NORMAN, Okla. – What a difference 10 months can make. The Oklahoma defense was torched for 778 yards last year at West Virginia. Toyed with. Humiliated. Embarrassed.
Not this time around. Sparked by the defense, it was the Sooners coming out on top with a 16-7 victory against visiting West Virginia on Saturday night in the Big 12 conference opener for both teams.
It didn’t look that good early. West Virginia’s Dreamius Smith went 77 yards, breaking one tackle after another to put the Mountaineers (1-1, 0-1) on the board with 8:54 left in the first quarter.
Here we go again. The track meet was on.
Only this time the OU defense was up to the task. As the Sooners’ passing offense sputtered, the defense was asked to save the offense this time around.
Each and every single time the defense delivered.
“Everyone is buying into the system,” senior linebacker Corey Nelson said. “We’re selfless. We’re a We-Fense instead of a De-Fense. We play like a family.”
A family that has seen one of its leaders emerge. Entering the season it was clear Nelson and senior cornerback Aaron Colvin were going to be the go-to guys.
Through two games, though, there is no way anybody can discount the production and the leadership senior safety Gabe Lynn has brought to the team. Lynn recorded his first career interception and recovered a fumble. OU’s defense forced four turnovers.
“Gabe was awesome,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “He has really become a leader and is the glue back there for the secondary to go along with Aaron. It has been awesome what he has been doing.”
Not to mention what the rest of the defense is doing. OU limited West Virginia to 3-of-13 on third down conversions and 387 yards of total offense, less than half of what the Mountaineers racked up last season.
The defense had to respond to adversity. Colvin left the game midway through the third quarter and didn’t return. Stoops said he is not sure how severe the injury is and declined to comment further.
OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said his group missed Colvin’s leadership and presence but stayed solid and made the necessary adjustments.
“I like this group,” Mike Stoops said. “The attitude, the toughness – I like this group a lot. It was controlled chaos.”
OU (2-0, 1-0) was clinging to a one-score lead for more than half of the game as the offense couldn’t find its way through the air. The Sooners were 1-of-6 for 6 yards and two interceptions in the second half. Early in the fourth quarter, junior Blake Bell replaced redshirt freshman starting quarterback Trevor Knight.
The defense never wilted.
“Especially in this game last year, the offense bailed us out,” said Lynn about the defense bailing out the offense. “Coming into this game, we had a lot of motivation after last year. We definitely want to prove everybody wrong. Everybody was counting the defense out earlier, so it definitely felt good to get that win.”
Taking out the 77-yard run, West Virginia rushed for 92 yards on its 23 other carries. Kass Everett had a sack and a forced fumble. It was OU’s only sack of the game, but Mike Stoops is not worried about that.
“We had one sack, but there was a lot of pressure,” Stoops said. “That’s just as effective.”
And effective is a good word to describe the OU defense. Through two games, the Sooners are allowing a mere 3.5 points per game.
The mentality has changed.
“Last year we might have crumbled,” said Nelson after Smith’s touchdown run. “This year we weren’t scared. We were disappointed. We put it behind us and kept playing football.”