Following the win over the TCU Horned Frogs, many members on the defensive side of the ball had interesting things to say about their performance, their new coordinator, and the overall feeling on defense:
Ruffin McNeill simplifying #Sooners defense.
“It helps us out a lot and that showed this weekend. He simplified the game plan.” — Curtis Bolton
“It was good to be out there and to not have to think about everything.” — Robert Barneshttps://t.co/VQoy7nX8KR
#Sooners LB Curtis Bolton: “We’re not just gonna let people sit back there anymore. I thought in the beginning of the season, we kinda sat back and let quarterbacks get at us a little bit. Now, it’s balls to the wall. It’s a race to the quarterback now.”
— Jason Kersey (@jasonkersey) October 20, 2018
On Tuesday, Curtis Bolton was blunt with the media, saying Saturday was either going to be really good or really bad. So I had to ask him.
Which one was it, Curtis?
“Really good,” he shouted back at me, “we played a hell of a game.”https://t.co/lwE7O7Xp8S
— George Stoia III (@GeorgeStoia) October 20, 2018
I think the most apparent concept we can gather from Curtis is that he truly enjoys what the defense is doing now— I mean, the guy used the phrase, “balls to the wall.” In that simple quote, should we read anything into it? Two weeks after Oklahoma was disrespected and assaulted by a very average Texas offense, an Oklahoma defense that made Sam Ehlinger look like Johnny Unitas, Bolton suggests a shift in scheme, but also attitude.
It’s very apparent to both Robert Barnes and Curtis Bolton that Mike Stoops, in his effort to stop… er…. slow down(?) Big XII offenses was very complex to say the least. When Mike Stoops came back to staff after his short-lived tenure at Arizona, he suggested that the Oklahoma Defense was thinking too much and it was delaying their play on the field— instead the defense needs to react to what they are seeing; But for some reason, he then spearheaded Oklahoma’s defensive scheme changes several times over six years, including going to a 2-gap alignment where even the Defensive Linemen had to think and then react. With the switch at DC, Ruffin McNeill made the gameplan simpler, everybody knows their job, and it lets them react and make plays in space. It’s not a complete overhaul of the defense that Stoops commissioned, but simply having four actual linemen down on the field, firing off the ball while knowing their gap responsibility lets the linebackers see plays much easier.
I think the shift in attitude regarding the defense has a couple of layers to it. First, the players respect Ruffin. Moreover, they love Ruffin. The players know the difference between a leader and an overseer that screams at them for every mistake. McNeill is a players’ coach, but he’s also a guy that every one of those men can trust to have their best interest. I think that was lost on Stoops, or at least, Mike had lost the ability to communicate that to his players. Ruffin’s simplified defense that he intends to add layers onto, while also disguising coverages, his defensive philosophy allows his players to play fast with reckless abandon while using their athleticism to make plays. Lastly, simply put, it’s been an emotional two weeks for the Sooner Football Program: The Embarrassment in Dallas, Mike Stoops promptly being let go, then the death of Tre Brown’s mother— it has brought the team closer together out of adversity and sorrow where it could have melted them, and that’s a testament to the leadership in the locker room from the players and the coaches as well as the brotherhood among them.