By JOHN SHINN
NORMAN — When Julian Wilson thinks about it now, he chuckles. But when it happened, it was far from a laughing situation. What he went through in last year’s West Virginia game was a harrowing experience.
Make no mistake, there were a lot of defensive problems that led to OU allowing 778 total yards to the Mountaineers that night. One of them was the scenario that had Wilson, a defensive back, lining up at middle linebacker and being asked to do a middle linebacker’s job.
“I was surprised. When it happened it was mid-play. It was like, ‘Julian, go in the box!’ I was like, ‘What? What am I supposed to do?’ I just didn’t know then,” Wilson said this week. “In between them scoring or us getting a stop, I was going to the sidelines and trying to listen to (linebackers coach Tim Kish and defensive coordinator Mike Stoops) tell me everything. It was really just crazy.”
It was a crazy game the Sooners won 50-49. But to anyone associated with OU’s defense it didn’t feel like a victory. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops couldn’t look down at the statistics sheet when it was over, nor could he believe the situation he’d shoved Wilson into.
His reasoning was to counteract West Virginia’s speed with more speed. If the Mountaineers put five wide receivers on the field, the Sooners were going to play with seven defensive backs.
The only problem was West Virginia kept putting one of those receivers — Tavon Austin — at tailback and kept handing him the ball going right up the middle.
Stopping it was the middle linebacker’s job. He’s supposed to take on a guard at the line of scrimmage and make the tackle.
In theory, it should work. But Wilson weighed about 190 pounds. The guard he had to beat was well over 320.
Wilson, like any defensive back would be, was overwhelmed.
“He didn’t say anything during the game,” OU safety Gabe Lynn said. “Looking back on it now, we make little jokes, how he was taking on different linemen. It was definitely tough for him. Last year, altogether, is just a bad memory.”
That one game led as much to the Sooners (1-0) altering their defensive philosophy for this season as any that was played last season. They played every defensive snap with two linebackers on the field in last Saturday’s 34-0 victory over Louisiana-Monroe. They’ll do the same when they face West Virginia (1-0) at 6 p.m. Saturday at Owen Field.
Wilson won’t be in the middle of the field. He’s OU nickelback this season, and made OU’s first interception in the season opener. It’s the position OU recruited him to play.
“I feel like I’ll have a way better game this year because I’ll be playing a position that I know,” he said. “It won’t be a deal in the middle of a play I’m told, ‘Julian, you gotta play middle linebacker.’”