Defense Eyes Redemption on Last Week's Busts

NORMAN, Okla. — Coming off a brilliant performance in a hostile environment at Florida State, no one expected the defense to lay the egg it did last weekend against Missouri.

But quarterback James Franklin and the Tigers offense carved up the Sooners for 532 yards, including 291 passing and 241 on the ground.

Mizzou averaged an astounding 7.1 yards per play and had nine plays of 20+ yards.

Those included gains of 21, 22, 24, 24, 25, 29, 32, 45 and 48 yards.

Two of those, the 45- and 48-yard plays, were touchdowns.

On top of that, the Sooner defense surrendered 23 plays of 10 or more yards.

They allowed scoring drives of 76 twice in the first quarter and 89 and 73 in the fourth quarter.

So, to say they struggled would be an understatement.

"There was enough bad stuff in the beginning, enough bad stuff in the end and the way we gave up two drives in the last nine minutes of the game was incredibly disappointing," said defensive coordinator Brent Venables.

Indeed, that seemed to be the consensus with players on the defensive side of the ball for what was most frustrating.

"The most disappointing part is the 14 points in the fourth quarter," said Mike linebacker Tom Wort. "I mean, you come out, sometimes you get caught off balance a little bit, and you don't want to let them [have] the first two touchdowns. But [we] settled in, started playing really good and then in the last nine minutes to play the way we did and let them drive down the field twice on us was, I mean, just incredibly disappointing."

Defensive backs coach Willie Martinez said that's always been one of their biggest focuses of emphasis: closing out in the fourth.

"Yeah, you just want to finish," Martinez said. "We talk about it around here all the time about finishing, finishing the play and obviously finishing the game. And we didn't do that. Obviously, our goal is to do that."

But it's also hard to ignore the poor start.

OU allowed 14 points in the first nine-plus minutes of the game and because of that, trailed 14-3 very early in the contest.

Effectively, before the Sooners got into a rhythm offensively, the defense had dug them a double-digit deficit.

It just didn't seem like there was any attention to detail starting at kickoff.

"I honestly I can't [explain it to you]," said defensive end David King. "It was just a lack of focus. I mean, that's what it was. If you ask anybody on defense, offense, they'll tell you the same thing. That's what it was."

Digging deeper, the defense said its problems stemmed back to three, four, five days before kickoff.

"We had mental bust after mental bust with a very easy game plan," Venables said. "So, we practiced poorly this week, and we played poorly and coached poorly."

The fact that they didn't prepare the right way is something players noticed throughout the week as well.

"Man, it was hard because, you know, coaches have been talking all week about seeing us like getting kind of [lackadaisical] and seeing us just kind of slow playing stuff," said cornerback Gabe Lynn. "A lot of players and coaches called that out. And it was just different out there. We didn't have the same intensity we had preparing for Florida State. Yeah, I definitely saw that when we played."

Wort explained it even further than that.

"Really, [it's] not that practice was off," Wort said. "It just wasn't the same intensity as it was going into Florida State. And we can't get relaxed, can't get complacent, get content with where we're at. We got to keep striving to get better, and if we don't, you know, we're going to slip up. And, I mean, we almost slipped up against Missouri, so just got to come out with that much more intensity. I mean, I think we had that today in practice."

Improving their practice habits really deals with one major concept: that attention to detail the Sooners lacked all of last week and in the game.

"We know what we have to do," said field cornerback Demontre Hurst. "We just have to get more focus or concentrate on the things that we have to work on and, you know, try not to get down on ourselves and pretty much just try to progress throughout the season and just work on the small things."

Doing so will allow them to accomplish what they did against Florida State when they allowed just 246 yards in all four quarters, as well as the middle two quarters against Mizzou when they clamped up and shut down some of those big plays they were allowing.

"We focused for the second and third quarter and played really good defense and then we come out and I don't know what it was fourth quarter, trying to hold on," Wort said. "I don't know why we had that mindset, but it's just really disappointing that we did that."

For those out there trying to search for the positives in this--for lack of a better word--abysmal performance, one must not look far, according to several defensive players.

"It's disappointing, as I said, it's just going to make you that much more hungry," Wort said. "It might be a blessing in disguise knowing that we can't come out like that and expect to win."

Lynn echoed those sentiments.

"Oh yeah, definitely it was a good thing that the offense came out ready because, as you saw, the defense definitely didn't," Lynn said. "So yeah, like you said, it's a blessing in disguise, and we'll be ready the rest of the season."

One thing's given: The Sooners know they can't come out with the same level of performance and hope to ensure victory.

"Hopefully reality set in this past weekend with Missouri coming to our house, pretty much had a great game on us," Hurst said.

The Sooners will work throughout the week to fix their issues before taking on Ball State at 6 p.m. Saturday at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium and facing the Texas Longhorns just a week from then.

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