By John Shinn
NORMAN, Okla. —
There’s an exterior of confidence, but the agony is still there. Oklahoma’s secondary knows it will be Bedlam’s focal point and it knows why.
“There’s a stigma on us right now,” Sooner safety Sam Proctor said. “We haven’t covered well against teams that can throw the ball all over the yard. We have to cover better.”
If not, Saturday night’s meeting between the 13th-ranked Sooners (9-2, 6-2 Big 12) and No. 3 Oklahoma State (10-1, 7-1) has the potential to get ugly.
The black eye the Sooners picked up this season came from a 1-2 punch they received in losses to Texas Tech and Baylor. The Sooner secondary finished in second place in foot races with receivers throughout both those games.
Both losses exposed different flaws.
Texas Tech dinked and dunked the Sooners to death. They struggled to cover underneath routes that night at Owen Field. Red Raider quarterback Seth Doege had 34 completions that night. Outside of a 44-yard touchdown pass early in the game, most were for less than 20 yards.
What happened against Baylor was the exact opposite. The Bears only completed 22 passes that night, but quarterback Robert Griffin III threw for 485 yards and had three touchdown passes over 30 yards.
The Cowboys have the ability to do both and have averaged 401.64 passing yards a game this season. They also have the best passer-receiver combination in the country with quarterback Brandon Weeden and wide receiver Justin Blackmon.
OSU is second in the country in passing yards per game. Baylor is No. 5 and Texas Tech is No. 7. Both saw their averages rise dramatically after facing the Sooners.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Back in August, the Sooner secondary was supposed to carry a defense that had perceived holes on the defensive line. After 11 games, the perception has flipped.
“We had great confidence going into the season. We had a great two-a-days,” Hurst said. “Things just haven’t gone our way this season. We’ve learned from it. We can’t make the same mistakes we’ve already made. We knew we weren’t going to be perfect. Anything can happen when you’re going against a great offense every Saturday.”
The Sooners have answered challenges like this in past seasons. They contained a prolific Oklahoma State offense with the same stakes riding on the game in the same location last season. The Sooners have a history of playing their best in early December.
“We have a lot of guys that are tough-minded and hungry and also value and respect the platform and stage that we’re on,” Sooner defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “We recognize that regardless of the perception is or the expectations are or what opinions are, the only thing that matters is the work you put in to the week and the mindset you have on game day, how physical you’re going to be and how clean you play.”
It will require more than just elevated play by the Sooner secondary. The front seven has to eliminate OSU’s ability to run the ball. It has to pressure Weeden and force some throws. It’s called a unit for a reason. All have to be on the same page.
The Sooner secondary, however, has the most pressure. Any mistakes it makes can lead directly to OSU points.
Bedlam will provide the platform for redemption or solidification of the stigma it’s already acquired.
“I think every secondary wants to go against a passing offense,” OU cornerback Demontre Hurst said. “When they’re precise and really good at what they do like Oklahoma State and also have great receivers, there’s a great challenge in that.”