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Oklahoma 2021 Report Card: Defensive Line

The defensive line had massive expectations headed into 2021, but was plagued with inconsistent play across the entire season.

For the first time in years, the Oklahoma defensive line entered the year with pretty high expectations.

And based off how the unit closed in 2020, those expectations weren’t necessarily unwarranted.

Isaiah Thomas and Perrion Winfrey emerged in 2020, and with another offseason to continue to grow, the duo appeared to be a matchup nightmare for opposing offensive lines.

Throw in the return of Jalen Redmond, who had logged 6.5 quarterback sacks in 2019 before opting out of the 2020 season, and the defensive front appeared to be primed to live in the backfield.

And for the first month of the season, the unit lived up to the billing.

The defense combined for 13 sacks against Tulane, Western Carolina and Nebraska in the first three contests of the year, and the overall effort against the Cornhuskers kept OU in the game despite a misfiring offense.

Josh Ellison 

Josh Ellison 

Through the first four games of the season, the Sooners’ d-line set the tone for one of the best rushing defenses in the country, but then injuries took a toll.

Redmond was hurt during the victory over Nebraska, sustaining a knee injury which would cost him the next five games.

And though the depth along the defensive front had been touted all offseason, Oklahoma’s rush defense wilted without Redmond. Texas, TCU and Kansas all busted OU for 4.0 yards per carry or more on the ground, meaning the offense once again had to pull a struggling defense across the finish line.

As the run defense deteriorated, so did the pressure up front.

Oklahoma failed to register a sack against both TCU and Texas Tech, with West Virginia, Kansas State, Kansas, Baylor and Oklahoma State all limiting the damage to just one sack.

Without any semblance a pass rush in Redmond’s absence, the OU secondary also began to falter, posting numbers closer to Mike Stoops’ last season in charge rather than the much improved first two seasons under Alex Grinch throughout the October stretch.

But after the bye week, the OU front again reemerged.

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Though they struggled to get to Gerry Bohanon, the defensive line helped register 11 tackles for loss against the Baylor Bears, keeping the struggling offense in the game until finally fatigue took over in the fourth quarter.

The next week, OU got after Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy. Knocking him out of the game for a brief period, OU logged a season-high seven sacks against the Cyclones, holding the potent ISU rushing attack to just 1.5 yards per carry.

Jalen Redmond

Jalen Redmond

Bedlam was a similar story, as the defensive front took over the third quarter to hand the offense a 33-24 lead, but they couldn’t sustain the high level of play, allowing Spencer Sanders to bring the Cowboys all the way back for their first victory over OU since 2014.

Thomas and Winfrey ultimately declared for the NFL Draft, as Thomas finished the year with eight sacks and Winfrey ended the year with 5.5 sacks, but the production was sometimes deceptive.

At times, Thomas’ effectiveness was limited as he had to slide inside in Redmond’s absence, and Winfrey’s production was front loaded. The nose guard registered 0.5 sacks against Tulane, 1.5 sacks against Western Carolina and 0.5 sacks against Nebraska, and only had one sack after the Texas game.

While the defensive front looked as advertised at times in 2021, they largely fell short of the massive preseason expectations this season.

Grading the Defensive Line

  • Hoover: C+
  • Chapman: B
  • Callaway: B-

Defensive Line GPA: 2.667 (on a 4.0 scale)


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