What did we think/hope would happen?
All-conference candidates Demontre Hurst, Tony Jefferson and Aaron Colvin would lead the secondary and provide some big plays. Javon Harris and Gabe Lynn would thrive in their new roles. OU would stop giving up so many long scoring passes and 400-yard passing days.
The days of watching linebackers on midget slot receivers 40 yards downfield would be over. Real nickel and dime formations would be used.
What did happen?
OU's pass defense improve significanlty year over year. Yardage was down. Passing TDs dropped by 50 percent.
Overall OU did an excellent job in coverage. There were some busts, but, overall, players were where they were supposed to be in coverage. Jefferson and Harris were first and second on the team in tackles and kept most plays in front of them. Colvin and Hurst did a good job in coverage from the CB spot. Gabe Lynn had a much better year at safety, and Julian Wilson in his first year played well in spots as OU's dimeback.
What went right?
*For about eight games, OU's defensive strategy worked. The Sooners did a good job of keeping teams out of the end zone, averaging about 18 points allowed per game. OU was forcing turnovers and making stops. There were signs of issues stopping the run, but, overall, OU was playing excellent defense and the secondary was a huge reason for the defensive improvement.
*For the first six games, Colvin was making big plays in pass coverage, and for the first 9 games, Jefferson was making plays all over the field.
*Jefferson was without a doubt OU's defensive MVP. Colvin was probably a close second.
What went wrong?
*All year long, OU was giving up too many yards rushing to teams when they spread out OU and used typical zone read QB stuff in the running game. Teams started adjusting to OU's DB-heavy scheme and OU ran into better QB-RB combos who started exploiting the OU safeties in run defense. This run threat led to the safeties taking more chances which started leading to more busts in pass defense and big plays in the passing game. It all just snowballed to a 3 game stretch were OU played terrible defense against three very good offenses.
*OU's DBs ,while in the right place in coverage, were not making plays on the ball. They were there but not getting INTs or deflecting passes.
*In particular, Colvin went thru a four-game funk were he was getting beaten on passes and not making plays (Notre Dame game in particular).
*Jefferson had a two-game funk during WVU and OSU.
Where do we go from here?
*OU has to replace at two starters in Hurst and Javon Harris. To counter these losses, OU should have three DBs with considerable experience from this year in Colvin, Julian Wilson, and Gabe Lynn.
*OU could try Julian Wilson at Hurst's position and try talented freshman Gary Simon or senior Kass Everett at the vacated dimeback position.
*If Tee Shepard is able to resolve his NCAA issues and enroll in January, by going through spring he could make a play somewhere in this picture. He's that talented.
*Replacing Harris is a trickier proposition, where you could move Lynn to the position, but then that opens up the nickel safety spot. That spot could go Cortez Johnson, a transfer from Arizona ,or maybe Zach Sanchez .
*Losing Jefferson early to the NFL would creates the biggest problem. Just like replacing Harris, OU does not have many young safeties in the program.
*Quentin Hayes, back from suspension, is about the only real underclassman safety on the roster.
*OU could move Eric Striker to safety from LB, and while he could be a very effective LOS/ short route coverage option, there's no indication that he has the range in coverage to play center field like Jefferson.
*OU does have two excellent safety prospects verballed in recruiting, Ahmad Thomas and Hatari Byrd. In time they could be an ideal combo to replace Harris/Jefferson.
But neither player enrolls early. True freshman as the last line of the OU defense seems scary.
*Mike Stoops could attempt to poach Derrick Woods from the WR spot this spring. Woods in HS had excellent film at DB. Not sure Norvell is down with that move, but if OU gets Laquon Treadwell and or Stills returns I could see an effective argument being made to try Woods there this spring.