NCF Nation: Frank Shannon

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.

Sooners restoring LB tradition

October, 2, 2013
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NORMAN, Okla. -- Penn State might call itself “Linebacker U.” But Oklahoma has a linebacking tradition that takes a backseat to no one.

[+] EnlargeCorey Nelson
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsCorey Nelson's interception gave Oklahoma an advantage it wouldn't look back from against OU.
The Sooners claim almost as many former first-team All-American linebackers as Penn State. And from Brian Bosworth to Teddy Lehman, Oklahoma boasts more Butkus Award winners than anyone, including the Nittany Lions.

Last Saturday in South Bend, that tradition came back to life. Spearheaded by their linebackers, the Sooners jumped out to a two-touchdown lead, then held off Notre Dame, 35-21.

“That’s how it’s supposed to be here,” senior linebacker Corey Nelson said. “Linebackers taking charge, leading the defense and making plays.

“That’s how it’s always been at Oklahoma.”

Well, not always exactly.

In 2012, linebacker became almost a foreign word.

In his first year back as defensive coordinator, Mike Stoops became so disenchanted with how his linebackers matched up with the fast pace offenses of the Big 12, he yanked them off the field altogether the last month of the season.

The ploy hardly worked.

To West Virginia’s Tavon Austin, Oklahoma surrendered 344 yards on the ground in a narrow November shootout victory in Morgantown.

In the following weeks, Oklahoma State’s Joseph Randle and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel ran wild over the Sooners, too, prompting Stoops to shelve the no-linebacker defense and go back to the drawing board during the offseason.

“Last year was a whole lot different,” Nelson said.

Especially for the linebackers.

During the summer, Stoops installed a 3-3-5 defensive scheme that so far has worked wonders, largely because he’s unleashed a corps of speedy linebackers who have proven to have a nose for the football. And opposing quarterbacks.

On the third play from scrimmage in South Bend, Oklahoma outside linebacker Eric Striker came peeling around the edge and slammed into the blindside of quarterback Tommy Rees. The ball popped in the air into the arms of Nelson, who dashed 24 yards for the defensive touchdown.

“They let me free and I had to kill ‘em,” said Striker, with a quote so brash the “Boz” would be proud.

On Notre Dame’s next offensive play, Frank Shannon backpedaled into coverage, intercepted a tipped pass despite wearing a cast on his right wrist and bounded along the sidelines to set up another touchdown.

Less than three minutes into the game, Oklahoma’s linebackers frenetically had propelled the Sooners to a 14-0 lead.

“The coaches are doing a good job of putting us in the right spots,” Shannon said. “Giving us good opportunities and chance to show what we got.”

And they've been doing it all season. Through four games, OU is giving up just 299.5 yards and 12 points per game.

And, so far, these linebackers are quickly showing they can hang with some of the best OU has produced. That’s no small feat.

Dating back to the days of Bud Wilkinson, every Sooners dynasty has included top-flight linebacking corps.

In 1956, Jerry Tubbs nearly won the Heisman Trophy as a linebacker and center. That tradition continued under Barry Switzer, who coached two-time, first-team All-American linebackers Rod Shoate (1972-74), Daryl Hunt (1975-78), George Cumby (1975-79) and Bosworth (1984-86), who also remains the only two-time winner of the Butkus Award, given annually to college football’s top linebacker.

Bob Stoops has coached two Butkus Award winners (Rocky Calmus and Lehman) and a host of slobber-knocking linebacking units. Calmus and Torrance Marshall formed the backbone of Oklahoma’s 2000 national championship defense. Lehman (2003), Rufus Alexander (2006) and Curtis Lofton (2007) earned Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors.

“You see linebackers all over the wall in this place,” Striker said. “These guys were for real. Real serious back when.”

But as Oklahoma defenses slipped in recent years, so did the position. The Sooners scavenged the country for linebacker help in their most recent recruiting class, but came up empty. Suddenly, a school with one of college football’s proudest traditions couldn’t sign a linebacker. But the way Nelson, Shannon and Striker are playing, that should no longer be a problem.

Oklahoma is playing some defense again. And one of college football’s Linebacker U’s appears to be on its way back in Norman.

“We’re trying to keep that going,” Striker said. “You want to keep that going.

“We want to keep it great here.”

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 5

September, 30, 2013
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Taking stock of Week 5 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: Oklahoma. With their victory over Oklahoma State, the Mountaineers deserved strong consideration here. But by winning in South Bend, the Sooners delivered the Big 12 its best win of the year while vanquishing past demons. OU, which fell to 1-9 all-time against Notre Dame last season, controlled this game wire-to-wire in a 35-21 win. QB Blake Bell operated the Sooners' offense like a veteran in just his second career start. And the OU defense took it to QB Tommy Rees to force three first-half interceptions that allowed the Sooners to pad their lead. OU might have been one of the most overlooked teams during the preseason. After Saturday, the Sooners won’t be overlooked anymore.

Disappointment of the week: Oklahoma State. The Cowboys fell in Morgantown 31-21, despite being 18-point favorites. OSU sputtered all day offensively across the board. J.W. Walsh had a QBR of just 38.1 (scale of 0 to 100) and the Cowboys averaged just 2.8 yards per carry. The defense didn’t fare much better, allowing a West Virginia offense that had been completely inept to rack up 21 first downs. Dating to last year, the Cowboys have now lost three consecutive Big 12 games.

Big (offensive) men on campus: Sterling Shepard and Aaron Wimberly. Both the Oklahoma receiver and Iowa State running back sparked their offenses to big wins on the road. Shepard had five catches for 83 yards, and delivered the nail in the coffin to Notre Dame with a 54-yard touchdown reception to put OU back up by two scores in the fourth quarter.

In a 38-21 win at Tulsa, Wimberly produced Iowa State’s first 100-yard rushing game in more than a year with 137 yards on 19 carries. He added a 31-yard reception as the Cyclones came alive in their first win of the season.

Big (defensive) men on campus: The Oklahoma linebackers, and Sam Carter. Corey Nelson, Frank Shannon and Eric Striker came up with huge plays in the first quarter to set the tone for the OU defense the rest of the way against the Irish. On Notre Dame’s first series, Striker blindsided Rees from behind, popping the ball loose into the arms of Nelson, who returned it 24 yards for a TD. On Notre Dame's next play from scrimmage, Shannon caught a tipped pass and returned the interception 17 yards to the Notre Dame 32. The Sooners scored again four plays later on an 11-yard run by Damien Williams. OU rode the defensive flurry all the way to the win.

Carter, TCU’s junior safety, had a huge day against SMU. Carter had two interceptions, forced a fumble and recorded a sack in the Horned Frogs’ 48-17 victory over the Mustangs. For his efforts, Carter was named the Walter Camp national defensive player of the week. With cornerback Jason Verrett ailing with a shoulder injury, Carter might have to take an even bigger leadership role in the TCU secondary moving forward.

Special-teams player of the week: Jaden Oberkrom. In a complete downpour, TCU’s place-kicker nailed two field goals to help the Horned Frogs pull away from SMU in the second half. As the rain began to fall in droves early in the third quarter, TCU had the ball on the SMU 5-yard line trailing 10-7. Because of the rain, a botched shotgun snap resulted in a loss of 20. But Oberkrom made sure the Frogs came away with points with the 35-yard field goal conversion. Had Oberkrom missed, who knows how the game would have gone for TCU? Instead, buoyed in part by getting points off the drive, the Frogs dominated the rest of the way.

[+] EnlargeIshmael Banks
AP Photo/Tyler EvertWVU's Ishmael Banks' interception return for a TD was one of many big plays that cost OSU in a game that changed everything for the Cowboys.
Play of the week: After Josh Stewart took a screen pass 73 yards for the touchdown and Justin Gilbert intercepted Clint Trickett three plays later at midfield, the Cowboys seemed to be on the verge of blowing the game away in the first quarter. Instead, West Virginia cornerback Ishmael Banks read Walsh’s eyes off a rollout, stepped in front of the pass for the pick, then returned it 58 yards for a touchdown. The Cowboys never found their footing again offensively, as West Virginia held them to just two scores the rest of the game.

Stat of the week: Oklahoma State running back Jeremy Smith rushed for just 1 yard on 15 carries at West Virginia. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Smith’s rushing total was the second worst by an FBS running back with that many carries in any game in the past 10 years.

Quote of the week: "No doubt in my mind that we're a national championship-type of team." – OU running back Brennan Clay, after the Notre Dame win

Instant Analysis: OU 35, Notre Dame 21

September, 28, 2013
9/28/13
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Oklahoma escaped Notre Dame Stadium with its second-ever victory over the Irish, winning 35-21. Here are a few quick takeaways from this contest:

It was over when: Facing a third-and-3 from his own 46 early in the fourth quarter, Blake Bell hit Sterling Shepard for a 54-yard touchdown pass in which Shepard simply outran Irish linebacker Jarrett Grace. Shepard then caught the two-point conversion pass to give the Sooners a 35-21 lead.

Game ball goes to: Oklahoma's defense gets to share this honor today. The Sooners picked off Tommy Rees three times and brought pressure early and often. Oklahoma was able to convert all three turnovers into touchdowns, including a 24-yard pick-six by Corey Nelson on the game's first drive. Frank Shannon's interception on the next Notre Dame offensive play helped set the Sooners up with a 14-0 lead not even three minutes into the game.

Stat of the game: During a contest in which Notre Dame finally established its ground game and got creative on offense by sprinkling in backup quarterback Andrew Hendrix here and there, the easy answer is turnovers. Notre Dame gave the ball away three times; Oklahoma gave it away zero times. It is sometimes that simple, as we saw last week in an ugly offensive game that the Irish were able to pull out against Michigan State thanks in large part to forcing the game's only turnover, which they turned into a touchdown.

What it means: At 4-0, Oklahoma has to feel good about its chances in the Big 12, especially after seeing Oklahoma State lose to West Virginia earlier Saturday. Notre Dame, meanwhile, will likely have to win out to make a BCS bowl game after falling to 3-2 on the season. The Irish's next test comes next week against Arizona State in Arlington, Texas.
NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma believes its defensive front and linebackers have improved after a season full of disappointing production from both groups a year ago.

The Sooners get the chance to prove it on Saturday when they travel to South Bend, Ind., for a rematch with Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish won the battle in the trenches during their 30-13 win over OU in 2012.

"If you go to the University of Oklahoma, you have a sense of pride," defensive lineman Chuka Ndulue said. "Last year, what happened in the fourth quarter, they flat out beat us. It's in the back of our minds, because we're prideful players."

[+] EnlargeChuka Ndulue
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsChuka Ndulue said last year's loss to Notre Dame has stayed with him for a couple of reasons.
After a horrible end to the 2012 season, OU's defense is off to a terrific start this season. The Sooners rank among the top 20 nationally in yards allowed (291.3), rushing yards allowed (100.67), yards per pass attempt (5.06) and third-down conversion percentage (27.3 percent). The defensive line and linebackers have looked faster, more athletic and more aggressive this season, helping OU's defense get off to a quick start.

Yet they haven't been tested like the Irish's offense can test them.

This year's Sooners defense was built with stopping Big 12 spread offenses in mind while remaining versatile enough to adapt to power running attacks if needed. Mike Stoops' vision for his defense will be put to the test by Notre Dame, which can spread defenses with multiple receivers and line up with bigger personnel to employ a power running attack.

So don't be surprised if OU debuts a four-man front for the first time in 2013. The Sooners have relied on a three-man front for the first three games, getting more speed and versatility on the field with linebacker/pass rush specialist Eric Striker. It makes sense for Stoops to bring Ndulue or another Sooners' defensive lineman to get bigger in those situations when Notre Dame decides to try to lean on its power running attack.

"We can get in and out of a three- or four-man front, that's not a problem for us," said Stoops, who spent the offseason talking about his desire for the Sooners' defense to become more versatile in 2013.

No matter what personnel or scheme changes the Sooners utilize, they will need better play from their defensive line and linebackers in the rematch. Better play could start with a different mindset. Asked what he learned from playing the Irish in 2012, Ndulue's answer was revealing.

"Dominate the man in front of you," Ndulue said. "You have to have the mindset that you're going to embarrass them, just be a dawg, be a D-lineman."

OU hopes to have a pack full of dawgs along its defensive front on Saturday, and defensive tackle Jordan Phillips could be in the spotlight. The redshirt sophomore is emerging as a quality defensive lineman and finally fulfilling the promise he showed during his first two years on campus, when teammate Gabe Ikard called him "the next Gerald McCoy". He has been a force in the middle of OU's defense to start the season.

"He's maturing, he knows he can be a very productive and good player," Stoops said. "Taking that next step has become more important to him. He's become a more prideful player who works harder and is becoming more consistent. You can see the light starting to go on, so we certainly hope he continues to work like he has, because he's perfect for what you're trying to do in there."

OU's linebackers entered the season with redemption on their minds after having a minimal impact on the Sooners' defense in 2012. This season, linebackers Corey Nelson (20) and Frank Shannon (19) rank 1-2 in tackles. They'll need to show their versatility and toughness against the Irish, as they'll find themselves in coverage situations on one play, then facing an offensive lineman in the running game on the next.

"I feel like they've showed that [versatility] the first three games," cornerback Aaron Colvin said. "Of course, this will be on a bigger stage, but I feel like they've done a great job all year, and I don't expect anything different this week."


NORMAN, Okla.-- Oklahoma got its season off to a terrific start with a 34-0 win over Louisiana-Monroe at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Saturday night. Here’s how it happened.

How the game was won: Mike Stoops’ defense was simply outstanding in OU’s first shutout victory since 2010. ULM finished with 166 yards, averaging 2.7 yards per play. The Sooners defensive coordinator talked about transforming the OU defense into a more versatile unit and it was on display in the season opener. OU went with a three-man defensive front and used several different blitz combinations to harass Kolton Browning into a subpar showing, as he went 20-of-39 for 128 passing yards in the loss.

Turning point: When the Sooners decided to start running more. OU had seven rushes in the first quarter but they finished the first half with 30. Not surprisingly, all 13 Sooners first-half points came in the second quarter. OU finished with 50 carries for 305 yards as it pounded the ball down the Warhawks’ throats in the final three quarters. It was a stark contrast from the pass-happy Sooners of the past few years.

Stat of the game: 38. The Sooners allowed just 38 ULM rushing yards in their season opener after struggling to stop the run in the final stretch of 2012. Bob Stoops promised a renewed dedication to stopping the run and OU showed it Saturday.

Player of the game: QB Trevor Knight earns player of the game honors because, ultimately, he found a way to get it done. The redshirt freshman had 13 carries for 103 yards and threw for three touchdowns. He struggled mightily with his accuracy but still made enough plays to win.

Unsung heroes of the game: Corey Nelson and Frank Shannon were all over the place for the Sooners defense. OU’s use of its linebackers was under fire all offseason and the Sooners linebacker duo showed why they should have been on the field more often a year ago. Nelson finished with eight tackles including two tackles for loss and one sack, while Shannon finished with seven tackles including one tackle for loss.

What it means: Oklahoma takes a bunch of momentum and defensive confidence into its matchup with West Virginia on Sept. 7. Stoops’ defensive changes should help the Sooners against a Mountaineers team searching for consistency at the quarterback spot.

What Oklahoma learned: Knight is a much better runner than passer, at least right now. Most of Knight’s big plays came on the ground and he looked much more comfortable running around in the open field instead of standing in the pocket. Knight did show signs he could develop as a passer as the season progresses, but expect OU to lean on his legs more than his arm when it matters most in the near future.

LUBBOCK, Texas – Coming off a disappointing loss against Kansas State, Landry Jones and the Sooners bounced back Saturday to destroy Texas Tech 41-20.

It was over when: OU safety Javon Harris intercepted a tipped Seth Doege pass and returned it 46 yards for a touchdown to put the Sooners up 38-13 early in the third quarter. OU led 24-13 at halftime, but dominated the third quarter to put the game away.

Game ball goes to: Jones, who rebounded with his best performance since losing receiver Ryan Broyles to injury last November. Jones completed 25 of 40 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns. Most importantly, he took care of the ball and didn't turn it over once.

Stat of the game: Going into the weekend, OU ranked last in the FBS with just one forced turnover. But in Lubbock, the Sooners forced three turnovers, including Harris’ touchdown return. Aaron Colvin picked off a Doege pass at the line of scrimmage at the end of the first half to set up an OU field goal that gave the Sooners a two-score lead at halftime.

Best call: In its first three games, OU went with a time-share at running back, splitting carries between Damien Williams, Dominique Whaley and Brennan Clay. Against Tech the Sooners rode Williams, who’s been OU’s best running back. Williams finished with 126 yards of total offense on 14 carries and had six receptions.

Turning point: The Red Raiders took the opening drive of the second half to the OU 36 with a chance to cut the Sooners’ lead to a single possession. But on fourth-and-5, middle linebacker Frank Shannon sacked Doege, and Blake Bell punched the ball into the end zone out of the "Belldozer" formation six plays later.

Unsung hero: Shannon, who replaced three-year starter Tom Wort in the first half. Wort struggled again covering the pass, prompting the Sooners to go with Shannon instead. The redshirt freshman finished with a team-high six tackles and had the huge fourth-down sack.

What it means: The Sooners could hop right back in the Big 12 title race with a victory over rival Texas next weekend. And after that, who knows? The schedule is difficult enough to vault the Sooners back into the national championship conversation down the line, should they reel off a few wins in a row. Texas Tech faces a gantlet going forward in Big 12 play with four ranked teams, starting next Saturday against unbeaten West Virginia.

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