The firing of Mike Stoops one month ago was a move many wanted to see in the hopes of a better performance by Oklahoma after losing to Texas. Has the interim move to Ruffin McNeill made a difference? The Sooners may be 3-0 and back to No. 6 in the country, but questions remain.
Fresh off 46 points allowed in an upset scare against Texas Tech, ESPN’s College Football Live brought the concerns to the forefront with a strong criticism of the defense under Lincoln Riley’s tenure. ESPN analyst Paul Finebaum called the defense, “lamentable.”
“I’ve run out of adjectives to describe how bad they are,” he said. “Forget good.”
Cohost on the broadcast, Greg McElroy, went into more detail about national disappointment in what the Oklahoma Sooners have done defensively over the last two seasons.
“That’s the only piece that’s missing right now between Oklahoma and a National Championship,” McElroy said. “This offense with Kyler Murray is absolutely off the charts. But you know what they were missing last year en route to a potential National Championship? A defense. Nothing has gotten better here. It continues to be an Achilles heel, and it was obvious against Texas Tech on Saturday.”
Oklahoma’s opponents average 29 points per game under McNeill. Against Stoops in 2018, it was 27.3 (including games against weaker offenses like FAU and Army). Will there be enough improvement over the next three games to believe in the Sooners in the Big 12 Championship game and beyond?
The OU defense gave up 473 total yards against Texas Tech in the 51-46 victory. It was the fourth time this season an opponent threw for more than 300 yards against the Sooners secondary.
“We were okay, you know,” Riley told reporters on Monday. “We were okay. Kind of like we were on all three sides of the ball. We weren’t great, we weren’t terrible, we were somewhere in between. We were tough, and we played really, really hard. We had some game-changing plays. … We weren’t as good as we need to be, and as good as we can be.”
Against a Texas Tech offense under Kliff Kingsbury, some of those numbers come down to giving the other team credit where it is due. Will it be a different story against Oklahoma State?
“I thought, honestly I thought this is probably better than what the scoreboard ended up,” Riley said. “We gave up 470 yards. It had a different feel out there on the field to me. They got some things, Kliff’s [Kingsbury] a great mind play caller. They had some really good stuff that gave us trouble, especially in the screen game that we got to be better with. But I thought we zeroed in and obviously played better than the score looks.”