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OU defense improvements under McNeill misleading

Oklahoma fans want to believe Ruffin McNeill has so improved the OU defense it can handle the explosive Alabama football offense.

Before a short Christmas break, Alabama football players denied any lack of respect for the Oklahoma Sooners defense. It is not easy talking up the merits of a defense ranked No. 128 in Passing Yards Allowed; No. 126 in Red Zone Defense; No. 108 in Total Defense and No. 96 in Scoring Defense.

Alabama football players are, however, well trained in the art of respecting an opponent. Crimson Tide offensive tackle, Jonah Williams said, “They’ve made big plays in big games.” Pardon us, Jonah but that is pretty much the ‘blind squirrel finding a nut’ premise.

Tide running back Damien Harris could not match Jonah’s praise, saying “we’re not really going to look at any stats.” Damien is right not to look at OU defensive stats. If he does, he’ll bust out laughing.

Oklahoma fans, on the other hand, have bought into the fiction Ruffin McNeill has turned around the Sooners defense. We’ll go into more detail about that below, but munch on this first. Mike Stoops was the Sooners DC for 12 years. In the six games, before he was fired this season, the Sooners gave up an average of 27.3 points per game. In the seven games since McNeill replaced Stoops, the Sooners gave up an average of 36.7 points per game.

The ‘Ruffin has rejuvenated the Sooners defense’ theme is based on two football games. Mike Stoops was the DC when Texas upset OU. Ruffin McNeill was the DC when the Sooners toppled the Longhorns in the Big 12 Championship game. Let’s take a closer look.

McNeill is credited with new schemes and adjustments to stymie the Longhorns offense.

Eschewing the nickel scheme that OU ran in the Cotton Bowl, the Sooners played the hybrid 4-3 base alignment

From a results standpoint, having the extra run defenders on the field seemed to pay off.

The clear claim is McNeill orchestrated a defensive turnaround that turned an earlier defeat into a victory. The problem with that claim is it ignores the circumstances most responsible for the Texas win in October. Turnovers beat OU in October, three for the Sooners versus zero for the Longhorns. Two of the Sooners turnovers led to short field scores for the Longhorns – a field goal and a touchdown. That is why Texas beat Oklahoma in game one.

The stats usually cited explaining the different outcome of game two are Texas rushing stats. The OU Stoops defense allowed the Horns to rush at a 4.7 yard average compared to the McNeill defense only surrendering ground at a 2.8 yard average. Ruffin deserves credit for a big improvement. But McNeill’s defense only limited the Horns’ total yard output by 64 yards. Texas also helped reduce its offensive output with 128 penalty yards.

The bottom line is the better team lost in October because of turnovers. The better team won in December because it had no turnover deficit.

The Oklahoma Sooner defense revamped by Ruffin McNeill also gave up 40 points to a 3-9 Kansas team.

Oklahoma fans and Alabama football players can talk about an improved or not-so-bad OU defense. We’re not buying it.

Next: Sooner Offense will Sputter

Perhaps it is unfair to use the Army game as an example. It was back in September and Mike Stoops was calling the OU defense. BUT, the much-undersized Black Knights rushed for 339 yards.


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