Injuries keep No. 16 Sooners thin on front line

Instead of moving closer to full strength, No. 16 Oklahoma is
dealing with the loss of another defensive tackle as it heads into
a crucial two-game stretch on the road to close the season.

The Sooners (8-2, 4-2 Big 12) lost Adrian Taylor for the season
when he tore his right Achilles’ tendon during a 45-7 win against
Texas Tech on Saturday. The position was already a thin, with
starter Casey Walker and reserve Daniel Noble both out in recent
weeks due to injuries.

”We’ve got to just bite down and finish out the season,” said
Pryce Macon, a defensive end who’s been moved inside because of the
injuries.

Coach Bob Stoops expects Walker to return to practice this week
in hopes of returning Saturday night at Baylor (7-4, 4-3), but he
has missed six games in a row after starting the first four.

In Taylor, the Sooners lose an emotional leader and by far their
most experienced inside presence with 34 career starts. Sophomore
Stacy McGee is next with eight.

Macon’s move inside provided additional depth despite his lack
of size, and Taylor’s injury means he’ll need to stay there.

The Sooners got the job done without Taylor, Walker or Noble for
all of the second half and about 5 minutes at the end of the second
quarter after Taylor was carted off the field. Texas Tech was held
scoreless and about the only glaring flaw was on Baron Batch’s
37-yard run right up the middle in the third quarter.

Macon even got a sack while lined up at defensive tackle, and
JaMarkus McFarland finished the game with back-to-back tackles for
loss while soaking in a few extra snaps in a lopsided game.

”JaMarkus McFarland, I think he did an outstanding job filling
in for Adrian and we got some other guys a look,” defensive end
Jeremy Beal said. ”And I think we may get Casey back next week, so
that will help us out in the long run with losing Adrian.”

Ronnell Lewis, a linebacker who’s been playing mostly at
defensive end, returned after missing the last three games and
linebacker Austin Box got his most extensive playing time after a
preseason injury to help shore up the defense.

Taylor brought more than just a 300-pound frame. He and Beal
shared the Don Key Award, given in recognition of a former Sooners
player whose career ended early due to surgery for cancer.

”Adrian’s been an amazing, great leader for us and the players
just love him,” Stoops said. ”Of course, we do as coaches. He
brings a lot of spirit and energy to the team. I just feel really
sad for him.”

His absence is the latest challenge for a defense that, like the
rest of the team, has struggled on the road. The Sooners have given
up 55 points in losses to Missouri and Texas A&M that extended
their losing streak in conference road games to four.

Oklahoma has never lost to Baylor – anywhere.

”We’ve got to dig out a win,” receiver Ryan Broyles said.
”The road games aren’t easy, but we’re capable of making plays.
We’ve just got to be poised and come out with a win.”

The Sooners are still alive in the Big 12 South race, trailing
No. 12 Oklahoma State (9-1, 5-1) by a full game and tied with
A&M for second. Oklahoma closes the season at Oklahoma State on
Nov. 27.

”For us, it’s next week at Baylor. We don’t get beyond that,”
Stoops said. ”That’s all that matters – a team that’s played
really well this year, everybody knows about and has talked about
and I have had respect for for a long time.”

The Sooners have defeated three conference opponents by a
combined score of 140-17 to stretch their winning streak at Owen
Field to 36 in a row – the longest in the nation.

”It’s all mental on the road. We have to have that edge from
the get-go,” running back DeMarco Murray said. ”We can’t clown
around at the beginning and expect to come back up later in the
quarters like we’ve done in the past two games when we weren’t able
to get the W.”