Venables: Sooners’ defensive issues can be corrected in time for TCU

Venables: Sooners’ defensive issues can be corrected in time for TCU

Brent Venables has identified the problems that plagued his OU defense at BYU. Can the Sooners sort them out by Friday morning?

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

| Nov 20, 2023, 4:31pm CST

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

Nov 20, 2023, 4:31pm CST

NORMAN — Brent Venables felt like he had a good understanding of what had gone wrong for Oklahoma’s defense by the time he was walking off the field at BYU’s Lavell Edwards Stadium Saturday.

 His film review on the flight home confirmed the trouble points in the Sooners’ 31-24 before OU even touched down in Norman. 

Venables’ reaction to what he learned about the Sooners’ shakiest defensive showings of the season against the Big 12’s least effective offenses? 

“I was actually happy,” Venables said Monday morning. “You want to know what I really felt? Truth serum? I felt more relieved. Okay, it wasn’t somebody getting their butt whooped.” 

The defensive problems Venables identified in the win at BYU were concerning. His relief hinges on the belief that they’re also correctable. 

Can they be fixed on the short turnaround to Friday’s 11 a.m. kick-off with TCU at Owen Field? 

“Yeah, because I’ve got a body of work,” Venables said. 

“If we couldn’t find the ball all year or if we lacked instincts and those kinds of things, that would be an issue. That’s a hard thing to fix. But we got the right guys without question.”

Billy Bowman’s pick-six and the strip-sack Danny Stutsman delivered to set up Gavin Sawchuk’s game-winning touchdown were the defensive moments that ultimately mattered over the weekend in Provo. They also obscured broader issues in an uncharacteristic performance filled with missed fits, shed tackles and a struggle for timely stops. 

Those were the factors that launched BYU — which entered Saturday ranked last or next to last in the league in almost every offensive category — to its most productive offensive performance since joining the Big 12.

The 390 yards the Cougars gained on the Sooners marked BYU’s season high. So did the 217 rushing yards logged by the nation’s 119th-ranked ground game, padded by 11 runs of 10-plus yards.

Consistently moving the ball on a visibly flustered OU defense, the Cougars’ 105th-ranked offense picked up yards after the catch (92), controlled time of possession (31:10) and converted on every fourth down attempt they tried (three-for-three). Backup quarterback Jake Retzlaff enjoyed the most efficient performance of his college career, even as the Sooners slowed BYU after halftime (three punts, two turnovers, one touchdown).

In the immediate aftermath Saturday afternoon, Venables’ focus didn’t center on the scheme or how the Sooners defended the Cougars, but where they set up to stop them. 

“We just didn’t do a good job of getting these guys in position to fit the gaps,” he said in Provo. “Really poor. Really, really poor. Uncharacteristic, some of the things (we did).

On Monday, Venables elaborated further and dug in on the position group he’s tethered to more than any other. 

“We did a poor job at stopping the run,” he said. “And it’s really something (where people will say), ‘ah, the D-line got whooped.’ That didn’t happen. That’s not true. Kansas? Maybe. This week, it was just the linebackers not being where they’re supposed to be.”

The linebacker corps is where the cracks began Saturday. 

Danny Stutsman, playing through food poisoning, was close to his usual self with 10 tackles, including the crucial sack and forced fumble he produced with 8:43 remaining. 

Elsewhere, Kip Lewis struggled in his third straight start, taking only 24 of a possible 64 snaps. Kobie McKinzie served as Lewis’ primary fill-in and offered solidity across his 47 snaps. Jaren Kanak, a nailed-on starter over the first eight games, appeared on only eight plays.

As a unit, they struggled positionally, thrown by the zone runs, option plays and motions BYU tossed in their direction, stoking similar issues to the ones OU found defending UCF and Kansas earlier this fall.

“You’ve got a few young guys that maybe aren’t quite as sure sometimes — at least this last week — of who is the guy exactly with them,” Venables said. “If you know who’s with you, okay they motion and this guy’s with me so now I can fall back to this cat. And we weren’t very good at it.” 

Those problems, which frustrated Venables Saturday, are the kind he can live with week-to-week and the one he expects to remedy against TCU.

Venables can’t solve the Sooners’ thin depth at cornerback, though there’s good news for the Sooners there with Gentry Williams back in practice this week. He can’t do much about the foot injury that’s limited Peyton Bowen to 60 total snaps over the last three games.

But Venables was adamant Monday that OU’s BYU issues were small and correctable. His confidence in the fixes he believes he can make on a six-day turnaround this week will be tested Friday morning. 

“Again it wasn’t some guy getting ran through,” Venables said. “…just not being in the right fits, most of it.”

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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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