the home team. And, given OU’s recent turnover and ineffectiveness on the defensive side of the ball, it’s not an outlandish possibility, either.
Stoops has sounded the call.
His team best listen.