NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — After a season when the defense just couldn’t cut it in the biggest games, Oklahoma is hoping a blast from the past can return the program to a championship level.
Mike Stoops is back as defensive coordinator after seven years away. During his first stint with the Sooners, they were among the nation’s top 10 in defense four straight years, won a national title and played for another.
It’s been nothing like that lately, with Oklahoma failing to make the top 50 three of the past four years and falling flat in losses to Texas Tech, Baylor and Oklahoma State a year ago that submarined a season that started with national title hopes and a preseason No. 1 ranking.
“You hope they want revenge. That’s what I say: It’s redemption time,” Stoops said. “We’ll see what these guys are about. When someone beats you up like that, it’s not fun and you’ve got to respond. (If you don’t), then our issues are deeper than I thought they would be. You’ve got to take it personal and come out fighting, and I think we will.”
Some of the defensive failings a year ago were of historic proportions at Oklahoma. Robert Griffin III launched his Heisman Trophy campaign by throwing for 479 yards as Baylor racked up the most yards ever allowed by the Sooners — 616 — in the Bears’ first win in the series.
Texas Tech’s Seth Doege had 441 yards passing while ending Oklahoma’s best-in-the-nation 39-game home winning streak. And Oklahoma State romped its way to a 44-10 victory, ending an eight-game losing streak in the Bedlam rivalry.
Put together, it was a humbling stretch for Oklahoma as coach Bob Stoops no longer felt his team could hang its hat on defense. The result was a rare shake-up in his coaching staff. Secondary coach Willie Martinez resigned and Brent Venables, who had been on Stoops’ staff all 13 of his years in Norman, left to lead Clemson’s defense.
The return of Mike Stoops, who had been fired in the middle of his eighth season as Arizona’s head coach, immediately brought back the buzz that the Sooners could return to their glory days of a decade ago — including the 2000 national championship.
“All that I have said is, ‘Mike hasn’t made a play in a long time. He’s way too old to be out there making plays,’” Bob Stoops said. “Ultimately, the players still have to be the ones that are in position to make plays. ... But I’m encouraged in the way Mike continues to work with our staff, the direction he gives to the players on the field. I believe that will make a difference.
“I believe they’ll improve, and they should, too, being a year older and having some pride in that when we broke down a year ago that they ought to take that to heart and hopefully get back the defensive reputation like we’re used to having.”
Mike Stoops has different reasons to look for redemption. After some early success, getting the Wildcats as high as the No. 2 ranking, Stoops was let go after losing 10 out of 11 games. So, when Sooners fans ask him about making amends for last season’s porous defense, he has something else to say.
“I tell them, ‘You don’t think I want redemption, too?’ ” he said. “I didn’t all of a sudden become a bad coach. A lot of the media in Arizona may think so, but I was offered about 10 different jobs. It’s personal for me, too.”
While the offense will have Landry Jones back for his fourth season as the starting quarterback, the defense lost three players — linebacker Travis Lewis and defensive ends Ronnell Lewis and Frank Alexander — to the NFL. Tony Jefferson, once primarily used as a nickel back, will shift to strong safety where he can be a quarterback of the defense. Cornerbacks Aaron Colvin and Demontre Hurst both return from a secondary that boasted about being “sharks” early last season before getting eaten alive late.
Linebackers Tom Wort and Corey Nelson and defensive tackles Casey Walker, Jamarkus McFarland and Stacy McGee will also bring back experience in the heart of the defense.
Mike Stoops is changing the defensive schemes, assigning one cornerback to the left side of the field and one to the right instead of based on which hash mark the ball is placed on. And the system will be simplified against the no-huddle, spread offenses all over the Big 12.