No. 17 Oklahoma's pass defense among nation's best
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) Oklahoma's pass defense was a liability last season, and it appeared more of the same was in store this year after Tulsa torched the Sooners for 427 yards through the air a month ago.
Since then, Oklahoma has been stellar against the pass. The Sooners intercepted West Virginia quarterback Skyler Howard three times, made him fumble twice and sacked him seven times in Oklahoma's 44-24 win on Oct. 3. Though Texas focused on the ground game, the Longhorns got little out of the few passes they put up and were held to 55 yards on Oct. 10. Last week, the Sooners allowed just 45 yards passing in a 55-0 shutout of Kansas State.
The 17th-ranked Sooners (5-1, 2-1 Big 12) lead the conference in scoring defense, total defense, pass defense and interceptions, and are second in sacks in league play. Overall, Oklahoma ranks ninth nationally in pass defense.
Coach Bob Stoops likes what he's seeing.
''It's getting better,'' Stoops said. ''They're talented guys. They have experience on the field. They work hard in practice. They're playing in a good way.''
The unit will be tested Saturday against Texas Tech's Air Raid offense. The Red Raiders (5-2, 2-2) rank second nationally in passing yards per game (427.6), second in total offense (623.7) and third in scoring offense (49.4).
Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes already has thrown for 2,628 yards and 20 touchdowns this season, and he's rushed for six more scores.
''Mahomes is an excellent quarterback,'' Stoops said. ''Great arm, great thrower, great job scrambling and moving around and getting out of the pocket. He hurt us bad last year getting out of the pocket. They had several big plays on us from him scrambling around and finding people late, five, six seconds into the route. He's a really good athlete.''
He'll face a top-notch pass rusher in Eric Striker. Oklahoma's senior linebacker has the school record for sacks for a linebacker with 20. He leads the conference with four sacks during league games, with two against West Virginia and two against Texas.
Cornerback Zack Sanchez was the Big 12 defensive player of the week after intercepting two passes and returning one 38 yards for a score against Kansas State.
Cornerback Jordan Thomas was suspended for the Tulsa game for violating team rules, but he has been a difference maker since his return. He leads the Big 12 with three picks an seven passes defensed during league play.
''First, I was really surprised that I had to suspend him because that hasn't been his character, but he's playing the way we thought he would play,'' Stoops said. ''He's an excellent athlete, he's a smart young man, and he's playing at a much higher level. But we anticipated that. He's not a freshman anymore, he's played a lot of football, and he's getting better. I still think there's a lot more to come.''
Sanchez gets more action now that Thomas has established himself. Thomas intercepted two passes against West Virginia and picked off one against Kansas State.
''Yeah, he's kind of on a hot streak right now,'' Sanchez said of Thomas. ''Teams don't want to throw at a guy that's hot, especially a corner.''
Hatari Byrd, Ahmad Thomas and Steven Parker are starters in the secondary, and Will Johnson, made an impression against Kansas State. The experience and depth have prompted the coaches to allow the unit to play more aggressively.
''We try to,'' Stoops said. ''Again, with better execution, that happens. And in a lot of circumstances, we're playing tighter coverage because we have the confidence to do it.''
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