By JOHN SHINN
NORMAN — Even though Oklahoma is coming off its first shutout in two and half seasons, it’s still impossible to forget what happened nine months ago in Morgantown, W.V.
The Sooners’ first ever trip to face the Mountaineers ended with a 50-49 victory, but it will likely always be remembered for their defensive futility.
Giving up 778 yards of total offense, allowing Tavon Austin, a wide receiver, rush for over 300 yards and doing little to stop West Virginia from scoring three fourth-quarter touchdown drives that took five plays or less, left a scar impossible to ignore.
No one has forgotten it.
“We gave up nearly 800,” OU nickelback Julian Wilson said Monday. “… That was a hard thing to swallow.”
But one thing night full of defensive lowlights did was serve up undeniable proof OU had to change its defense in 2013. What OU tried to do against the Mountaineers simply wasn’t sustainable and defensive coordinator Mike Stoops knew it.
“We just didn’t put our players in a good enough position as a coach to make plays and that’s frustrating. It was just a long and difficult night,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “Between that night and what happened in the bowl game, it obviously convinced us that we needed to adjust our defense, be more flexible and be more diverse and put more pressure on the quarterback.”
The Sooners struggled to do those things last season. They kept things simple, hoping that would allow everyone to be on the same page against the bevy of up-tempo spread offenses it would face throughout the season.
At least early in the year, it worked. But that meeting with West Virginia was in the middle of November. By then, all the plays have been run and the tendencies have long been exposed. OU’s simplicity was exploited.
The entire spring and preseason was spent crafting a scheme to create the confusion the Sooners lacked the last time they met the Mountaineers.
It will be on display when the teams play the first game of the Big 12 Conference season at 6 p.m. Saturday at Owen Field.
The effect some pre-snap smoke and mirrors can have on a quarterback was on display in No. 16 OU’s 34-0 victory over Louisiana-Monroe. It threw several coverages at Louisiana-Monroe quarterback Kolton Browning and blitzed him from every angle imaginable.
All were things OU wasn’t able to do last season.
“Coach Mike has done a great job of giving us a bigger arsenal and keeping the offense off balance,” cornerback Aaron Colvin said. “They don’t necessarily know what we’re doing all the time. We’re trying to do a better job of disguising looks and doing different things like that. He’s given us different zones and mans to play with. It does a great job for us and I feel like offenses are somewhat unsure of what we’re about to play.”
That ability will get a better test against West Virginia. What OU did against Louisiana-Monroe will was in the season opener. There was no tape for coaches to watch. Each at least has the season openers. Although, Stoops doubted the Mountaineers went very deep in their offensive playbook during their 24-17 victory over William & Mary. He was coy about how much of the defensive scheme he tossed at Louisiana-Monroe.
The only sure thing is: OU knows what it tried last season at West Virginia didn’t fly.
“When you get run over like that, we don’t want to be stubborn. We had to make some changes to create better angles of attack, better leverage on the football,” Stoops said. “Those are things you want to have and if you can’t do it very well, you better find a way to do it in this league.”