No. 7 Oklahoma defense eager to erase CFP memory
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma’s defense has had a lot of time to think about its last outing.
The Sooners gave up 527 yards in a 54-48 loss to Georgia in the College Football Playoff semifinal to close last season. The seventh-ranked Sooners still use that embarrassing performance for motivation, yet they look forward to a fresh start Saturday in the season opener against Florida Atlantic.
“We have a chip on our shoulder because of the way it ended and the way that our defense is perceived,” inside linebacker Kenneth Murray said. “But at the end of the day it’s a new year, it’s time to start anew, so it’s kind of a two-way thing. You keep that chip on your shoulder and go out and play aggressive. But at the same time you realize this is a whole new unit, whole new team. You’ve got to have a whole new identity.”
The Sooners allowed 27 points and 395 yards per game last season, but Murray is a key reason the Sooners believe they will improve. He finished second on the team with 78 tackles as a true freshman last season. Much has been made of his improvement since the end of last season, and he doesn’t mind the attention.
“It’s not a lot of pressure at all,” he said. “I’m out here saying I want the defense to be built around me, so I’ve got to be the one that deals with what comes with it.”
“I’m excited to see how it shows up on Saturday, but I really feel good about it,” Riley said. “Probably the thing I feel best about with our defensive line is the overall mentality of the group right now is different.”
The secondary is young but talented. Parnell Motley leads the unit. He started 13 games last season as a sophomore and had 63 tackles, two interceptions and a forced fumble.
Cornerback Jordan Parker is back after missing most of last season with a knee injury. He started eight games in 2016. Tre Brown and Tre Norwood played as true freshmen last season and two newcomers, redshirt freshman Justin Broiles and true freshman Brendan Radley-Hiles, will play immediately.
Radley-Hiles is one of the most highly recruited defensive players Oklahoma has landed in years.
“We’ll probably play him in the nickel, and he can also play some safety for us as well,” Riley said. “He’s a pretty versatile guy and all he can do a lot of different things, but he’s definitely a gifted nickel without a doubt.”
Caleb Kelly is back at one of the linebacker spots. He had 56 tackles last season as a sophomore.
Florida Atlantic averaged 40.6 points per game last season, and running back Devin Singletary is back after rushing for 1,918 yards and 33 touchdowns. The Owls are favored to repeat as Conference USA champions.
Murray believes the Sooners are up for the challenge.
“We’ve got pieces all around our defense,” he said. “Right now, it’s just go out and get on the field, communicate and show an effort to get to the ball.”