Oklahoma Sooners: Jacques Washington

It was an unusual year in the Big 12 in 2013, with several defenses carrying their teams to success in a conference known for high-scoring offense a year ago. Yet every Big 12 defense will head into 2014 with room to improve.

We looked at key offensive stats each school could improve this fall on Tuesday. On Wednesday, with the help of ESPN Stats and Information, we take a team-by-team look at one key defensive stat from last season and how to improve the number in 2014.

Baylor

Key stat in 2013: Much like its offense, BU’s defense finished atop the Big 12 in most categories but still had room to improve. The Bears allowed touchdowns on 5.2 percent of opponents’ pass attempts, ranking No. 9 in the Big 12 and No. 78 in the nation. Baylor’s struggles to stop the passing game were particularly apparent in its losses to Oklahoma State and Central Florida.

How to improve in 2014: It’s not going to be easy with Baylor forced to replace the bulk of its starting secondary this fall. But BU could have one of the top defensive lines in the Big 12, possibly the nation, which could help drop this number significantly with disruptive pressure that knocks quarterbacks out of their comfort zone.

Iowa State

Key stat in 2013: The Cyclones' defense wasn’t very good in 2013, finishing near the bottom of the Big 12 in almost every category. ISU allowed touchdowns on 28.9 percent of opponents' drives, ranking last in the Big 12 and No. 93 nationally.

How to improve in 2014: It’s going to require the unit playing as a whole as opposed to a few standout individuals making most of the plays like linebacker Jeremiah George and safety Jacques Washington did in 2013. ISU has a lot of unknowns on defense but if they jell as a unit, the defense could improve.

Kansas

Key stat in 2013: Big plays were a problem for the Jayhawks defense. KU allowed 10 yards or more on 21.4 percent of opponents' plays last season, ranking last in the Big 12 and No. 92 nationally.

How to improve in 2014: The Jayhawks defense is too talented to allow so many big plays. The defense has several veteran playmakers, including linebacker Ben Heeney and safety Isaiah Johnson, so a season playing together should help this number drop.

Kansas State

Key stat in 2013: The Wildcats struggled to get off the field at times in 2013. KSU forced opponents to go three-and-out on just 13.8 percent of drives last season, last in the Big 12 and No. 118 nationally. The other seven teams that joined K-State in the bottom eight of the FBS in this category combined for 13 wins in 2013.

How to improve in 2014: KSU added speed and playmaking to its defense with several junior college signees in February which should help its defense be more aggressive and athletic. The Wildcats are losing some veterans, but the overall athleticism of the defense should be improved. A more talented defense should help improve this number this fall.

Oklahoma

Key stat in 2013: The Sooners defense was strong in 2013 but could have been more opportunistic. OU forced a fumble on just 1.5 percent of opponents’ running plays, ranking last in the Big 12 and No. 103 nationally.

How to improve in 2014: One of the Sooners’ spring goals was to be more physical in the running game. If they are, more forced fumbles are likely to be the result in 2013. Improving this category is one way OU can strive to field the Big 12's and possibly the nation’s top defense in 2014.

Oklahoma State

Key stat in 2013: The Cowboys had one of the Big 12’s best defenses last season but one of the worst pass rushes. OSU had a 4.4 sack percentage, ranking No. 8 in the Big 12 and No. 103 nationally.

How to improve in 2014: OSU could have one of the better defensive lines in the conference this fall, particularly with improvement from defensive ends Jimmy Bean and Emmanuel Ogbah. That duo finished 1-2 in sacks for the Pokes and could be much improved this fall, helping improve OSU’s pass rush and helping a young and inexperienced secondary.

Texas

Key stat in 2013: Texas' defense struggled to step up in key moments last season. UT allowed opponents to score 68.4 percent of the time once they got inside the Longhorns’ 40-yard line. UT ranked ninth in the Big 12 in that category and No. 79 nationally. Baylor, OSU and OU ranked 1-2-3 in the category in 2013.

How to improve in 2014: The arrival of Charlie Strong will be a huge help. His Louisville squad finished tied for third nationally with Florida State, allowing opponents to score on 50 percent of drives inside the 40-yard line in 2013.

TCU

Key stat in 2013: TCU’s defense finished among the top three in several categories last season. The Horned Frogs could improve however, allowing 12.71 yards per completion in 2013, ranking No. 8 in the Big 12 and No. 91 nationally.

How to improve in 2014: The TCU defense doesn’t need much improvement but the return of defensive end Devonte Fields should help, particularly if TCU can replace cornerback Jason Verrett, an NFL first-round draft pick.

Texas Tech

Key stat in 2013: The Red Raiders' defense finished in the middle of the Big 12 in most categories, but one major area of improvement is missed tackles. Texas Tech missed 82 tackles in 2013, the third-most in the Big 12 behind Texas (88) and Kansas (85). For comparison’s sake, Baylor (68) and Oklahoma (71), ranked 1-2 in missed tackles.

How to improve in 2014: Working on tackling fundamentals will help, and Tech will need each defender to take pride in his individual tackling prowess. Texas Tech is replacing several starters so the Red Raiders could see more playmakers emerge to help lessen the number of missed tackles.

West Virginia

Key stat in 2013: The Mountaineers’ defense was horrible on third down. WVU allowed opponents to convert an eye-popping 46.6 percent, ranking last in the Big 12 and No. 118 nationally.

How to improve in 2014: Improving its third-down defense has to be a focus for new defensive coordinator Tony Gibson. Shuffling on the defensive staff should help as will the addition of transfer defensive end Shaquille Riddick, who should help improve the pass rush.
Seventeen Big 12 players heard their names called during the 2014 NFL draft. Many other Big 12 alums will have a chance at the next level as undrafted free agents.

Below is a list of undrafted players who reportedly have agreed to free agent deals. This is not a final list, as teams are still working to sign undrafted free agents. But these are the players we know of so far.

Baylor
Iowa State
Kansas
Kansas State
Oklahoma
Oklahoma State
TCU
Texas
Texas Tech
West Virginia

Spring preview capsules: Big 12

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
10:00
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Spring football is rapidly approaching.

Here's a team-by-team look at what to watch in the Big 12 this spring:

Baylor

Spring start: Feb. 28

Spring game: April 5

What to watch: Who will replace Lache Seastrunk? The Bears' running back was the engine that helped keep the Baylor offense balanced and defenses honest. Shock Linwood will step in, but is he ready to handle the burden of keeping the offense balanced? . . . Baylor, the 2013 regular-season champion, has to find key replacements on a defense that is losing half of its starters. But several second-teamers -- including Jamal Palmer, Shawn Oakman, Andrew Billings and Orion Stewart -- are poised to fill the void . . . The Bears need to replace guard Cyril Richardson along the offensive line. Several candidates, including junior college transfer Jarell Broxton, will battle for the job. Baylor has arguably the league's best group of skill position players, but that will mean nothing if its offensive line takes a step backward.

Iowa State

Spring start: March 10

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: New offensive coordinator Mark Mangino arrives in Ames to bring more points and creativity to the Cyclones’ offense. The spring is the first opportunity for Mangino to get a feel for the playmakers and the players to get a feel for Mangino’s expectations . . . The quarterback competition is another thing to keep an eye on. Grant Rohach ended the season as the starter, but Sam B. Richardson could take his job back with a strong spring. And there are other young quarterbacks on campus who could insert themselves into the mix . . . Defensively, the Cyclones need to replace linebacker Jeremiah George and safety Jacques Washington, who finished 1-2 in tackles in the Big 12 in 2013 and finished their careers with 59 career starts combined. Iowa State seems to always have quality linebackers, so finding a replacement for Washington could be the defense’s top priority in the spring.

Kansas

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Shuffling the offensive coaching staff has been the theme of the offseason. New offensive coordinator John Reagan, who was a KU assistant from 2005 to 2009, returns to the Jayhawks after running Rice’s offense last season. The spring is Reagan’s first chance to identify the playmakers who will be the foundation of his offense this fall. Expect wide-open competition across the board after KU finished 115th in the FBS in points scored ... The quarterback position will grab the headlines, with T.J. Millweard joining the competition with Jake Heaps and Montell Cozart, who each started games in 2013. Millweard transferred to KU from UCLA before the 2013 season.

Kansas State

Spring start: April 2

Spring game: April 26

What to watch: Finding John Hubert’s replacement sits high on the Wildcats’ priority list. The former running back carried the ground attack for the past three seasons, and there’s no clear favorite to step into his shoes. Will someone step up during spring football? . . . What will happen with quarterback Daniel Sams? The Wildcats have a proven Big 12 playmaker in Sams, a junior, and another proven quarterback in Jake Waters. Sams is an exceptional open-field runner who started two games in 2013, but look for Kansas State to start exploring ways to have both on the field together this spring . . . Replacing Ty Zimmerman’s playmaking and leadership on defense is another key this spring. The defense has to replace several starters in the secondary and at linebacker. Keep an eye on junior college defensive back Danzel McDaniel, who has the versatility to step in at several different spots.

Oklahoma

Spring start: March 8

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: With Trevor Knight poised to start at quarterback in 2014, Blake Bell moves to tight end after starting eight games under center in 2013. Bell’s transition to tight end will be the talk of the spring, with the senior’s commitment to the program and OU's need for help at the position . . . The battle to be the starting running back is another storyline, with sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross hoping to make a statement this spring before ESPN 300 running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine arrive in the summer. Ford forced his way into the lineup as a freshman before an injury slowed him . . . The Sooners will be looking to shore up the secondary after the departure of All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin and starting safety Gabe Lynn. Sophomore Stanvon Taylor could be set to replace Colvin, while sophomores Hatari Byrd and Ahmad Thomas will battle to replace Lynn.

Oklahoma State

Spring start: March 10

Final spring practice: April 5

What to watch: Incoming freshman Mason Rudolph enrolled early to participate in spring football with the hope of replacing quarterback Clint Chelf. J.W. Walsh has won a lot of games in a Cowboys uniform, but will have to hold off stern competition to earn the starting spot as a junior . . . The Cowboys lose seven seniors off one of their best defenses in recent memory. The overall quality might be upgraded, but spring football will be the first chance to see if those talented yet inexperienced defenders are ready to step into the fire. Defensive end Jimmy Bean, linebacker Ryan Simmons and cornerback Kevin Peterson could emerge as the foundation of the defense . . . Who will step up at receiver? The Cowboys lose three of their top four receivers, with Jhajuan Seales as the lone returnee. But several youngsters appear poised to step in, including sophomore Marcell Ateman and redshirt freshman Ra'Shaad Samples.

TCU

Spring start: March 1

Final spring practice: April 5

What to watch: Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie have arrived to take over as co-offensive coordinators at TCU. The Horned Frogs need a jump start and could get it from the “Air Raid”-style offense the duo will bring to the table. This spring will be an important first step in improving the offense . . . Who will be the quarterback? Trevone Boykin started several games in 2013 but might actually be TCU’s top receiver. Tyler Matthews, a redshirt freshman, also saw time under center, but he faces stiff competition. Don’t expect the battle to end until fall camp . . . TCU needs someone to step up in the secondary, with Jason Verrett NFL-bound after spending the past two seasons as one of the Big 12’s top coverage cornerbacks. Ranthony Texada and Travoskey Garrett are among several young defensive backs who could try to fill the void.

Texas

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 19

What to watch: David Ash's health will be one of the main storylines of Texas’ first spring under coach Charlie Strong. Ash has the talent to be a key piece of the puzzle, but head injuries are always tough to overcome. If Ash is 100 percent healthy, the Longhorns will feel better about the overall status at quarterback . . . Strong has talked of instilling a tough mindset in Austin since he arrived in January, and spring football will be the first real taste of what the Longhorns’ new coach is trying to bring to the program . . . Where are the playmakers? Texas has a talent-laden roster, but didn’t have the exceptional talent who could consistently change games. This spring gives several returning skill players, including receiver Jaxon Shipley and all-purpose standout Daje Johnson, the chance to become the foundation of the offense in 2014.

Texas Tech

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Davis Webb's health is the No. 1 priority for the Red Raiders, who have seen three quarterbacks leave the program since the beginning of the 2013 season. Coach Kliff Kingsbury could have the toughest job of the spring as he tries to manage the lack of quarterbacks with the desire to have a productive spring for the roster as a whole . . . The Red Raiders have some consistency among the defensive coaching staff, meaning they could improve in 2014 despite losing multiple starters, including defensive tackle Kerry Hyder, linebacker Will Smith and safety Tre' Porter. Tech could start seeing dividends of that continuity . . . The Red Raiders have to replace Jace Amaro and Eric Ward, who combined to catch 189 passes for 2,299 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez made a bunch of plays in 2013 and Devin Lauderdale, a junior college transfer and early enrollee, will get the chance to show why he had Texas Tech fans buzzing when he initially signed in February 2013.

West Virginia

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Finding a quarterback is critical for the Mountaineers, who have talent at the skill positions but won’t transform into an explosive offense without efficient quarterback play. Clint Trickett is recovering from shoulder surgery, meaning Paul Millard, junior college transfer Skyler Howard and former receiver Logan Moore will run the offense this spring . . . Tony Gibson takes over as WVU’s defensive coordinator after coaching the safeties in 2013. His promotion allows some continuity on the defense after former DC Keith Patterson left for Arizona State after the season . . . Replacing defensive tackle Shaq Rowell and defensive end Will Clarke, who started 56 combined career games for WVU, won’t be easy. The Mountaineers will lean heavily on veteran juniors Isaiah Bruce and Karl Joseph, who have started since their freshman seasons.

Game preview: Iowa State at Oklahoma

November, 15, 2013
11/15/13
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Iowa State visits Oklahoma on Saturday with both teams coming off losses last week. Oklahoma is looking to rebound after its offense looked hopeless in its loss to Baylor. The Sooners need to play well or the murmurs of unrest in Norman could get even louder. Iowa State is hopeful to finally win a close game after dropping another one to TCU last weekend.

Here are some storylines, players to watch and a prediction:

Storylines

Will OU’s pride come through? The Sooners were embarrassed in their blowout loss to Baylor, making twice, along with Texas, this season that OU has seen its pride battered on the field. The Sooners tend to respond well to losses and probably will be on a mission after a week full of doubters surrounding the program and a group of prideful seniors playing their last home game.

How many tackles will Jeremiah George rack up? The Big 12’s leading tackler, George is a tackling machine who makes plays from sideline to sideline. He’s recorded double digit tackles in seven of ISU’s last nine games. He'll be looking to prove he is the best defender on the field.

Which Blake Bell will show up? The Sooners quarterback has been wildly inconsistent this season. He’s looked like a future star at times then looked overmatched at other times. Consistency in the final three games will be important for Bell’s future. And it starts on Saturday.

Players to watch

OU receiver Jalen Saunders: The Sooners senior will look to go out with a bang. Even though he only spent two years in Norman after transferring from Fresno State, Saunders is OU’s most dynamic threat and could put on a show in his last home game.

ISU safety Jacques Washington: A prep standout at Owasso (Okla.) High School, Washington will be looking to have a strong homecoming. The senior has been almost as productive as George this season, averaging 9.4 tackles per game to rank second in the Big 12 behind his teammate.

OU running back Roy Finch: The senior could have something special in store for Sooners fans during his final time on the Oklahoma Memorial Stadium turf. One of OU’s most explosive threats, Finch should get some opportunities on Senior Day, something Sooner Nation has been begging for during his four-year career.

Prediction: Oklahoma 45, Iowa State 17. The Sooners defense will get things started with an early turnover and Bell will perform better than he did against Baylor as OU’s offense proves to be more productive and explosive against the Cyclones.

Big 12 unsung heroes: Week 8

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
3:00
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Here are the unsung heroes in the Big 12 for Week 8:

Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman: The Bears defense was outstanding in Baylor’s 71-7 win over Iowa State, and the sophomore played a key role with five tackles including two for loss, one quarterback hurry and one sack. He has recorded a sack in two of three Big 12 games and provides an athletic presence on the perimeter of BU’s defensive line. Frankly, the entire Bears defense should get the unsung hero label for the entire season. After all, BU’s offense wouldn’t be averaging 64.7 points per game if the defense didn’t keep giving them the ball back.

Iowa State safety Jacques Washington: The senior has been performing at an All-Big 12 level for the majority of the season. He had 12 tackles including 11 solo stops, one tackle for loss and one pass breakup in the Cyclones 71-7 loss. Washington has recorded double-digit tackles in three of ISU’s six games this season. It’s never a good omen to have a safety with a bunch of tackles each week but imagine where the Cyclones would be without him.

[+] EnlargeRoy Finch
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerOklahoma RB Roy Finch made the most of his touches against Kansas on Saturday.
Kansas cornerback JaCorey Shepherd: The junior finds his way onto this list for the second consecutive week as he keeps making plays for the Jayhawks defense. He was solid in coverage and finished with four tackles, one forced fumble and one interception in KU’s 34-19 loss to Oklahoma. Shepherd is one of the foundations of a much improved KU defense.

Oklahoma running back Roy Finch: The senior provided a spark for the Sooners despite limited touches. He averaged 8 yards per touch from the line of scrimmage and added 29 kick return yards. He finished with a team-high 93 all-purpose yards in OU's 34-19 win. Finch is a game-breaking player whom the Sooners need to get more involved in the offense if they hope to improve their 22.5 points per game average in Big 12 action.

Oklahoma State running back Rennie Childs: The true freshman running back provided a terrific spark for the Cowboys running game. He led OSU with nine carries for 45 yards including a 7-yard touchdown to seal the 24-10 win over TCU. He finished with 79 all-purpose yards after coming in the second half to spark the offense. Childs could be the answer for an OSU running game searching for answers during the heart of Big 12 play.

TCU safety Elisha Olabode: The senior did everything he could to prevent the Horned Frogs' fourth loss of the season. Olabode had seven tackles including six solo stops, one forced fumble and one interception in TCU’s 24-10 loss to Oklahoma State. Olabode is one of the main reasons TCU features one of the Big 12’s top secondaries.

Texas Tech receiver Bradley Marquez: It’s unusual to call a guy who had eight receptions for 112 yards unsung, but that’s what happens when you line up beside Jace Amaro, one of the best tight ends in college football. Seven of Marquez's eight catches resulted in a Red Raiders first down in TTU's 37-27 win over WVU. Marquez has been a quiet, yet consistent, threat for the Red Raiders offense throughout the season and took it up another notch with playmaker Jakeem Grant sidelined.

West Virginia running back Dreamius Smith: The Mountaineers’ offense showed signs it could be finding a rhythm, and Smith is part of the reason. The junior finished with 16 carries for 89 yards and two touchdowns in WVU's 37-27 loss to Texas Tech. Fellow running back Charles Sims has been a playmaker for the Mountaineers' offense for the majority of the season so if Smith can emerge as a consistent threat it will provide a solid 1-2 punch and make getting the passing game going a lot easier.

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