Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

October 30, 2018 at 9:17 pm.

Sooners’ defense gets big test at Texas Tech

The last time Oklahoma visited Texas Tech, the teams staged the greatest offensive explosion in college football history.

In the Sooners’ 66-59 win, the teams combined for 1,708 yards — 854 each.

Even after the victory, Oklahoma’s defense felt defeated.

The Sooners, who came at No. 7 in Tuesday night’s first College Football Playoff Ranking, enter Saturday’s game in Lubbock having played much better on the defensive side over the last two weeks since Lincoln Riley fired Mike Stoops as defensive coordinator.

But TCU and Kansas State — Oklahoma’s last two opponents — haven’t played stellar offensively this season.

That changes Saturday, as Texas Tech’s offense is behind only Oklahoma’s in terms of scoring and yards per game this season among Big 12 teams.

Riley has deflected much of the talk about the defensive improvements that have been on display recently — especially as it relates to improved tackling — being as a result of the change in defensive coordinator.

But Riley said he’s confident in his defense.

“It’s going to be a different challenge this week, but it’s also — we have to have a complete week and play a complete game,” Riley said. “Are we capable of that? Absolutely.”

Oklahoma safety Robert Barnes watched that 2016 game from his hospital bed after suffering a leg injury as a senior in high school and remembers thinking that the performance from the Sooners’ defense was unacceptable.

“I just remember thinking, ‘It can’t be like that when we’re there,'” Barnes said. “We want it to be 60-something to zero if it’s up to us.”

That seems unlikely, but it’s an opportunity for the Sooners to show how much better they are on the defensive side than they were earlier in the season.

Oklahoma is embracing that chance, especially when it comes to tackling.

“When teams spread you out, obviously there’s gonna be more opportunities to tackle in open space and stuff like that, so definitely is an opportunity for us as a defense to go out there and show that improvement,” middle linebacker Kenneth Murray said. “I have 100 percent confidence in everybody on this defense to be able to go out there and get the job done.”

Murray said interim defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill’s streamlining of the defensive scheme has him believing the improvement is sustainable.

“Things are more simple,” Murray said. “It’s kinda been simplified a little bit for me and I’m able to just flow to the ball a lot and play a lot faster. I feel like I was playing fast a month ago, but definitely having things simplified and not having to think too much about too many things definitely has a big impact.”