NCF Nation: Charles Tapper

Several Big 12 players popped up on the watch lists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, awarded to college football's best defensive player, and the Outland Trophy, given to the best interior lineman.

Here are the Big 12 players that made each list:

Nagurski
Outland

Already this week, the Maxwell (player of the year), Bednarik (defensive player of the year), Hornung (most versatile player), Mackey (best tight end), Rimington (best center), Groza (best kicker) and Guy (best punter) watch lists have come.

Below is the rest of the preseason watch list schedule:

Friday, July 11
- Jim Thorpe Award, best defensive back

Monday, July 14
- Butkus Award, best linebacker
- Lombardi Award, best lineman

Tuesday, July 15
- Biletnikoff Award, best receiver

Wednesday, July 16
- Davey O’Brien Award, best quarterback.

Thursday, July 17
- Doak Walker Award, best running back

Friday, July 18
- Walter Camp Award, best player
NORMAN, Okla. -- It was a single play in a single game that signaled the imminent return of the Oklahoma defense to levels of its former glorious past.

With one minute to go in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, Sooner linebacker Eric Striker came barreling around the line. After beating left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, who might be a first-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft, Striker leveled Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron and stripped the ball loose. Flying in from the other side, Sooner end Geneo Grissom scooped up the fumble and rumbled in for the game-clinching touchdown.

After several seasons of relative mediocrity, the Oklahoma defense finally rediscovered its swagger in that 45-31 Sugar Bowl win over the two-time defending national champs.

[+] EnlargeEric Striker
Sean Gardner/Getty ImagesEric Striker celebrated after sacking AJ McCarron in the Sugar Bowl.
And buoyed by nine returning starters, several rising stars and one giant feather in a houndstooth cap, the Sooners have carried that swagger into the spring.

“The Sugar Bowl gave us a good boost,” said defensive end Charles Tapper, who was the only defensive underclassman to earn first-team All-Big 12 honors last year. “Knowing we kinda dominated Alabama’s offensive line, that the whole defense just dominated Alabama a little bit -- just a great way to come into the 2014 season.”

It wasn’t long ago the swagger of the Selmon Brothers and “Superman” Roy Williams and “The Boz” seemed lost forever.

The Sooners ended the 2012 season capitulating to Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, who humiliated them in the Cotton Bowl while becoming just the second player ever to rush and pass for more than 200 yards in a bowl game (Vince Young in the 2006 Rose Bowl was the other). The final month that season, Oklahoma couldn’t pressure the passer. Couldn’t stop the run. And couldn’t win without getting a half-a-hundred from its offense.

But thanks a scheme change from four to three down linemen last offseason that commanded a more blitz-oriented style, as well as a successful bid to bring Michigan defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery to Norman, the Sooners rapidly improved defensively last season despite playing several new starters.

Spurred by the emergence of underclassmen like Striker, Tapper and the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, linebacker Dominique Alexander, that improvement finally culminated in New Orleans.

The Sooners didn’t play perfectly against Alabama. But they sacked the Heisman runner-up seven times, and forced three turnovers that all led to Oklahoma touchdowns, capped with Grissom’s fumble return.

“As a team, things started to come together,” said coordinator Mike Stoops, who resuscitated the Sooner defense at the turn of the millennium 14 years ago and has done it again in the present in his second stint in Norman. “I think our team came together in that last game. That let us play with more confidence and swagger in the second half. Even when things got tough, I felt like our players were in control.”

With the return of almost all those players, the Sooners figure to storm into 2014 with one of the best defenses in the country.

Who knows, maybe the best.

Virtually the entire defensive line comes back, including Grissom and Tapper, who team up to give the Sooners a destructive duo off the edge.

Inside, Oklahoma will also welcome back Jordan Phillips, who was playing at an All-Big 12 level before suffering a season-ending back injury, and redshirt freshman Charles Walker, who has been turning heads for months during closed practices. During the winter, Walker ran the 40-yard dash in 4.67 seconds, shattering the Bob Stoops-era defensive tackle record at Oklahoma set by All-American Tommie Harris (4.80) in 2003.

“We’re starting to gain quality players in our backup positions that can play a lot of different places trying to earn their way onto the field,” Mike Stoops said.

That hasn’t just manifested along the defensive line, either.

Oklahoma’s entire linebacking corps returns, including Striker, who has become the Big 12 version of Lawrence Taylor. The secondary is brimming with young talent, too, led by cornerback Zack Sanchez, who intercepted McCarron in the Sugar Bowl to set up a late Oklahoma touchdown at the end of the first half and give the Sooners a 31-17 lead.

“We’re so far ahead from where we were last year,” Striker said. “We got chemistry with each other. We know how to play off each other.”

That’s a scary thought for the rest of the Big 12, and maybe all of college football.

Especially if Oklahoma can keep getting to the quarterback the way it did late last season. In their final four games, the Sooners sacked opposing quarterbacks 16 times. According to ESPN Stats & Info, South Alabama’s was the only FBS defense with more during the same stretch.

“We like to get to that quarterback,” Tapper said. “On third down, we let the dogs loose. Like the cops let the dogs loose to get them bad guys, we let the dogs loose on third down.”

Though it wasn’t a third down, that’s exactly what Oklahoma did to McCarron at the end of the Sugar Bowl.

The play won the game for the Sooners. While sending a message that defensive swagger is finally back at Oklahoma.

“I feel like this is going to be a big year for us,” Tapper said. “Dominating every team in the Big 12 and just all over the country.”

Oklahoma playing quality defense again

October, 11, 2013
10/11/13
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AP Photo/Darron CummingsFrank Shannon is part of a defensive unit that is one of the best in the nation this season.

Oklahoma is back to playing the kind of defense that can win a championship. The Sooners are allowing 13 points per game, sixth fewest in the FBS and on pace with the Sooners’ 2001 team for the fewest points per game during the Bob Stoops tenure.

They rank ninth in the nation in total defense (282 yards per game) and are one of seven FBS teams that have not allowed more than 21 points in a game this season.

Last season, Oklahoma allowed nearly 26 points per game, its most under Stoops. The Sooners finished the season ranked 64th in total defense and 90th in rush yards per game.

They allowed at least 30 points in four of their last five games. Oklahoma’s defense hit rock bottom when it allowed a Cotton Bowl record 516 total yards to Johnny Manziel and lost to the Aggies by 28 points.

Oklahoma had -32.9 expected points added on defense last season.

That means that the Sooners defense contributed -33 points to its scoring margin for the season.

If their defense played average, they would have won against both Texas A&M and Kansas State. This season, the defense has added at least six expected points in every game by controlling field position, forcing turnovers and stopping its opponents.

How has Oklahoma improved its defense?

Getting off the field on third down
Oklahoma has forced a three-and-out on 52 percent of its opponents’ drives this season, tied for third best in the FBS and 19 percentage points higher than how it fared last season.

The Sooners rank 10th in the FBS in third-down conversion defense (27 percent) this season. That is a 15-point improvement from last season, when they ranked 74th in the FBS and had the team’s worst third-down conversion percentage in the last 10 seasons.

Opponents have posted a 10.8 Total QBR on third down against Oklahoma this season, tied with Stanford for eighth best in the nation and 30.1 points better than last season when they ranked 41st.

Controlling the line of scrimmage
Oklahoma allowed 1,658 rush yards before contact last season, third most for an AQ defense behind Indiana and Colorado.

The Sooners allowed 22 percent of opponents’ runs to gain at least five yards before first contact. This season, they are allowing 77 fewer yards before contact per game, and they have allowed the fewest runs (19) in the Big 12 that gain five yards or more without contact.

After struggling last season, the Sooners are committed to stopping the run this season. They are averaging 6.9 defenders in the box on designed runs this season, after average an AQ-low 6.1 last season.

Defending the deep ball
Oklahoma is allowing opponents to complete 26 percent of their passes thrown 15 yards or longer this season, second lowest by a Big 12 defense and ninth lowest by an AQ school.

None of the Sooners’ five opponents have completed more than half of such passes in a game.

In their four losses last season, opponents completed 41 percent of their passes thrown 15 yards or longer against the Sooners, which is 5 percentage points higher than the AQ average.

Who have been the biggest keys?
Three players in particular have come up big for this year’s defense.

Linebacker Frank Shannon leads the team with 34 tackles, including six that were within two yards of the line of scrimmage that saved a first down.

Defensive linemen Charles Tapper ranks fourth in the Big 12 in total pressures (hurries and knockdowns).

Eric Striker leads the Sooners and ranks third in the Big 12 with 11 total pressures.

Looking Ahead
Oklahoma plays its rival Texas on Saturday at the Cotton Bowl.

The Longhorns have scored more than 30 points in each of their last two games, both Big 12 wins. They are 11-1 since the start of last year when they score at least 25 points and 1-5 when they do not.

Big 12's unsung heroes

September, 2, 2013
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It's that time of year.

September is the time when new names start to emerge in the Big 12 and prove themselves as players who will be key components of their teams' success. Here's a look at one player from each school whose season-opening performance might have been overlooked, yet they could become important playmakers for their teams this fall:

Defensive end Shawn Oakman, Baylor: The Penn State transfer could end up being a terror for Big 12 offenses this fall. At 6-foot-9, 275 pounds, he brings terrific size and athleticism to the Bears’ defensive front. He was extremely disruptive against Wofford, recording six tackles including 3.5 tackles for loss in Baylor’s 69-3 win.

Linebacker Jared Brackens, Iowa State: Against Northern Iowa, Brackens was one of the few bright spots in a disappointing loss for the Cyclones. He recorded 10 tackles and one sack,as he is trying to help Cyclone fans forget about A.J. Klein and Jake Knott. If Brackens continues to play like he did against UNI, the Cyclones should fell terrific about their linebacking corps with Brackens alongside Jeremiah George and Jevohn Miller.

Safety Dante Barnett, Kansas State: Lining up alongside preseason All-Big 12 safety Ty Zimmerman, Barnett could give the Wildcats the conference’s top safety duo if he continues to play like he did against North Dakota State. The sophomore finished with seven tackles including one tackle for loss and an interception. He was a shining light in the upset loss to NDSU.

Defensive end Charles Tapper, Oklahoma: Sooners’ coach Bob Stoops has been consistent in his praise of Tapper leading up to the season opener. The sophomore didn’t disappoint on Saturday as he was able to consistently get pressure on Louisiana-Monroe quarterback Kolton Browning in OU’s 34-0 win. Tapper had three tackles and one quarterback hurry in his first collegiate start.

Running back Desmond Roland, Oklahoma State: The junior could emerge as a solid No. 2 option in the Cowboys backfield this season. The buzz in Stillwater says he’s matured and found a renewed focus that should help him be an impact player in OSU’s offense. He had 10 carries for 46 yards against Mississippi State and saw extensive time alongside Smith and quarterback J.W. Walsh in the Pokes’ diamond formation.

Running back Jalen Overstreet, Texas: The Longhorns have so many explosive skill position players it’s unfair. Add Overstreet to the mix after his nine-carry, 92-yard, two-touchdown performance against New Mexico State. UT moved Overstreet from quarterback because the coaches recognized he was too talented to be standing on the sidelines, and now Overstreet gives the Longhorns another weapon to allow offensive coordinator Major Applewhite to be creative with his play calling.

Cornerback Kevin White, TCU: Returning All-Big 12 cornerback Jason Verrett gets all the headlines, but White was consistently around the ball against LSU. With the Tigers picking on him, he won some individual battles and lost some individual battles but held his own with four tackles, four pass breakups and a fumble recovery. White made a strong case that the Horned Frogs have the Big 12’s top cornerback duo.

Linebacker Micah Awe, Texas Tech: Awe could emerge as one of the key players in the Red Raider defense as a sophomore. He’s an athletic, quick linebacker who plays with a physicality that belies his size. He was consistently around the ball against SMU with 5.5 tackles including 0.5 tackles for loss. If Awe can make plays from sideline to sideline in the Big 12, he’ll become more than just the other No. 18 for the Red Raiders.

Receiver Daikiel Shorts, West Virginia: The true freshman had been the buzz of WVU’s preseason camp and backed up the praise he received by leading the Mountaineers in receptions in his first collegiate game. He had seven receptions for 63 yards in their 24-17 victory over William and Mary.

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