Air Force brings new challenge for No. 7 Oklahoma
No matter how impressive it was, there's no time for No. 7 Oklahoma to celebrate the dent it put in Christian Ponder's Heisman Trophy campaign.
Nothing the Sooners (2-0) did in shutting down Florida State's prolific quarterback will prepare them for this week's challenge against Air Force and the country's best rushing offense. The Falcons (2-0) enter Saturday's game easily leading the nation with 423 yards rushing per game, following wins against Northwestern State and BYU. That average is 91 1/2 yards more than any other team in the nation.
''It's really tough. It's really challenging,'' coach Bob Stoops said. ''We'll play a defense against them totally different than we'll play anybody this year or next year, since we're not playing them. It just doesn't correlate.''
Once again, it's time to scrap last week's defensive game plan and start from scratch.
Stoops categorized opening opponent Utah State's offense as similar to Air Force in that it took a different defensive scheme than anyone else Oklahoma will face in the near future. The Aggies brought in the triple option and quarterback Diondre Borel was just as dangerous running as he was passing, as he showed in throwing for 341 yards.
Then came Ponder, who had little success in Florida State's more conventional offense against a Sooners defense that was able to deploy its usual mix of blitzes and coverage schemes. The Sooners ran away with a 47-17 victory Saturday.
But it will take yet another new approach to counter the Falcons' ground force led by Asher Clark and Jared Tew.
''These first three games, the offenses are so different. They change so much,'' safety Jonathan Nelson said. ''The formations are completely different, and they're all complex. From Utah State to Florida State, now to Air Force, that's about as complex and as different as offenses can get - and they're all really good.''
The challenge of switching defenses dramatically each week has made it anything but a cakewalk through nonconference play for the Sooners. After Air Force, Oklahoma finishes nonconference play on Sept. 25 against Cincinnati, which scored the fourth-most points in the country last season but is off to a sluggish start through the first two weeks.
''In a perfect world, you play a bunch of nobodies in your nonconference and play one defense and you start putting more into the plan once you get into conference play,'' defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. ''But we're not in that situation.''
The Sooners showed improvement between the first two weeks, with the first unit allowing the Seminoles only 274 yards before the backups allowed a meaningless, 71-yard scoring drive in the final 43 seconds. It was enough to get Oklahoma bumped up three spots in the AP poll Sunday and back in the same No. 7 position it held in the preseason.
''We can't start relaxing. The media's going to tell us how great we are, how great our offense is, how great our defense is, we're one of the front-runners for the national championship and all that good stuff,'' defensive captain Travis Lewis said. ''But just like last week, we can't listen to what everybody else says.
''We've got to keep that edge because once you lose that edge, you're not really going to go anywhere. Someone's going to hit you in the mouth.''
After the lackluster 31-24 win against Utah State in Week 1, coaches questioned whether the Sooners lacked intensity and were playing too cautiously to avoid making mistakes.
A sign posted in the Sooners' team meeting room asked players ''Do you have an edge today?''
''That's like our whole mantra for the season: Keep that edge,'' Lewis said. ''Last week, we didn't really play with that edge, but I guess for us to play with that edge you need a great team to come into our house ranked 17th, and we really came to the challenge.''
Nelson said the previous week the Sooners were ''going through the motions in practice,'' leading to a disappointing defensive outing in the opener.
''Now we have to wipe the slate clean again because if we do that going into Air Force, then they're going to blow us up because we're going to be coming in beating our chests, thinking that we're somebody that we're not,'' Nelson said. ''We just have to have a great week of preparation and focus solely on Air Force.''