Sooners defense wants redemption
After ranking 55th in total defense in 2011, new coach Mike Stoops is on a mission
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NORMAN, Okla. -- Almost every day before taking the practice field, safety Javon Harris puts in the Baylor game film from last season. Sometimes the Texas Tech film, too.
He's not the only Oklahoma defender, either.
"If you go inside some of the meeting rooms, we still have those scores posted from the games we lost," said linebacker Corey Nelson. "We need to redeem ourselves and show everybody that we have become a better defense from last year.
"We feel like this season is about redemption."
"Redemption" has been coordinator Mike Stoops' theme for the OU defense this preseason.
"When someone beats you up like that, it's no fun," he said. "You hope they want revenge. You hope they want redemption."
In 2011, the Sooners finished 55th in the country in total defense -- second-worst of the Bob Stoops era. Texas Tech and Baylor pasted the OU secondary for 452 and 485 passing yards. Then Oklahoma State steamrolled OU's front seven for 278 yards on the ground in perhaps the most embarrassing Bedlam loss in Sooners history.
Instead of contending for a national championship appearance, OU fell all the way to the Insight Bowl. And while the offense hit the skids late in the season, the defense was the primary culprit for OU's plunge off its preseason No. 1 perch.
"For a lot of years we did have a strong defensive reputation and felt like for a lot of years, that's what we hung our hat on," said head coach Bob Stoops. "For it not to be that way in a few games, that was bothersome."
It's been awhile since OU lived up to that strong defensive reputation. The Sooners have boasted only one top 25 defense in the last five years.
Early in 2011, it looked like the OU defense was back. The Sooners shut down fifth-ranked Florida State in Tallahassee, then scored three defensive touchdowns in a 55-17 rout of Texas. But the defense was never the same the rest of the way, as quarterbacks Seth Doege, Robert Griffin III and Brandon Weeden completely picked OU apart, scoring in the 40s in all three games.
"Those three losses were disappointing," said linebacker Tom Wort. "They've been on my mind since the season was over."
Even though OU must replace three of its best defenders from last season -- ends Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis and lockdown cornerback Jamell Fleming -- there's reason to believe the Sooners are capable of bouncing back.
Mike Stoops has brought a new attitude and a new outlook to the unit. He has simplified the scheme with the idea of limiting the mental breakdowns that plagued the defensive backfield last season.
"We don't want to give up any big plays," said linebackers coach Tim Kish, who came to Norman with Stoops from Arizona. "The important thing for us is we make teams out-execute us. If we can make them out-execute us all the way down the field, it's going to be in our favor most of the time.
Mike Stoops also has several players in different positions, including Aaron Colvin (cornerback), Jefferson (free safety) and Gabe Lynn (nickelback) and noted this week that he believes "everyone is in the right spots." The Sooners are also rotating in more players, with the goal of being deeper and fresher.
But perhaps most important of all, he has brought a new swagger.
"When he talks redemption," Nelson said, "it lights a fire under us."
Of course, when Mike Stoops talks redemption, he's not just talking about the players. Stoops left OU in 2003 with back-to-back-to-back-to-back top 10 defenses. He comes back after being fired from Arizona midway through last season.
"I want it to feel like it was eight years ago," he said. "I tell (the players), you don't think I want redemption, too? All of a sudden I've become a bad coach? It's personal for me too.
And so, the OU defense enters this season with 2011 on the mind. And how 2012 is their chance to redeem it.
"We're tired of hearing about what happened a year ago," Mike Stoops said. "Now it's time to do something about it."