How OU coaches evaluated their quiet pass rush in Week 1

How OU coaches evaluated their quiet pass rush in Week 1

Defensive coordinator Ted Roof said Saturday’s showing “affirmed” what he believes about a retooled unit.

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

| Sep 4, 2023, 3:35pm CDT

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

Sep 4, 2023, 3:35pm CDT

NORMAN — If you wanted to nitpick the finer points of the 73-0 beat down Oklahoma unleashed on Arkansas State, you might look to the Sooners’ pass rush.

The box score shows OU produced only a pair of quarterback hurries in the opener courtesy of Jonah Laulu and Reggie Grimes. And the Sooners waited until the fourth quarter to produce their first sack when Ethan Downs released from a blocker and swallowed Red Wolves quarterback J.T. Shrout.

Yet OU’s coaching staff found plenty to like on the game tape. They identified early signs to indicate a unit that’s added six transfers, and four freshmen and opened with four new starters across the defensive line can indeed be different. 

“I think a lot of things were affirmed,” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said Monday. “I think we knew what we had … We’ve still got a lot of things to get better at and improve on and we’ve gotta do that. But at the same time, it was a great start. That’s what it was — a start.”

OU’s staff approached the Week 1 visit from the Red Wolves expecting to face a healthy dose of max protection formations. 

That hunch was right. When the Red Wolves weren’t dialing up three-step drops or screen passes Saturday, they often retreated to seven or eight-man protections. In turn, the Sooners primarily threw four-man rushes at the Shrout and Co., leaning heavily on their downfield coverage in the secondary. 


In that sense, it becomes tough to place much of any kind of judgment on the state of the Sooners pass rush.

 “It was hard to tell today,” Venables said afterward. 

While the official stat book credited OU with only a pair of hurries, Pro Football Focus charted 12 in its pressure metrics to go with the Sooners’ six tackles for loss.

“I don’t think they stood back there and held the ball forever,” Venables said. 

Bottom line? The Sooners created more than enough pressure to pitch the program’s first shutout under Venables and its first against an FBS opponent since OU blanked Kansas State in 2015.

Another way of spinning it — and this a perspective that requires definite consideration of just who the Sooners were playing — is that OU didn’t have many defensive performances like this one last season.

The Sooners placed the pressure on their secondary operating with four rushers for much of the afternoon. Bar a small handful of busts that Arkansas State capitalized on for its biggest gains of the day, OU held up for all 60 minutes in its first test in 2023.

“When teams are maxing up (protection), your coverage and your rush have to work together,” Roof said. “Your coverage has got to do a good job and buy those guys some more time.”

Team defense performances like that were hard to come by last fall. On Saturday, the Sooners delivered one with a pass rush that left much to be desired for many.

We’ll know a whole lot more about that pass rush and this defense on the whole in a few week’s time.

 

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Eli Lederman reports on the University of Oklahoma for Sellout Crowd. He began his professional career covering the University of Missouri with the Columbia Missourian and later worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette before two years writing on the Sooners and Cowboys at the Tulsa World. Born and raised in Mamaroneck, New York, Lederman grew up a rabid consumer of the New York sports pages and an avid fan of the New York Mets. He entered sportswriting at 14 years old and later graduated from the University of Missouri. Away from the keyboard, he can usually be found exploring the Oklahoma City food scene or watching/playing fútbol (read: soccer). He can be reached at [email protected].

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