What We’re Building | Part One | Defense‏

Image via collegefootball.ap.org

Being Oklahoma fans as long as many of us have been has given us years of great memories.  However in recent years, we’ve seen the Sooners morph into a team that, for lack of a better term, has been perceived as soft.  As recently as just a couple of seasons ago, we’d frequently get teams to 3rd and long only to see opposing offenses convert time after time after time.

People who knew very little about defense could tell you that former Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables was going to blitz every time.  He would vacate the middle of the field and team after team would exploit that.  If it was 3rd and 8, the opposing offense would throw a five yard pass — say like a shallow crossing route — and the guy would go for ten more and an easy first down.

I have to admit that I was very happy to see Mike Stoops come back two years ago.  I don’t think that Venables was or is a bad coach, but it’s common knowledge that the things he was trying to do were very complicated.  It’s a mistake that I see a lot of managers make in the business world, as well as coaches in football and other sports.  I tell my young managers and supervisors all the time that if your plan and/or process takes an extraordinary amount of human effort to execute, then the process itself is flawed.  After being a manager of people going on fourteen years, the thing you learn is how profound keeping it simple actually is.

When you make things simple for people, it gives them freedom. When things are too complicated, people can’t think.  They become paralyzed by the process.  They’re so busy going through steps and making sure that they’re adhering to the process that they can’t see the forest for the trees. Whereas when you keep it simple, it allows people to take a breath and see what is really going on.  That’s why you see players in Mike’s defenses flourish.

That’s why a guy like Dominique Alexander can step in as a true freshman and have success.  That’s why young players like Zack Sanchez, Frank Shannon, Charles Tapper, Eric Striker, Matt Dimon, Jordan Phillips and Jordan Wade just to name a few (well, okay, several but you get it) have success as well.  It’s also why a guy like Geneo Grissom was able to have the light come back on with a performance like the one he had in the Sugar Bowl.  Even now with a teacher like Jerry Montgomery on the D-Line, it makes you wonder how players like Ronnell Lewis and R.J. Washington would have fared in this new scheme.

When Mike got here in 2012, you could see early on that he was going to gear the defense to stop the pass.  Being a former defensive back, that’s his wheel house.  Also, if you’re going to have any success in the pass happy Big XII you have to be able to stifle passing offenses.  However, Mike came back from Tucson thinking that he may have had more to work with then he did.

Instead what he found was a front seven that didn’t have a clue about stopping the run.  While OU was able to stop the pass in 2012 with the best of them, teams figured out by about halfway through the season that they could run all over that OU defense.  Fast forward to this time last year, we see Bob Stoops do something he has never done at Oklahoma…clean house with his staff.  Gone were long-time mainstays Jackie Shipp, James Patton and to a lesser extent in terms of tenure (though close friend of Stoops), Bruce Kittle. In comes Montgomery, Jay Boulware and Bill Bedenbaugh and now both the staff and program as a whole seem to be re-energized.

I’ll admit that going into the first game of the season against Louisiana-Monroe, I was concerned.  ULM had beaten Arkansas and taken Auburn to the wire a year before and basically everyone was back for them as well.  I was shocked to see Oklahoma come out and dominate them defensively and record the shutout.  The following week, OU’s defense allowed one big play to West Virginia or that would have been another shutout. Then they’d go on to roll Tulsa and Notre Dame.

Season-ending injuries to Corey Nelson and Jordan Phillips were the biggest losses this team could’ve had outside of maybe Aaron Colvin.  To that point, without Colvin I’m convinced we do not win at K-State.  Texas was only able to do what they did to us because they could run the ball.  And in my opinion, they were only able to do it because Nelson and Phillips were watching from the sidelines.  Two pups step into the fray in Wade and Alexander and we just weren’t able to get it done.  Same thing happened at Baylor. Fast forward again to January 2nd this year and you saw us give up five big plays to arguably the best team in the land. Overall though, the defense played much better against Alabama than it did against Baylor and Texas. So watching this defense grow and mature from what it was to what it is now really shows me what Mike wants it to become.

I touched on it earlier that Mike started this rebuild from the back end first.  Problem was that he couldn’t stop the run with three to four guys like he used to.  So he and brother Bob go get Jerry Montgomery.  A guy who, even though didn’t have a significant track record in the 3-4/3-3-5 scheme OU would soon install, has proved to be a great teacher and motivator. Even in just one year, Montgomery looks to be just what the doctor ordered and a considerable upgrade as a defensive line coach.

Montgomery did something that not a lot of managers, coaches, and/or leaders could do. He got his troops to believe. He got them to ignore what everyone in the media was saying, and he got them to buy in to what he was selling.

They tweaked the scheme in the defensive front.  While wanting to play the 3-4 where the defensive ends traditionally line up on the outside eyes of the offensive tackles in five techniques, we realized that our small, fast linebackers cannot go uncovered against guards.  So the simple tweak to it was sliding the defensive ends down to 4i’s. Meaning that instead of lining up on the outside eye of the offensive tackles, the d-ends lined up on the inside eye of the tackles in the B-gap — hence the term 4i or 4 inside.

You give those DEs B-gap responsibility on both sides and give your zero nose (meaning they are lined up directly over the center) both A-gaps — the gaps between the guard and center to either side respectively.  So while your nose is a two gap player, your DEs are one gap guys.  The nose just goes to the side of the play, but since the d-end is in the B-gap it offers protection to the linebackers.  This essentially reveals what Mike ultimately wants to do.

He wants three big, quick, and relentless guys up front to control the run game. Then after (ideally) stuffing the offense on first and second down, he gets you to third and long. Then what happens? Here comes Striker and Devante Bond off the edges.  You bump your 4i’s out to 5’s since there’s no threat of run (theoretically) and free up Grissom and Tapper to get after the QB as well.  With Phillips and Wade spelling each other in the middle, you have the potential to collapse the pocket without having to bring a blitz every time.  The middle isn’t vacated so your dink-and-dunk passes get four yards instead of fifteen.

What you see is that a defensive savant is at the helm in Norman.  In this day and age of excuses defensively, especially in the Big 12 where the perception is that no one is capable of stopping anyone, we have a guy who really understands how to stop (or at least slow down) Big 12 offenses.  You have to be able to play man on the outside, you have to be able to stop the run on first and second down, and you have to be able to play with a lead.  Getting up a couple of scores on any team in the next year or two will be the kiss of death for opponents.  The pass rush we saw against Alabama will only get better and it just got a huge shot in the arm withe the addition of Devante Bond.  Curtis Bolton looks like he’ll be the heir apparent to Striker and I wouldn’t be shocked if Bolton gets playing time as a true freshman.  And don’t forget that we’ve yet to even see guys like Charles Walker, Matt Romar, D.J. Ward, Ogbonnia ‘Obo’ Okoronkwo, Michael Onuoha and Quincy Russell either. All of whom are guys we’ve heard the coaches express excitement about at one point of another.

Going forward we’ll have a defense that not only has a simplified yet sound scheme, but also has an answer for stopping any type of offense with fast, athletic and attacking components.  While the x’s and o’s have improved dramatically for us, I expect this next year will show that the Willie’s and the Joe’s wearing the crimson and cream have improved equally as much.

It’s a great time to be a Sooner fan.  Barring catastrophe, I’m looking forward to a top five defense nationally this year.

  • Fear The Magic

    Great read and thanks JY. Its pretty amazing where we are not only as a defense but as a whole team now as compared to last year. This has to potentially be one of the greatest transformations of a team in that short a time as I can remember. As you said, its absolutely “a great time to be a sooner fan”.

  • Kayw

    Thanks for the read. Question: How would an offense then counter what Coach Mike is trying to do? What teams (nationally, and in our conference) would schematically pose the biggest threat?

    • Sonny Schovanec

      OU will see a lot of “Big Sets” with offenses running Power “O”. Basically the ole power play. Block down, lead on EMLOS and fold the backside guard on PSLBer.
      Since Coach Mike plays a ton of Man in the back end OU will see people continue to take shots down the field on basically the Fade play. Like the Short Horns did a few times. Or the Out and Up with the inside guy they burned OU with. And OU will get a lot of the Bubble game, and “pick” or “Rub” routes. Having said that Coach Mike knows what offenses will try to do and he will combat those plays with/through adjustments, personnel, recognition practice etc..

      • JY

        difference this year, will be having depth at that nose spot, even to the point of three deep. You could go double a gaps with wade and Phillips, and then bump Walker and Russell out to your b gaps, with Tap and Grissom in your c’s, with Striker and Bond on the edges in extreme heavy sets.

    • Sonny Schovanec

      Heck Kansas ran some two back weak side ISO at OU. Haven’t seen Weakside ISO in ages.

    • Sonny Schovanec

      Or even get in Big Sets and just run zone like the Short Horns did and Bama did some out of the Ace set. I like Inside Zone against a two gap “0” tech or nose.

  • 47Straight

    Point IV of Jim Mackenzie’s Winning Edge: Every coach knows more than he can teach!

    A confused player won’t play well

    Thanks for all the great stuff guys. Boomer Sooner!

    • J.K. Abbott

      K – keep
      I – it
      S – simple
      S – stupid
      Kids can’t play fast if they are thinking.

    • John Garner

      What’s the old adage: if you’re thinkin’, you’re stinkin’.

  • CS

    Still looking at the highlights and replay, attribute the failures against sexaT and BU to our offense, especially against Baylor. They did all they can to control the game, eventually they blew a gasket when our offense packed it.

  • EasTex

    Nice post.
    Not only do we have a great DC in Mike and position coaches, with 9 returning starters, numerous players with game experience and some very talented current and incoming players yet to see the field, this defense looks prepared for many years of great performances.
    I would argue that the loss in the BU game was more a function of an inept offense that night, forcing our D to stay on the field for far too many plays. Also, BU ran a pick play for those two TDs late in the first half. The officials finally called them for it when BU did it again after Bob complained vehemently and the TD was called back.
    The middle of the D against saxeT without Nelson and Phillips was lacking in experience and confidence, while their noodle-armed QB was able to get off a couple of nice passes.

    • J.K. Abbott

      Good call. Baylor hit us with a few rub plays after the Offense kept spitting the bit. McCoy freaking careered against us. For whatever reason Kass peaked on the wheel route and got torched. But like you said a lot of the problems were because OU’s offense couldn’t stay in front of the chains. Can’t leave the defense out there the whole game.

      • EasTex

        Half way through the second quarter and OU led 5 to 3. OUr D was playing very well, but without 1st downs and points we just couldn’t hang.

    • J.K. Abbott
    • J.K. Abbott
    • JY

      I’ll give ya that. Really great defenses keep you in that kind of game though. We had no answer for the qb run game even early on. If we could have stopped their run, the qb was noticeably rattled especially after the safety. They were ready to panic. Then all of a sudden they start being able to run up the gut on us, then they calm down and start wearing us down. With the rotation we’ll have up front on both levels of the front seven, I doubt that there will be a lot of teams that will be able to have sustained success against us.

      • EasTex

        OUr defense punished them early. Their top two running backs left the game along with their top receiver. It really surprised me when their freshman RB had so much success running between the tackles.
        I agree with you about the potential of our front 7 and the depth. As an old coach of mine used to say, they could go bear hunting with a switch(stick).

  • boomer-d

    Great Read!

  • Doobie74OU

    JY is the Master of the Tease! He counts us down to the Top OT prospect then leaves us wanting and waiting then he writes an awesome article What were trying to Build “PART ONE!” This guy know all the tricks. WE WANT OUR OT EVALUATION AND PART TWO OF THIS SERIES!!!!! WE HAVE TO HAVE IT!!!!!!!!WE NEED IT!!!!!!!!!! LOL! GREAT ARTICLES KEEP THEM COMING!

    • Ed Cotter

      Yeah, I’m waiting for Part Two now. Good stuff.

    • JY

      Copy that. You’ll be getting it soon!

  • Leroy Jenkins

    What adjustments do you see Stoops & Co. making to stopping the run better? OU really struggled against UT & Alabama (namely Derrick Henry). Obviously Henry is a beast and presents problems for any defense…but oftentimes I’d see Hayes or Lynn having to come up to make a tackle. It’s one of the few areas the D needs to improve I’d say.

    • Eric Hoffpauir

      For myself, I’m just hoping that a year’s more experience and S&C for our young D-Line will help against that.

      • J.K. Abbott

        It’s not rocket science is it?

    • captfoss

      You say that like safeties aren’t supposed to come up and stop the run…

      If we’re running man coverage and aren’t selling out to stop the pass… we’re going to want to make sure we have a numbers advantage in the box. IE, we have at least 1 more guy in the box than they can block, so there’s a guy available to make the tackle.

      Assuming we’re staying in our 3-3 base defense…
      If they come out with 5 blockers, we have the numbers advantage. If they come out with more than 5 blockers, we need to add another guy in the box to keep the numbers advantage. That guy is either going to be the NB, or it’s going to be a safety.

      A lot of teams might come out with 5 wide, and then bring as many as 3 of those guys into the backfield. Now we’ve got 6 guys in the box, and they’ve got 7 blockers. We’ve got to bring 2 guys into the box, and at least one of them will be a safety.

      So, long story short, seeing Hayes or Lynn coming up to make a tackle doesn’t mean anything bad has happened…

      • Leroy Jenkins

        Not saying the safety or NB isn’t supposed to come up to stop the run… just that it seemed to happen quite a bit. I’m not knocking the defense as a whole, it was only in certain situations against teams who run heavy sets. Like J.K. Abbott said, getting more reps this off-season will help.

        And like you said, sometimes the safety or NB was in position to make a tackle and didn’t. I bet Stoops will watch endless hours of film to make the right adjustments.

        • J.K. Abbott

          More missed tackles against Bama more then anything my friend.

        • J.K. Abbott

          Yes more reps against those sets will make a huge difference. Those guys on defense are babies and it’s a new animal running the 3/4 vs. 4/3. It changes technique and run fits. Coach Mike will script plays that puts the players in bad situations this Spring. “worse case scenarios” versus scripting a blitz versus a play from scout “O” that runs right into the blitz. I used to work with a DC that would script outside zone or toss into an OLBer screamer blitz in Team Defense. Well H3ll that’s not hard. The more worse case scenarios Mike puts them in and reps the better OU will be against teams that run Heavy Sets against the good guys. Oh and TACKLE will make a little difference obviously.

        • J.K. Abbott

          It wont matter how many players OU has in the box if they can’t tackle. It’s all relative.

          • Indy_sooner

            ^^This. I thought our guys were in position to make plays, but when you miss that first tackle, it kills you, especially if you are talking about Henry or Bama in general. They will simply make you pay. Going back to wrap up fundamentals and lose the bump techniques.

        • Sooner Ray

          I believe this defense was drawn up to stop high power offense and running QB’s and most D’s have a weak point and this one was against a power run. I expect adjustments to be made to cover up that weak spot and these guys can only get better. Being more familiar with the plan and the game slowing down in their minds will all help, and as everyone watching last season knows, we must tackle better when the opportunity is in front of us.

          • Doobie74OU

            Best adjustment we could make next year is not to loose our best Nose Tackle and Senior Middle Linebacker! That was a big blow to this defense so early in the season!

      • tforce

        Furthermore, OU’s DB’s missed too many tackles last year.

    • captfoss

      And assuming you’re being sound against the pass, you’re probably only keeping 1 extra guy in the box. If he misses the tackle, the guy is into the secondary where there is probably, again, only one guy whose responsibility it is to tackle the guy.

      So when you’re not overloading the box to stop the run, 1 broken tackle is 10-15 yards, and 2 broken tackles is 30+ yards.

      The problem against Texas and Alabama was, we’d been getting beat deep so we couldn’t bring anyone out of coverage to help. Texas was getting yards because our NG was new and couldn’t hold the point of attack, and Alabama was getting yards because the one guy we had to tackle Henry wasn’t tackling him.

    • J.K. Abbott

      Coach Mike admitted that they needed to improve their look (adjustments), personnel and technique versus teams that use heavy sets like Bama. I’m sure the staff will tinker with how they line up to heavy sets this Spring and what personel they might change versus Heavy or big sets. Just getting more reps out of their new scheme will help.

  • Jared William Reininger

    I think the complexity of Venables defense also killed players killer instinct. You can take a real monster and make him timid by confusing him. Say attack here but not here, and if the receiver does this then don’t drop…yada yada you make it so that monster spends his time thinking rather than attacking. Mikes defense gives those same guys the ability to feast. They know what their job is and they execute it, they are focused on that and not what every player on the field is about to do at all times. Simplicity is a beautiful thing.

    Anxious to see who steps up in the secondary. Hoping to get more info on that soon.

    • Sooner Ray

      Seems it’s always the simple things that determine wins and losses.

  • BR

    This is some good stuff fella’s a great description/explanation of the defense we are succeeding with…Thanx braniacs~!~!

  • Sooner Ray

    Great write up JY, love to see defensive dominance. The defense we put together will no doubt determine whether or not we record championships.

  • JJsooner1

    Make no mistake, the Mike and Jerry show is just getting started. JY is absolutely spot on with building this D from the back first. Take a athletic corner and coach him up. This scheme is reliant on corners who can match up one-on-one and safeties who are smart, fast, can cover as well and can bring the wood in run coverage.

    My one question is pass coverage with LB’s on 2nd & 3rd and long. Do we sub into a different look?

  • John Garner

    Great read. Took me two cups of coffee and I enjoyed every word and sentiment.Thanks JY for another awesome effort! Looking forward to 2014 with much enthusiasm.

    • JJsooner1

      Lol still reading and having coffee:-)

      LOVE this site!

      • JY

        Save me a cup!

    • JY

      Awesome! Thanks a bunch!

  • JJsooner1

    Sooooooooo is it too early to ask if we have a chance to make the Final 4?

    • Sooner Ray

      If you’re talking BB, not a chance. Football, hell yeah we have a chance, in fact we’re already there in my mind and don’t try to change it! 🙂

      • EasTex

        I’m with you.
        Now if we can have just ONE season without any major injuries.

  • Don Mitchell

    For years, I thought I was the only OU fan on the planet….I mean YEARS and those of you who know what I mean get it. These days there are few mores sites and of course more success creates more fair weather or closet fans..OK my point, this is turning out to be a great daily read with out all that other BS you get from Bull M on Rivals etc. (those who know, know what I am saying) anyway, where the hell am I? Is this some kind of open forum? can we expect a more detailed site in the future, one that offers message boards because I am buying in. How do I get an avatar? etc.
    Thanks for listeing to my rambling

    • J.K. Abbott

      Click on you name Don and hit edit profile to hook up an avatar. I like this sight the way it is. Every now and then the FB’s will offere Open Forums but the lack of message boards seem to keep the crap off this sight like Bull M on Rivals.

      • Don Mitchell

        You mean I dont click on your name, ok not funny
        Thanks J.K. I agree with you, all the best my friend.

    • Sooner Ray

      Don if you want to know where you are, you are right smack in the middle of a bunch of rabid OU football fans who have always been fans so you were never alone. I don’t consider myself a fair weather fan because I have sat in the seats and watched Blake and the white haired pipe smoker embarrass Sooner Nation. This is an open forum of sorts if what you mean by open is sharing thoughts about the OU football team. Most people are here because it is fresh and different, full of good information that is honest and not meant to compete with other sights, but rather to offer a different perspective. The other good thing about this sight is that it has managed so far to be without fighting, arguing, or beating people down just because they have an opinion. So unless you want to come on here and tell us about your tennis game or your bowling team, welcome and you will figure out the avatar thing if you mess around with your profile edit features.

      • J.K. Abbott

        Well done Sooner Ray. Very well written.

        • Gary Robbins

          J.K.A. and the rest of the posters. Thanks for all the good info. A big so to all TFB crew, I’m learning something everyday. My 1st OU game was the OU/Nebraska game in ’71, been hooked ever since then. I have 4 kids and they are all OSU (yep, I blame their mommy. It seems all the football coaches have that extra bounce in their step. Being an optimist I feel 2 new 2015 commits between now and March 3rd.. March 1st Junior day could bring some surprises!! Well Sooner Ray it’s next door for some “who hit john” shine in mason jars.

          • Sooner Ray

            HAHA, one jar bout empty, one with a fresh seal bout to break!!!

      • Doobie74OU

        NO FAIR WEATHER FANS HERE! The first game I scraped all my pennies together and was privledged to go to was in 1996. Of course knowing the rivelry I chose the Nebraska Game. I sat in the Nebraska Fan section in the southwest corner while we got beat 73 – 21! Those around me were actually pretty nice but I just kept telling them “you guys wait a few years and we will be ruling the Big 12 again” Of course they were chanting “HEY DAISY FUENTES NICE PASS” A nod to our not so popular QB Justin Fuente but I DIDN”T MISS A SECOND OF THAT GAME!

        • Sooner Ray

          At least you picked a good time to sit with visitors, Husker fans were always some of the best. It was based on mutual respect of the programs led by Barry and Tom. Those were tough years.

        • EasTex

          My avatar addresses how long I have been a Sooner fan. I loved Coach, his team never lost(this during the 47) and a belief that Crimson(or bright red) is the greatest color for a sports team.
          Which is why no one despises ND more than me, I was inconsolable at 7 years old when the winning streak came to an end.
          I’ve never been able to attend a home game, the only OU games I have ever attended were always in Dallas at the RRS. The first one in 1968.

        • red clay

          My story – in 1964 my late Dad, who grew up in Lincoln NE and got his BS and MS at Michigan, wanted to cure his sons of being Sooners fans. He took me (age 8) and my brothers to watch the No. 4 Huskers drub the unranked Sooners in Norman.

          However Sooner Magic was in the air as we pulled the big upset – OU 17, #4 NU 7.

          A few years later, Dad (a geophysicist) decided Oklahoma was alright as he and his coworkers drilled the wells that opened up the deep Anadarko gas play in Western OK.

          And he was finally o.k. with Sooners football, as long as he could watch his Wolverines on t.v. the same day.

          After suffering through an eight year losing streak against the Buckeyes, he got to see Michigan beat OH St over Thanksgiving weekend 2011, the last time we got to watch football together.

  • Big Higg

    I miss football

  • j l

    Thanks for the in depth analysis, cant get enough of these kinds of articles.

  • ohiosoonerdevildog

    I love the nasty, junkyard mentality Mike has brought to this team. Between him and the asst. coaches OU has brought in, the future looks bright. I miss the days where teams were afraid to play our defense.

    • Sooner Ray

      You and me both ohio!

      • ohiosoonerdevildog

        I definitely agree we are headed in the right direction. Imo in 2 years this defense will be elite. With guys like Phillips and Wade and Alexander and Sanchez all as juniors and seniors look out.

    • I think those days are returning.

  • Shelby is a Patriot

    Great stuff, thanks JY. I’m really excited about our defense!

    • Sooner Ray

      Shouldn’t you be in school sis? 😀

      • Shelby is a Patriot


  • Steve Johns

    Agree JY, simplicity and repetition is the best way to go. Especially with a very young team.

  • Ed Cotter

    Great insights JY, thanks for posting the article.

  • tforce

    “Top five defense nationally this year.”

    OU’ll get better play for many of the reasons you listed.

    > Better tackling from the DB’s will limit a lot of big plays in the run and pass.
    > Need MLB that can stand up an OG.
    > With Bond, Bolton, and Striker on the field, OU’ll have 3 adept pass rushers and blunt opposing OL’s ability to shift coverage.
    > The OFFENSE’s ability to suck time off the clock was key to several wins (WV, Bama off the top of my head).

  • Rees Bear

    Great job JY.

  • Boomer4life

    A beast of a defence is swelling up in Norman Oklahoma! Get ready!

    • Sooner Ray

      Hope it’s not blocking the streets because I’m there on business the 1st week of March.

      • Boomer4life

        Not making any promises Ray. Travel at your own risk bro.

  • Shifty

    Great article JY! The seed was planted last spring and grew thru out the season..this year looks to be even stronger with the roots grabbing hold

  • Kevin Fielder

    As I tell my kids and my students….be great at simple. Thank for the great breakdown, pleas keep up the great work!

  • Rob Turner

    Not only do I get the latest, greatest info on the Sooners. You Brainiacs do an UNBELIEVABLE job of explaining what the coaches want to do and what certain players can do.

  • Ronald Keith

    as sooner fans, we all look forward to the start of next season. but this coming season has everyone really excited about what we can become. then we have the brainiacs show up to explain how all of the nuts and bolts of the strategies that we are using. it just has me really amped up for what is ahead. thanks again to you guys for what you are providing