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Mike Stoops, Oklahoma’s defense under fire after Texas loss

Bob Stoops couldn’t have been pleased watching the Red River Showdown on Saturday. Two seasons removed from his last game on the crimson sideline, the longtime Sooners coach was at the Cotton Bowl for the annual rivalry—just like old times—except this one didn’t go like so many he remembered.

Texas made a season-defining statement with a 48–45 win over Oklahoma, sealed when freshman kicker Cameron Dicker made a 40-yard field goal in the final seconds following a fourth-quarter scare in which the Sooners scored 21 points in the final 15 minutes to tie the game. The Longhorns looked strong in all phases, especially sophomore dual-threat quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who completed 24 of 35 passes for 314 yards with two touchdowns and added 72 rushing yards and three more scores.

Oklahoma’s defense made a statement, too, though not the kind it wanted to make. The Sooners were undefeated heading into this matchup, and all pregame storylines were focused on Heisman Trophy candidate Kyler Murray—rightfully so, with the video game-like numbers he has put up this season (1,460 yards passing with 17 touchdowns to two interceptions before playing Texas, plus a 230.95 quarterback rating) and the fact that next year he will leave football behind and begin his career in the Oakland A’s organization.

Texas changed the direction of the Big 12 conversation and in the process exposed Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, Bob’s brother, whose inconsistent units have run afoul of fans in Norman multiple times of late. The Longhorns moved the ball as they pleased, scoring on their first five drives and racking up 501 total yards, the most OU has allowed this season. Texas came into Saturday averaging 3.74 yards per carry, ranked 101st nationally. Against Oklahoma, the Longhorns averaged 4.7 yards per carry.

Tom Herman had clearly studied the vulnerabilities in Oklahoma’s unit, which gave up 339 rushing yards to Army and its triple option on Sept. 22. Last week Baylor put up 493 total yards, including a 400-yard day for Bears QB Charlie Brewer, and three weeks ago Iowa State amassed 360 yards through the air alone. Stoops’s unit, a holdover from the head coach transition from Bob Stoops to Lincoln Riley last summer, had issues during last year’s biggest games, too: Oklahoma State scored 52 points and racked up 661 yards in the Bedlam matchup, while Georgia averaged 9.3 yards per rush and scored five rushing touchdowns in the Rose Bowl thriller that ended Riley’s first season in charge.

Although Murray did engineer a remarkable fourth-quarter comeback, the fact that the Sooners needed a run of 21 unanswered points indicates the extent to which Texas flat-out exploited Oklahoma’s greatest weakness. The Longhorns faced third-and-21 on their first drive of the third quarter after Ehlinger was sacked by Curtis Bolton, but they gained 19 yards on the play and Ehlinger hit Lil’Jordan Humphrey for the first down on fourth-and-two and found Humphrey again on third-and-10 to get to the five-yard line. Ehlinger took it in himself on the next play to give Texas a 31–17 lead. Two possessions later, Ehlinger found receiver Collin Johnson for 10 yards to the OU seven-yard line on third-and-four and scored another touchdown to make the score 38–24 with 6:21 remaining in the third.

Texas didn’t punt until the third quarter, went 6-of-14 on third down, was a perfect 2-of-2 on fourth down conversions, completed four touchdown drives of 75 yards or more (all of which comprised eight plays or more) and didn’t turn the ball over once.

Oklahoma has physical players on its defense. Linebacker Curtis Bolton has the second-most tackles (75) in the conference, and teammate Kenneth Murray is right behind him (74). Against the Longhorns, they combined for 23 tackles, a sack and three quarterback hurries. But OU doesn’t have enough depth.

Sure, the Big 12 isn’t exactly known for its defensive prowess, but Oklahoma’s unit is ranked No. 90 in the country, and ninth in the conference, for allowing 405.2 yards per game. Meanwhile, league peers TCU, Texas and Iowa State are all ranked in the top 30 nationally and holding opponents below 335 ypg.

The lesson Oklahoma learned during last season’s playoff semifinal resurfaced 10 months later to put its 2018 playoff hopes in peril: No matter how many points the Sooners’ offense scores, it’s not a guaranteed win if Stoops’s defense can’t make enough plays.

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