NEW ORLEANS – Mission complete? Well, maybe. If not, it’s definitely a lot closer to being accomplished. The goal of the Oklahoma defense under defensive coordinator Mike Stoops was to bring the physicality back, to bring the speed back.
There have been signs of things starting to click, but it all came together on the biggest stage OU has seen in several years.
The Sooners defense wreaked havoc all night in a memorable 45-31 upset victory against Alabama in the 2014 Allstate Sugar Bowl on Thursday night.
Going into the game all the talk was about how would OU be able to contain a senior leader like Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron. After the game the talk shifted toward how special OU’s defense can be in 2014.
It started with the line and the play of Geneo Grissom, who played the best game of his career.
“We have a lot of talent on our D-line, a lot of guys that can make plays,” Grissom said. “It was only a matter of before we were all able to get in a groove and execute.”
But it wasn’t supposed to happen against McCarron, the player OU coach Bob Stoops called the undisputed best player in the country when the game was announced last week. The player who finished second in the Heisman Trophy award voting this season.
It did and boy did it ever. Grissom had two sacks, recovered two fumbles including his second one that he returned for an icing on the cake touchdown in the final minute of the game.
It was all part of a plan by Mike Stoops. OU was going to gamble. It was going to work at times, and it was going to falter at times. Either way, he was going to stick to his guns.
McCarron averaged more than 20 yards per completion and was 19 of 30 for 387 yards and two touchdowns. But he also threw two costly interceptions that resulted in touchdowns, was sacked a ridiculous seven times and had the fumble late in the game to seal the deal.
“Mike has brought great tenacity on defense in the way we play and compete,” Bob Stoops said. “And I feel the sky’s the limit because nine of those guys are back next year. And we’re going to be better.”
One of those guys that’s going to be back and better is sophomore linebacker Eric Striker. Playing with even more passion than what he already brings, Striker led the team with seven tackles to go with three sacks and he forced the McCarron fumble.
“Eric and Geneo were crazy tonight,” said safety Gabe Lynn, who also had an interception. “They brought the pressure all night.”
Epitomizing Mike Stoops’ attitude was redshirt freshman Zack Sanchez. He was picked on early and often and was beat a few times. But he also picked off a pass and took it 43 yards to set up an OU score late in the first half.
The question was how could OU match up physically with the Crimson Tide. The answer turned into what could Alabama do to slow down Striker and the pressure from the line.
“I remember, Geneo, in two-a-days, remember me the calling group up, and I said I’ve heard for half the year is we don’t have any D-linemen. I guess we do have a D-line, huh?”
For 2013, 2014 and beyond.