NORMAN — Forget the frills.
Mike Stoops is back in charge of a bone-jarring defense at No. 10 Oklahoma that is creating turnovers and raising hope that the Sooners are back to the dominant unit it was during his first stint in Norman.
Stoops isn't deploying crazy blitzes or stunts or any type of trickery to get the job done. It's a simplistic, basic defense that his players can know by heart and execute without hesitation.
"You don't want to do so many things you can't be good at anything," Stoops said. "You've got to hang your hat on something and it's got to be something that's built for unique offenses. It's got to be built very adaptable, and that's what we're trying to do."
Stoops was brought in during the offseason to fix a defense that had slipped from its perch among the nation's best in recent years. With him in charge, the Sooners were among the top 10 defenses for four straight years from 2000 to 2003. For three of the past four seasons, they didn't even crack the top 50.
But rarely has the defense looked better than in the first half against then-No. 15 Texas on Saturday. On eight drives, Oklahoma (4-1, 2-1) forced the Longhorns' offense to go three-and-out five times, picked off two passes and added a safety.
There were two more three-and-outs and a forced fumble in the second half before Texas quarterback David Ash left with an injured wrist and the Sooners called off the dogs.
"A lot of people want to talk about our defense and what we've been through, what we've done. But we want to keep going, we want to keep getting better," safety Javon Harris said. "It's something that it's unexplainable sometimes, just to be like, man, it's a lot different."
Stoops said there's no huge philosophical change from previous coordinator Brent Venables, who worked alongside him in Norman. But in an age of hurry-up offenses, particularly in the hyperactive Big 12, complexity can lead to unwanted confusion.
"Kids can't think of down, distance, formation, boundary, field, what's this called, 3-by-1, 2-by-1," Stoops said. "There's a lot that comes at you very quickly and being able to adjust and play the way you want to, it makes it very difficult."
Instead, he's doing his best to mold a defense that doesn't require frequent personnel changes or pre-snap adjustments to what the offense is doing.
"In the last two weeks, we're changing leverages, we're changing angles, so now the quarterback has to think," he said. "That's making the quarterback do all the thinking. That's hard for young quarterbacks or quarterbacks that are under pressure, and you're changing things at the line of scrimmage at the last minute, so all those elements have helped us."
Defensive end R.J. Washington said that, just like Venables, Stoops likes to wait until the last possible moment to call his defense without tipping off the offense. But now, there aren't two armbands worth of options to sort through in their minds.
"We're not running as many calls as we used to. It's a quality over quantity thing," Washington said. "We're just focusing on getting everything ironed out and being good. It's not like we have a small, small package of things we're doing. We've got a pretty good package overall. It's just not as vast as it used to be."
The slimmed-down playbook means more time to perfect the fewer sets that are in there and to focus on better technique. There's also an increased importance placed on more film study, seeking out any tip-offs of what the opponent is about to run.
At this point, the Sooners are 14th in the nation in total defense and 11th against the pass. Enthusiasm about that success is tempered, though.
"We were 6-0 and rolling along I thought last year at this point, and we didn't finish very well. So, the story is not finished or it's very incomplete at this point," Mike Stoops said. "We have a long way to go and a lot of football to play. We're going to find a lot more difficult battles as we move throughout the season."
Three of the nation's top six offenses — Oklahoma State, Baylor and West Virginia — are left on the schedule. While the Mountaineers are new to the Big 12, the Cowboys and Bears both had their way with the Sooners last season and helped lead to the changes.
So, after the 63-21 win against Texas, Stoops was talking about route coverages that need to be cleaned up so other teams don't capitalize. Washington was disappointed the defensive ends alone missed chances at four more sacks.
"We're still not playing the best defense," Washington said. "We played pretty great that last game, but that can't be the end-all for us."
NORMAN — Forget the frills.
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