Army presents Oklahoma defense with unique challenges

(Photo by Jay Beauchamp)

By Michael Kinney

When Oklahoma hosts Army Saturday night at Memorial Stadium, they will be facing something unique. In a time where seemingly every team runs the same type of offenses, the Black Knights will come into Norman with a style very few of the players have seen.

Led by Kelvin Hopkins Jr., Army is second in the nation with 62.3 rushing attempts per game. They pound out 306 rushing yards a game.

Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops knows his Sooners will have their hands full stopping the potent triple-option attack of the Black Knights Saturday.

“It’s very unique and it’s difficult to transition into more patient, react to box, try to keep people off your legs,” Stoops said. “So there’s a lot there, and then their ability to execute so many different variables in the triple option is challenging in a lot of ways. The difficult part is the amount of time they could hold the football. When you look at, they’re averaging I think close to 40 minutes a game holding the football, and that can be very difficult.”

One of the traits of the triple option is offensive linemen blocking low and into the legs of defenders.

“The hardest things to do is to keep people off your legs,” Stoops said. “We’re not used to everybody crawling. They’re gonna dig through and what they do is … It’s how they do it. They stay low and try to rip their gaps and get in people’s legs and tie people up. And we’re gonna have to be good with our hands and protect ourselves and try to keep ourselves free.”

Lethal passing game?

The Black Knights put up only 13 passing attempts a game, but lead the nation at 23.3 yards per completion.

“I think when you look at their ability to throw the football has been a little more prevalent this year than they did in the past,” Stoops said. “I thought the quarterback last year was really outstanding handling the football. This guy throws the ball maybe a little bit better, they feel a little bit better with their passing game under him. He throws the ball well, but that’s the effect of crowding the line of scrimmage, trying to crowd their run game, get an extra body in there to defend the run; then they’re gonna hurt you with a play action pass. So, those have been very effective for them this year and that’s something that we’ve worked a lot this work and will continue to work the rest of the week.”

Secondary can’t lose focus

Because the Black Knights will lull opposing defenses to sleep with a constant run game, Oklahoma’s defensive backs know they can be hit for a bomb downfield at any moment.

OU cornerback Tre Norwood says it all starts with discipline.

“It’s gonna be different. As a corner, especially in the Big 12, you’re used to pass heavy teams,” Norwood said. “It’s one of those games you have to be fundamentally sound, disciplined, just read your keys and just stay locked in. You can’t get laxed today because it’s just run, run, run and then that’s when a pass comes. It’s just one of those things you have to work on. Work on your eye discipline and just doing your job, that’s the main thing. Focus on doing your job and not trying to do too much.”

Old style new to Sooners

Since only the service academies and a select few FBS teams still run the triple option, very few members of the Sooners have ever seen it in person. With most high schools running some version of the spread or RPO offenses, Saturday will be the Sooners first indoctrination to the offense.

‘I believe it’s going to be the second time,” defensive tackle Neville Gallimore said. “Tulane last year had something similar like the triple option. But it’s new. It’s going to be another challenge to me. As long as we prepare the right way, we should be fine.”

Bounce back week for defense

Despite beating Iowa Saturday, the Oklahoma defense knows it didn’t play to the level they had in the first two games. Missing tackles was their biggest issues. That is an element the team says its focusing on during the week.

“It starts there in practice. I’m pretty sure you’ve all seen it. Wasn’t pleased with tackling and all this, this past week so we got to coming in practices,” Norwood said. “Focus on tackling and no matter what always getting to the ball. Wrapping up, that’s going to play a big part in this game. Everybody knows they’re run heavy team. Strong guys, so you have to make sure you wrap up and tackling is going to be the main key to this game.”

Mental toughness

“Tackling at the end of the day is our effort,” Norwood said. “You can teach it. You can always teach it at practice, the fundamentals. Taking the right angles and such things like that. But when it comes down to it in the game, it’s just a will to want to get those guys down. Make the play. I feel like it’s all effort and just the want to.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer

Story first appeared in The Yukon Review

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