Championship-caliber offense wasted by subpar Sooner defense

The Mike Stoops era at Oklahoma needs to come to an end.

Through all the murkiness going into the Oklahoma-Georgia College Football Playoff semifinal game, one thing was clear. The Sooners offense needed to outshine the Bulldog offense in a big way for Oklahoma to have a chance to win the game.

That did not happen, and Oklahoma is going home to prepare for winter workouts instead of getting ready to play for the eighth national title in school history.

Since the Sooners put a beat-down on TCU in the Big 12 Championship in early December and found out they were facing SEC champion Georgia in the Rose Bowl, all we have heard from Oklahoma defenders was how they are “tired” of hearing that they aren’t physical enough to match up with the Bulldogs’ power running game.

We sat and listened to Sooner linebackers Emmanuel Beal and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo tell us that they would be ready to show the college football world that Oklahoma can play physical, run-stopping defense.

Coming into the game, Georgia was averaging 267.3 yards rushing per game. As an offense, the Bulldogs, led by true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, were averaging 172.9 passing yards and 440.3 total yards per outing. They were also averaging 36.3 points per game.

Out of the 13 games Georgia had played coming into the Rose Bowl, the Bulldogs had scored more than 40 points six times. They had scored more than 50 points once and more than 30 points nine times.

Georgia scored 54 points on Oklahoma. Those 54 points scored on the Sooners’ defense were the most the Bulldogs had put up all season. The other game they scored more than 50 points was when they put 53 on Missouri midway through the SEC season.

The Dawgs scored 45 against Vanderbilt; 42 points on Florida, Kentucky and Samford; and 41 on Tennessee. Georgia also managed just 31 points against Appalachian State in the season-opener.

Yet, against an Oklahoma defense that was “fired up” and “ready” to prove to the world just how physical they could be, Georgia scored 54 points and amassed a total of 527 yards of offense.

The Bulldogs rushed for 317 yards, which is close to 50 yards more than Georgia’s season average. They passed for 210 yards, which is close to 40 yards more than their season average, and the 527 yards of offense was close to 90 yards more than their season average.

Georgia averaged 9.3 yards per carry and 7.2 yards per pass completion. The Bulldogs ran a total of 63 plays.

Oklahoma totaled 48 points in the game, with 41 of them scored by the offense. The Sooners had 531 yards, including 289 yards passing and 242 yards rushing.

Oklahoma averaged 5.4 yards per carry and eight yards per reception. The Sooners ran 81 plays.

If you would have told me going into the game that Oklahoma was going to score 41 offensive points, I would have said the Sooners win. I guess I had a little too much faith in that “fired up” and “ready” OU defense.

For more than a month, we had to listen to national college football experts tell us that Oklahoma’s defense wasn’t going to be able to handle Georgia’s run game. They said Fromm was going to use play action to beat the Sooners in the air and that the combination of those two things would be the difference in the outcome.

I didn’t believe it. I thought OU’s defense would rise up and play well. I thought this was the type of game Stoops dreamed of coaching in again. Finally, Stoops wouldn’t have to worry about stopping a high-octane Big 12 passing offense.

He could just focus on stopping the run game and keep the Bulldogs at bay. I knew the Sooners didn’t have the best front seven players on the planet, but I thought they were good enough to stifle an offense like Georgia’s.

I could not have been more wrong. If it wasn’t for Steven Parker and Okoronkwo, the Dawgs may have scored in the 60’s or 70’s on OU. Both Sooner defenders played well in the game, but that was it.

Georgia’s offensive line manhandled Oklahoma’s defensive front. True freshman middle linebacker Kenneth Murray was constantly out of position and the Sooners’ defensive backs are not built to bring down the monsters that are the Bulldogs running backs.

It’s hard to blame Murray for his mistakes because a year ago, he was playing high school football but you would think in game No. 14, he would be able to handle the mental part of the game a little better than he did Monday.

That doesn’t change the fact that Oklahoma had to play a true freshman at middle linebacker all season. The Sooners have the type of program where they shouldn’t have to rely on a true freshman at the most important position on defense.

Year-in and year-out, OU should have an inside linebacker with experience and understanding of the defense and where he is supposed to be on every play. The coaching staff has not been able to recruit well at that position, and it cost them dearly against Georgia.

There were multiple times in the game where Oklahoma defenders were in position but they couldn’t make the plays. That doesn’t fall on Stoops, but it’s time for a change on defense in Norman.

Defensive recruiting and player development have to improve greatly if Oklahoma is to truly get back to playing championship-caliber football.

It’s time for Stoops to move on from Oklahoma and let someone else come in and change things up defensively. That side of the ball needs a jolt of energy like Lincoln Riley provided when he took the offensive reins several years ago.

Getting as far as they got this season is a testament to how impressive and potent the Sooners’ offense was this year. Simply put, Oklahoma’s offense was championship worthy, but the defense was not, and to win a national championship, you have to have both.

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