Mike Stoops is searching for answers.
The Oklahoma defensive coordinator is coming off a season in which his team faced Big 12 offenses that lined up in four-receiver sets 70 percent of the time. And the Sooners were ill prepared, giving up 2,251 yards in their final four games, including 778 to West Virginia and 633 to Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl.
“We didn’t have all the answers we needed,” Stoops said.
Stoops plans to change that this spring, as OU experiments with ways to be more versatile, flexible and adaptable within its defense. Talking to the local media two days before the Sooners open spring football, Stoops said he wants his defense to be more adaptable and more aggressive in 2013.
“We have to be able to create more big plays, more negative-yardage plays,” he said. “When you look at a year ago, we didn’t give up a ton, but we didn’t get a ton either.”
Starting this spring, the Sooners defense will become more aggressive with a goal of forcing things to happen instead of waiting for things to happen.
“Being able to be in position to be more aggressive defensively is what you have to be,” he said. “Not sit back and react to everything like we did a year ago.”
Yet being more aggressive doesn’t necessarily mean getting to the quarterback. The Sooners finished the season with 24 sacks in 2011, yet Stoops doesn’t consider that an unusually low number because of the low number of sacks in the Big 12 as a whole.
“People don’t hold onto the ball like they used to,” he said. “That’s just kind of how the league is. You have to put pressure on the quarterback, a least make him feel it, get in [passing] windows and knock balls down. That’s what we need to be better at on defense. Because in this league, good teams aren’t going to take sacks.”
Ultimately if the Sooners defense is going to get better, they’ll need to make key plays in key situations. Improving their third-down conversion defense will be key. They allowed 41.58 percent of opponents attempts to be converted in 2012, ranking eighth in the Big 12. Forcing more turnovers will be a priority after forcing just 16 turnovers, ranking ninth in the conference. And they’ll need to record more tackles for loss after finishing last in the Big 12 with 53 tackles for loss in 2012.
“You have to contest things down in and down out,” Stoops said. “You have to get negative plays, you have to get big plays, make interceptions and be better on third downs.”
Big 12 offenses are designed to stretch defenses then attack the weakest point of the defense be it a scheme design, particular player or area of the field.
“We just have to find better ways to handle some of the things,” Stoops said. “And having more flexibility and diversification leads into that.”