Offense wins games, defense wins championships. At least it will claim you a Big 12 title if you're Oklahoma.
The Sooners enter 2021 as one of the top defenses in the Big 12. In what felt like an overnight turnaround, Alex Grinch has helped Oklahoma finish in the top three of near every conference category.
This season, the team is returning nine full-time starters and are hopeful they can lead the conference in every statistic. If they start hot, that's a bad look for the Texas Longhorns entering the October 9 battle at the Cotton Bowl.
Last year, Sam Ehlinger couldn't find a consistent rhythm in the passing game despite throwing it 53 times. He compiled 287 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but also threw a pair of interceptions in a 53-45 loss.
Texas' offense did finish overall with 428 yards on the afternoon. Under new head coach Steve Sarkisian, can Casey Thompson or Hudson Card combine with the staff reach 500-plus?
To do so, here are several names they'll need to be on the lookout for in the Red River Showdown. Make sure to stick with Longhorns Country throughout our season preview series, where we will analyze every opponent on the Texas' schedule in 2021.
DL Isaiah Thomas
The veteran of the trenches, Thomas returns after a stellar junior season. Last year on the line, he finished with 31 total tackles, eight sacks and a forced fumble. Thomas also did enough to have the Sooners finish No. 2 in defense, allowing opponents to average a mere 3.5 yards per play.
A second-team All-Big 12 player, Thomas will return without the likes of Ronnie Perkins. Finishing second on the team, he'll be asked to pressure whoever is under center from more of an inside approach. Using strength and size, any tackle should be weary when going up against him in one-on-one blocking sets.
LB Brian Asamoah
As the leading tackler, Asamoah returns looking to lead the Big 12 in stops this season. Replacing Kenneth Murray up the middle, he impressed with 66 total tackles, 33 solo stops, plus an interception.
With a full 12-game season at hand, expect those numbers to improve in the open field. Last year, Asamoah finished six games with at least six tackles on the afternoon. With a fellow linebacker likely being used as a blitzer, the now junior will do most of the tackle past the line of scrimmage.
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LB/EDGE Nik Bonitto
When thinking of Joseph Ossai, think of Bonitto. Not a linebacker but also not a defensive end, his role is to rush the quarterback and make a stop. Bonitto played that role well in 2020, finishing second among Sooners with eight sacks on the year.
Bonitto's 6-foot-3 frame allows him to win off the line of scrimmage and use him bend towards his advantage. The Sooners will be looking to finish off the job and have two players with double-digit sacks. As a hybrid defender in today's game, Bonnito should improve his overall production with a more relaxed schedule to begin the year.
CB Jaden Davis
With Tre Brown gone, it'll be Davis' secondary for 2020. Overall, he impressed as the No. 2 cornerback for being a sophomore. He tallied 11 tackles, but finished second on the team in pass breakups with five.
Davis isn't a lock to start, but two years of experience likely earns him the most reps early. If he can build off that strong finish against Florida, he, Woodi Washington and D.J. Graham could create a trio that's hard to beat.
S Pat Fields
The captain of the secondary is back for another year in Norman, this time hoping to win a College Football Playoff game. Last year, he did everything for Grinch. Tackling? Top-notch. Coverage? One of the better safeties in the Big 12? Physicalness? Ask several Florida players.
The senior missed most of the spring after undergoing a minor procedure. When healthy, he'll play more of the free safety role, allowing Dellarin Turner-Yell to work lower against the run as the strong.
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