January 1, 2014

OU defense must bulk up for Bama

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METAIRIE, La. -- Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops made it clear in the lead up to the Thursday's Allstate Sugar Bowl game that if the Sooners are going to beat No. 3 Alabama they're going to have to match their size and physicality on offense.

Certainly though, OU's defense wasn't designed to contend with an offense like Alabama's, only the spread offenses that litter the Big 12. Stoops' defense is predicated on speed, athleticism and putting playmakers on the field.

"We've been a little bit in transition defensively, philosophically and where we're trying to move to in getting all the pieces semantically set the way we want them, size, speed, all that takes a little bit of time," Stoops said.

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"We just kind of maneuvered our best 11, 12 guys and tried to get them on the field continuously. It adapted pretty well to the spread offense."

Now it has to adapt to defending an NFL of type scheme.

The vaunted Crimson Tide attack features a dominant offensive line and two running backs with power and speed in T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake. According to Tide offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, Yeldon has become a well-rounded back in just his second full season of college football.

"I think T.J. has really grown in that aspect, his attention to detail and protections, his understanding of the overall scheme, the blocking schemes and how we're doing things up front to create holes for him," he said.

The tight ends sealing the edge against outside linebackers are capable of moving men too. Stoops said OU's larger linebackers will be important to OU's success for that reason when Alabama goes into its big sets.

"You have to get bigger as well. P.L. Lindley is a guy, Chaz Nelson," he said. "Our edge guys are going to have to be bigger guys to create better matchups for us."

Stoops noted that pitting smaller linebacker Eric Striker against those larger tight ends isn't ideal for his game plan.

"Eric is an undersized outside linebacker and getting him matched up on a 6'6", 260 pound tight end gets tough," he said. "So we're going to have to be creative in what we do and how we do it."

As for Striker, he says bring on Alabama's best.

"We want contact," Striker said. "You think I'm gonna run? You think I'm scared of contact? No, we're gonna be down there."

Lindley has seen limited action this year at the jack linebacker position, notably against Texas and Kansas. During OU's game against the Jayhawks, he notched a career-high five tackles and recovered a fumble versus the Longhorns.

He understands the challenge Alabama's offense presents, not only in the run-game but in the Tide passing attack. Lindley, who was recruited to OU to play linebacker by former defensive coordinator Brent Venables, has seen time at defensive end too.

His strength is pass rushing and filling the gaps, but he's worked on becoming a better cover linebacker this year.

"It's something I've been working on this whole second half of the season, getting back into the kind of thing I used to do," he said.

Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron is aware OU's defense will try to matchup with Alabama. He recognizes the talent. He recognizes the speed.

"They like to substitute in big personnel when you use big personnel, so they like to match what you are doing with their defensive personnel," he said. "They're fast.

"They're not quite as big as some defenses in the SEC, but they have speed, which makes them really good on defense. It's going to be a great test for us."

It will also be a great test for Stoops and his ability to adapt his defensive scheme in less than a month's time.

"Obviously this is a more pro-style offense that comes at you with a lot of tight ends and a lot of size and physicality like I said," he said. "So we've had to adjust some personnel for this game and tried to get bigger people in position to defend the things we're going to see with Alabama."

McCarron expects to receive OU's best shot, and he's looking forward to a game many circled on their bowl game calendar when the matchup was announced in December.

"They're one of the top teams in the Big 12, plus it's a very historic program and a historic game," McCarron said. "I know Coach Stoops will have that team ready."




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