OU football: Why early marks are good for defense — but biggest tests remain
PASADENA, Calif. — Dorian Thompson-Robinson rolled right and spied one of UCLA’s long and tall tight ends. A big dude. A big target.
And from where Thompson-Robinson was, sure looked like an open target, too.
But when the Bruin quarterback threw the ball, Tre Brown jumped into action. The Sooner cornerback stepped in front of the tight end and snagged the ball, setting off a crimson-and-cream celebration. There were fist pumps. There were helmet slaps. We know how much these Sooners relish turnovers, and they enjoyed their third interception of the season.
They added another late in the game.
The Sooners only had six all of last season.
On a night OU throttled UCLA 48-14, the reasons for the Sooners’ domination were many. Jalen Hurts’ legs. CeeDee Lamb’s touchdowns. Charleston Rambo's catches. But every bit as important was the OU defense’s stoutness.
Remember when holding an opponent to a couple touchdowns was cause for celebration?
Doesn’t seem as shocking as it once was.
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Granted, the OU defense has yet to face its first significant test. That comes in two weeks when Texas Tech rolls into Norman. Alan Bowman dismantled the Sooners a year ago in Lubbock, and had the Red Raider quarterback not gotten hurt, who knows how the game would’ve ended.
As it was, OU survived, 51-46.
Maybe we’re in for another game like that in a couple weeks, but it seems less likely than it has these past few years. The evidence continues to grow — this OU defense is much improved over what it was a season ago.
UCLA managed only 311 yards of total offense, averaging only 4.9 yards per play. By comparison, the OU offense averaged 9.5 yards.
The Bruins also converted only three of 13 times on third down.
As good as the Sooner defense was from start to finish, they were particularly good in the first half, holding the Bruins to only 116 yards in the first half. Seventy-five of those yards came on one drive, but even that scoring drive was a sign of how much has changed with this OU defense.
UCLA didn’t string together a bunch of big plays to get into the end zone. Yes, there was a 23-yard pass from Thompson-Robinson and a 19-yard run from Demetric Felton, but most of the plays were dribs and drabs. Two yards here. Seven yards there.
There weren’t a bunch of receivers running wide open or defenders missing tackles either. The Bruins had to work for their touchdown.
Another sign of hope?
The way the Sooners responded after giving up a touchdown drive to start the second half. Again, the Bruins had to work for the score, but after the OU offense went three-and-out on its first possession, a bit of the momentum felt like it was swinging toward UCLA.
The OU defense wouldn’t let it happen.
The Sooners came out with a statement play, sacking Thompson-Robinson for an 18-yard loss. Nik Bonitto blew past a blocker, and if he hadn’t corralled the Bruin quarterback, Ronnie Perkins would’ve. The Sooners were swarming.
But even after a big run by Felton got all those lost yards back and then some — 43 yards all told — the OU defense tightened again. One-yard run. Incomplete pass. Seven-yard completion. Then on fourth-and-2, Justin Broiles broke up a pass and the Sooners got the ball back.
That sort of thing didn’t happen much last year.
Is the OU defense ready to win ballgames?
I don’t know if I would go that far, but that day doesn’t seem as far away as it used to.
The nonconference schedule hasn’t provided the kind of tests that are coming in Big 12 play. Some of the offenses in the league don’t look to be the juggernauts of yesteryear, but there are plenty that will stress any defense, even an improved one in crimson and cream.
So, yes, the early marks are good for this defense, but it will be months before the grades are final.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.