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Oklahoma turns to freshman for help in pass coverage

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  • Oklahoma turns to freshman for help in pass coverage

    Nov. 10, 2004 wire reports

    NORMAN, Okla. -- What started with an occasional blown coverage for a long score has turned into a legitimate problem for No. 2 Oklahoma.


    With a key injury eliminating depth and experience all at once, opponents have been exploiting the Sooners' secondary.

    The weakness couldn't have been more evident than in the first half against Texas A&M last week. Facing four third downs of eight yards or more, the Aggies converted all four with passes. With the Sooners unable to make a stop, A&M scored on its first two possessions to pull ahead 14-0. A 45-yard touchdown pass on the Aggies' third possession made it 21-7.

    Looking for a solution, Oklahoma defensive coordinators Brent Venables and Bo Pelini turned to freshman Marcus Walker. The highly touted Texan had sat out the first eight games, well on his way to a redshirt season. But with Oklahoma's national title hopes on the line, the freshman was thrust into action.

    "It was a gut reaction time," Pelini said. "It was time to make a change and shake things up and he was the guy that I felt at that point I was ready to go with."

    With Walker in the lineup, Oklahoma was finally able to slow the Aggies' passing attack, but Sooners coaches aren't ready to suggest that patching the defensive hole was so simple. Venables and Pelini both say Eric Bassey -- the man Walker replaced -- wasn't the problem and shouldn't be the scapegoat for the other 10 defenders.

    "It's not just at the back end," Pelini said. "That's the thing that you see the most, but it's a team deal.

    "Sometimes it's letting a guy out of contain. It's just the most obvious things are the ones that result in touchdowns."

    A knee injury to cornerback Antonio Perkins has hurt. Perkins is the only senior among Oklahoma's corners. He has been out since Oct. 9 against Texas and the Sooners aren't sure when he'll return.

    Perkins' departure shuffled junior college transfer Chijioke Onyenegecha into the starting lineup and pushed Bassey into covering opponents' top receivers.

    The first sign of vulnerability was a 78-yard touchdown catch by Kansas' Brandon Rideau two weeks after Perkins' injury, but the play was sloughed off as a one-time mistake.

    The next week, Oklahoma State went deep often with quarterback Donovan Woods completing passes for 50, 46, 39 and 32 yards as part of a career day. Then Texas A&M racked up 360 yards passing, although 71 came on a fake punt, as the exploitation continued.

    The struggles are entirely uncharacteristic for Oklahoma, a team that ranked No. 2 against the pass last season and has been among the country's top-25 pass defenses each of the past four seasons. This year, the Sooners rank 83rd in the nation, allowing 230 yards per game.


    Pelini says his secondary remains confident, and he's confident in them.

    "I feel good about our team, about our defense, about our secondary," he said. "Heck, we're 9-0. That's the bottom line. That's all that we care about."

    Apparently trying to focus on the changes that need to be made, the Sooners didn't allow their defensive backs to speak to reporters this week -- a change from the team's usually open policy.

    Pelini said defenders needed to protect against the deep pass before worrying about anything else -- something he thinks the Sooners were doing well earlier in the season.

    "We've had guys in position and we've just had some lapses, and that's unacceptable not only to myself, but to the players," he said.

    Defensive tackle Lynn McGruder said he thought the team's problems defending the deep ball had been blown out of proportion in comparison with the team's overall success.

    "I haven't seen an offense come and just run over us," he said.

    However, if there is blame to be given, McGruder said no one person or unit should be the target.

    "It's easy to point fingers, but as a man I'd rather take the blame as a whole," McGruder said. "It's our defense out there. When a touchdown gets scored, it's not just on the (defensive back), it's on the whole defense."

Related Topics


  • DJRamFan
    Oklahoma, Auburn Stumble In Openers
    by DJRamFan
    Top 25 teams tumble in first weekend

    Sept. 4, 2005

    AUBURN, Ala. (AP) - Bob Stoops found much to dislike in Oklahoma's season-opening performance. No consistent running game. Poor pass protection. Errant throws.

    And in the interest of fairness, he said the coaching also left something to be desired in a 17-10 loss to TCU on Saturday.

    "They outplayed us and outcoached us as a whole," the Sooners coach said Sunday.

    No team understands his pain better than Auburn. The 16th-ranked Tigers also stumbled out of the gates with a 23-14 loss to Georgia Tech.

    The two teams who spent the end of last season jockeying for the right to play Southern California for the national title likely want no part of the top-ranked Trojans at the moment.

    For Auburn, it was a turnover- and mistake-filled end to a 15-game winning streak that trailed only USC and Utah among active streaks. Keeping the season from going downhill was more on the team's mind in the locker room than the streak.

    "The winning streak, that was something we obviously all looked at," coach Tommy Tuberville said. "It's something we didn't harp on. It's been awhile since we lost a game, and it was good to see the seniors stand up and say a few words after the game (instead of) having their heads down."

    It's no real surprise that the offenses at both Oklahoma and Auburn sputtered against decent - though unranked - opening competition. Both were replacing terrific and seasoned quarterbacks in the Sooners' Jason White and the Tigers' Jason Campbell, White a Heisman Trophy winner and Campbell a first-round NFL draft pick.

    With the defenses gearing up to force Auburn's Brandon Cox and Oklahoma's Paul Thompson and Rhett Bomar to beat them through the air, neither team mustered much of a running game. Something that was seldom a problem for either offense last season.

    The result: Cox turned it over on the Tigers' final five drives, with four interceptions and a fumble.

    Thompson completed 11 of 26 passes for 109 yards with an interception for Oklahoma. Bomar was 2-for-5 for 19 yards.

    Not even the Sooners' super sophomore Adrian Peterson could produce anything on the ground. The Heisman runner-up ran for only 63 yards after setting an NCAA freshman record with 1,925 rushing yards.

    What went wrong? Good question, Stoops said.

    "It might be the attitude and discipline we came out and played with," he said. "Or it could be the play-calling. It really is hard to put your finger on it."

    Defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek offered a blunt assessment.

    "We never got tough, and we never had the attitude we needed to win," said Dvoracek, one of the team's four...
    -09-05-2005, 08:17 AM
  • DJRamFan
    SEC's No. 1 defense collapses to Tide
    by DJRamFan
    By Andrew Abramson Independent Florida Alligator
    Gainesville, FL (U-WIRE) -- Maybe it wasn't that bad.

    It's not like Alabama scored its first touchdown in under 10 seconds.

    No, it took the Crimson Tide a grand total of 12 seconds on their first possession to reach the end zone.

    The Gators never recovered. Basically, in that single 11-second span, UF went from first in the Southeastern Conference in defense to the first top-5 team to ever fall in Tuscaloosa.

    If defense wins championships, even a SEC title suddenly looks far-fetched.

    And if that's the case, maybe it was that bad.

    "We are a man-coverage team," UF coach Urban Meyer said, "and we were exposed."

    UF quarterback Chris Leak entered the game a Heisman candidate, but it was Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle that crushed the UF defense with a nearly flawless pass attack.

    On that first Alabama drive, Croyle stunned the Gators with an 88-yard touchdown pass to Tyrone Prothro.

    It wasn't Alabama's only one-play drive that led to a touchdown.

    Croyle would repeat the feat with 7:22 remaining in the second quarter, when his 65-yard pass to Keith Brown gave the Tide a 24-3 lead.

    In the process, Croyle broke the school record for career passing touchdowns, eclipsing the former record of 35 shared by Alabama coach and former quarterback Mike Shula and Andrew Zow.

    And he finished with gaudy statistics that included 283 passing yards and three touchdowns while completing 14 of 17 passes.

    "They just threw the ball real well," Meyer said. "Those passes were right on the dime with a great release.

    "[Croyle is] a terrific quarterback. I don't know much about him ... but I had heard good things about him. I watched him in warm-ups and he's an NFL quarterback."

    Few expected UF's defense to be the team's strength this season. But early in the season, unheralded players like 5-foot-8 cornerback Vernell Brown and defensive tackle Steven Harris led a dangerous defensive charge.

    Even when star defensive end Ray McDonald went down with a partially torn ACL in his right knee, Joe Cohen and Derrick Harvey were right there to pick up the slack.

    It all came to a crashing halt on Saturday, when Alabama's 407 total yards of offense embarrassed a Florida defense that will no longer be called the SEC's best. That title, of course, goes to Alabama.

    "We think they were better prepared than we were," linebacker Earl Everett said. "They did a lot of things that we expected them to do, and we still didn't execute well."

    A visibly shaken Meyer refused to single out anybody on the defense, saying he had to look at the game film...
    -10-03-2005, 04:27 PM
  • DJRamFan
    Purdue's dream season becomes a nightmare
    by DJRamFan
    Oct. 31, 2004 wire reports

    EVANSTON, Ill. -- Three short weeks ago, Purdue and Kyle Orton were on the verge of one of those magical seasons.


    The Boilermakers had climbed to No. 5 in the country, their best start in almost 60 years, and fans were thinking Orange Bowl, not the Rose Bowl. Orton was on the fast track to the Heisman Trophy, piling up touchdowns and yardage with dizzying ease.

    Now Orton's starting job is in jeopardy and the Boilermakers are in shambles, on the wrong end of a three-game losing streak and wondering how things became so bad, so fast.

    "We're disappointed. We're trying to get a win, we're trying to play well," Orton said after being benched in Purdue's latest loss, a 13-10 upset at Northwestern on Saturday afternoon that dropped the Boilermakers out of the Top 25.

    "We just have to get a win and try to get back on track."

    But what derailed the Boilermakers (5-3, 2-3 Big Ten) in the first place?

    Purdue looked almost invincible as it raced out to a 5-0 start. Orton threw 18 touchdown passes in those first five games, and the high-octane offense churned out more than 500 yards and 45 points a game. The young defense looked as nasty as its predecessor, which sent seven players to the NFL.

    But something happened in that fifth game. The Nittany Lions clamped down tight on Purdue's receivers, clutching and grabbing and getting as close to pass interference as they could without drawing a flag. Purdue still won 20-13, but other teams now had a blueprint for how to attack the Boilermakers.

    Wisconsin did it to perfection two weeks ago, smothering the receivers and harassing Orton all afternoon. When he fumbled late in the fourth quarter, the Badgers scooped it up and returned it for the game-winning touchdown. Michigan was equally tough, allowing top receiver Taylor Stubblefield only one catch and limiting Orton to 213 yards passing.

    Northwestern wasn't supposed to be nearly so difficult. Not only had Purdue won its last seven against Northwestern, but the Wildcats were giving up more yardage in the air than a frequent-flier program.

    "We were thinking coming in we were going to throw the ball down the field," Orton said.

    Instead, the Wildcats (4-4, 3-2) made Orton look ordinary. Hobbled by an aching left hip flexor -- not to be confused with the right hip pointer he suffered against Michigan -- Orton had his worst day of the season and was yanked for Brandon Kirsch late in the third quarter.

    Orton was just 15-of-33 for 143 yards. He also threw an interception and had a fumble in the first quarter that set up Northwestern's first score.


    "I couldn't...
    -11-01-2004, 09:44 AM
  • DJRamFan
    OU secondary, USC offensive line ready to prove points
    by DJRamFan
    Dec. 31, 2004 wire reports

    MIAMI -- Oklahoma's secondary was so shaky that coaches turned to a freshman they planned to redshirt. Even now, Southern California's offensive line is a "work in progress," coordinator Norm Chow says.


    Whether the No. 1 Sooners or the No. 2 Trojans win the Orange Bowl and the Bowl Championship Series national title could come down to which team's weakest link holds up best Tuesday.

    Entering the season, there were questions about how Oklahoma's defense would fare after the departure of All-American cornerback Derrick Strait. Then the Sooners lost cornerback Antonio Perkins to a knee injury, depriving the secondary of its leader and best cover man.

    With Perkins sidelined, opponents found success going deep on the Sooners. In consecutive games against Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, OU allowed several long pass plays that nearly cost them a perfect season.

    Trailing 28-21 at halftime against Texas A&M, and having little success shutting down Aggies quarterback Reggie McNeal, the Sooners' defensive coaches decided it was time to try something different.

    With upperclassmen Jowahn Poteat, Eric Bassey and Chijioke Oneyenegecha struggling, freshman cornerback Marcus Walker was put in the game.

    "We just gave up some crazy plays and ... I turned to him and said, 'You're in,"' Sooners co-defensive coordinator Bo Pelini said. "We had confidence in him."

    The Sooners tightened up against the Aggies in the second half, allowing just one more TD on a fake field goal.

    Perkins returned to the lineup the next week against Nebraska, and Walker played at the other corner.

    "The secondary was a weak link then," said Perkins, known more as a dangerous punt returner than a shutdown corner. "Most of the plays were missed assignments. We were out of line. We weren't in the right position to make plays. Now I came back and I'm more verbal. We talk a lot and communicate with each other to be in the right position to make a play."

    In the final three games of the season, Oklahoma allowed a total of 253 yards through the air. But that was against Nebraska, Baylor and Colorado -- none of which boasts a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback.

    Stopping Matt Leinart and USC's passing game, which is adept at creating mismatches and confusion, won't be quite so easy.

    "The decision-making of Matt Leinart, it's second-to-none; his accuracy, his poise, the way he distributes the football, just his overall decision-making is exceptional," OU co-defensive coordinator Brent Venables said.

    USC knew it had some of the country's best playmakers in Heisman winner Leinart and tailbacks Reggie Bush and LenDale White....
    -12-31-2004, 03:02 PM
  • DJRamFan
    By Eric Esteban Independent Florida Alligator
    by DJRamFan
    By Ryan Colaianni University Daily Kansan
    Lawrence, KS (U-WIRE) -- Although Kansas football coach Mark Mangino has not named a starter for this Saturday's game against Florida Atlantic, all signs are pointing to junior Adam Barmann.

    Barmann started the first eight games last season, before suffering an apparent shoulder injury against Iowa State, ending his season. Barmann has since worked with the first team throughout spring practices and training camp.

    "Adam Barmann has picked up some ground coming out of the summer program. He's probably the most prepared of our veteran quarterbacks," Mangino said. "He still has to continue to improve to win the job."

    At the team's annual media day on Aug. 11, Barmann was asked if the starting quarterback job was his. He confidently answered "yeah."

    He passed for 1,427 yards with 12 touchdowns over nine interceptions.

    Pushing Barmann is senior Brian Luke.

    Luke led the team to victory over Missouri last season, yet was listed behind Barmann and senior Jason Swanson on the depth chart when spring practices ended in April.

    Since then, Luke went to Mangino and told him he wanted to be the starting quarterback.

    "I made it clear that I do not want to be the back-up, that I want to be the starter," Luke said. "But should I be the back-up I will do that with 100 percent pride."

    Mangino appreciated Luke talking to him in his office, rather than hearing it from another coach, Luke said.

    "I am as confident as I have ever been. I know the offense better than I ever have before," Luke said. "I am definitely looking forward to this season."

    Luke saw action in three games last year and his pass-efficiency rating was the highest of any of the team's quarterbacks. He passed for 467 yards and three touchdowns.

    Luke also nearly led Kansas to a victory over Texas, the week before the Missouri contest.

    "Brian Luke is a very good player who has a great command of the offense," Barmann said. "We have a lot of very good players at the quarterback position and it will make all of us better."

    Freshman quarterback Kerry Meier is also still in the mix for the job, Mangino said.

    "The young guy, Kerry Meier, each and every day he learns more and more about our offense," Mangino said. "You can see he's an awfully talented guy."

    Mangino hasn't said whether Meier wouldn't receive a redshirt this season.

    Senior quarterback Jason Swanson, who threw the go-ahead touchdown against Kansas State last season, apparently is not in the race for the starting job.

    "Swanson's been slowed down. He doesn't take many...
    -08-29-2005, 05:10 PM