Averaging 578 yards and 49.5 points a game, Oklahoma has arguably the most explosive offense in the country. Both stats lead the nation entering the Dec. 29 Orange Bowl semifinal with Alabama.
Nobody’s questioning what Kyler Murray and Co., can do on offense. The reason the Sooners squeaked into the playoff at No. 4 and opened as a two-score underdog sits with a defense on its second coordinator of the season. Mike Stoops was fired in early October after losing to Texas and former East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeil was promoted.
Things haven’t improved much from a statistical standpoint as the Sooners rank No. 108 in total defense (allowing 448.1 yards a game) and tied for last in the FBS stopping the pass (291.4 yards a game).
To gain perspective on just what’s going wrong for this Oklahoma defense, AL.com asked two former opponents how they can explain the struggles for the Big 12 champion.
“A lot of people knock their defense,” West Virginia quarterback Will Grier said. “I thought their defense is good. They have good players. I think they try to man you up sometimes and sometimes they give up big plays. Other times, they make plays.”
Grier, a former Florida quarterback, helped the Mountaineers to a 704-yard night in a 59-56 loss to Oklahoma on Nov. 23.
“We would miss two times and then him them for a big gain,” Grier said. “I think they’re a really good team. They’re definitely not anything to take lightly on either side of the ball.”
Oklahoma State receiver Tylan Wallace was part of a 48-47 loss to the Sooners in which the Cowboys racked up 640 total yards.
“Yeah, I feel like they’re not really bad, honestly,” said Wallace, who had 10 catches for 220 yards and two touchdowns against Oklahoma. “I think it’s just kind of a young defense. I mean, you have to go out there. I don’t want to say nothing too bad about them but they’re a pretty good defense.
“They’re not too bad as people think they are but you just have to go out there, but you just have to go out there and do all the little things right and I think you’ll be alright.”
Oklahoma State had 501 passing yards, the second-most Oklahoma gave up behind West Virginia’s 539. The 291.4-yard average passing-yard allowance includes a win over Army’s triple-option offense that produced just 40 yards through the air.
Both Grier and Wallace touched on the offensive cultural differences in the Big 12 that can lead to such gaudy numbers.
“I think there’s a misconception about the Big 12 that it’s just bad defenses, which is not the case,” Grier said. “As much as it is a mixture of good offenses and coaches realizing that you have to score points, so I think coaches take more chances. They’re not playing field position as much as they are trying to score more points and take more chances and those games kinda get out of hand at the end, just back and forth. I don’t think there are any bad defenses. Yeah, I think Oklahoma is a good all-around team.”
Wallace explained what the Alabama defense can expect under the lights in Miami Gardens.
“I feel like it’s going to be — especially on offense — they’re going to see a lot more passing facing a Big 12 team,” said Wallace, a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award. “That’s kind of what the Big 12 bases their game on, passing the ball a lot. I just feel like that and they are a multi-threat. They can run it, throw it. So, I feel like they’re going to have to worry about, especially with a guy like Kyler Murray in the backfield. So, I feel like there are a whole bunch of weapons they just have to look out for.”
At the same time, Wallace is impressed with what Alabama’s No. 7 offense is doing this season.
“It’s real nice,” Wallace said, “especially now that they’re doing a little more passing this year, I feel like it’s going to be really tough for OU’s defense to really keep up with all of that knowing there are real threats both running and passing.”
That’s where Oklahoma’s offense has been so effective. Murray, the Heisman Trophy winner, is dangerous both as a passer and runner. He’s rushed for 892 yards after sacks while passing for more than 4,000 yards.
Grier offered a quick offensive scouting report on the Sooners.
“I was on the sideline when we were on defense and just kind of amazed at the efficiency of their offense from the standpoint,” Grier said. “They don’t take negative plays, they don’t hurt themselves and they get the ball in space. They do a really good job of getting it in space to their guys and Kyler obviously adds a whole new element to their game. You cover everybody and he’s obviously a run threat as well. They’re really impressive offensively.”