WVU football: Sooners defense out to dominate
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- A year ago, Oklahoma finished No. 55 in total defense and No. 31 in scoring defense.
The Sooners went 10-3 and the defensive numbers weren't embarrassing for a product of the Big 12 Conference.
Yet the Sooners lost three conference games and gave up 41, 44 and 45 points. Oklahoma had only given up 40 points or more four times after allowing 48 to West Virginia in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl.
"Last year, we were much better than the way we played, but there were just a lot of mental errors," Sooners senior cornerback Demontre Hurst said. "It all comes down to getting together as a team and focusing on an attitude before the game, because we don't want to play like we did last year."
Attitude is an interesting word because even with the recruiting classes and the big bodies and athletic players across the field, opponents marvel at the assertiveness with which the Sooners play.
West Virginia (5-4, 2-4) will be the next to experience it when No. 13 Oklahoma (7-2, 5-1) visits Mountaineer Field at 7 p.m. Saturday (WVAH telecast).
"This is a team that just lines up and plays without many defensive gadgets or gimmicks or pressure every down or stunts," said Kansas Coach Charlie Weis, whose team took its worst loss of the season in Norman, Okla. "These guys just line up and try to rough you up and they can do that because they're well-coached.
"They have good players that are very physical, so that's the game they play. They don't try to beat you with trickery and deceit. They line up and smash you in the mouth. It's an old fashioned defense and they're really good at it."
The Sooners are now No. 20 in total defense and No. 24 in scoring defense. Their two losses came when allowing 24 and 30 points and they'll pose a challenge to WVU's passing offense. Oklahoma is No. 2 in pass efficiency defense and No. 8 in passing yards allowed per game.
"The one thing that never changes is the effort they play with and the nastiness they play with," WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "They play with a tremendous amount of energy."
It's the style Coach Bob Stoops learned as a defensive back at Iowa for Coach Haden Frye, who featured a list of impressive defensive assistant coaches. Stoops was with the Hawkeyes from 1979-82 and played under noted defensive coaches like Dan McCarney and Barry Alvarez.
The offensive coordinator was Bill Snyder, who would become the head coach at Kansas State and hired Stoops as his defensive backs coach and then promoted him to defensive coordinator. Stoops learned Snyder's famed discipline and attention to detail and applied it to the way he organized and instructed his defense.
Players were taught to win in a base defense without many exotic designs. They were asked to use strength and effort to win one-on-one battles and to rely on patience and determination to execute assignments.
"Sometimes you do things that put yourself in trouble and people look for it and try to take advantage of it," Stoops said. "You can pick your times when you change it up and blitz and what not, but we're counting on technique and fundamentals to play good, solid defense to win. Our focus is not to try to fool somebody by running the right blitz at the right time."
Stoops and Snyder would later bring Stoops' brother Mike on board as an assistant. Stoops hired Mike as Oklahoma's defensive coordinator when he was named the head coach in 1999. From 2000-03, Mike's defense finished in the top 10 and was no worse than seventh. In Mike's eight seasons as the Arizona coach, the Sooners finished in the top 10 once and no better than seventh.
"Players ultimately are the ones that win and lose for you, but I do believe in the last couple of years, for whatever reason - and we've really looked at it - that our defense hasn't been quite as strong as what we've been used to in our first 10, 12 years," Stoops said.
"When we've worked together, it's been pretty positive when you look at our years either competing at Iowa together as players but also the years at Kansas State coaching defense together. His years with us at Oklahoma up to 2003, we did pretty well overall."
Mike was fired by the Wildcats last season and Bob hired his brother in the offseason. The team's former defensive coordinator, Brent Venables, left for Clemson, which needed a defensive coordinator when it made a change after the 70-33 loss to the Mountaineers in the Orange Bowl.
"Mike's had a lot to do with it, along with our other defensive coaches, but he believes in being very disciplined and very technique-oriented and physical and he's always been true to the belief that you don't play great defense by trying to fool people and trying to blitz all the time," Bob said.
It's worked. The Sooners have 19 sacks, two fewer than the Mountaineers, who have struggled to find and use a pass rush all season. They instead succeed in the categories that define the way they play because they've redefined their style this season.
"Every game," Hurst said, "we want to go out and dominate."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.