Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

November 12, 2018 at 10:38 pm.

Riley still trying to fix Oklahoma’s defense

When Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley fired defensive coordinator Mike Stoops in early October, he did it because he felt like the Sooners still had a chance to be a College Football Playoff team.

The first two games after Stoops’ firing, the Oklahoma defense showed a level of improvement, though it was against TCU and Kansas State, two of the bottom offenses in the Big 12.

But the Sooners have allowed a combined 1,113 yards in wins over Texas Tech and Oklahoma State the last two weeks going into Saturday’s home finale against Kansas.

Riley said his frustration now centers on how close he believes the defense is despite the gaudy numbers it has allowed.

“You can’t hide behind some of the mistakes we’ve made, but the flip side of that, and there is, is that there’s the makings of a championship-caliber defense in that room, and you see bits and pieces on the field,” Riley said. “That’s part of the reason we made the change in the first place part-way through. We felt like there was more in there, and we needed to find a way to get it out.”

But time is running short for that.

“We can’t give up 50 points and expect to be a playoff defense, a playoff team,” linebacker Curtis Bolton said. “We’ve gotta get better on defense. It happens during the week. We’ve gotta practice better. We’ve gotta put more emphasis on it through the week so we don’t come out here and give up 50 points every weekend because that’s something we don’t want to do.”

Part of the problem for the Sooners has been the lack of turnovers.

Oklahoma’s fourth quarter fumble recovery last week — forced by Bolton — against Oklahoma State was its first defensive fumble recovery of the year and just the Sooners’ eighth takeaway overall.

“I still think our big rush of turnovers is coming, I really do,” Riley said. “We’ve been right on the doorstep of a bunch of them, especially in the last three or four weeks. But when you get a chance to make plays you’ve got to make them. Then I think physicality — just ripping the ball away, knocking the ball out like Curtis did, your physicality shows up. Certainly, we’re going to have to have more of (that) coming up.”

While this week doesn’t figure to offer much in the way of showing any improvement, as Kansas is once again in the Big 12 cellar, but the Sooners need to improve before traveling to West Virginia to end the regular season.

“The sky’s not falling,” Riley said. “There’s a lot of things we’re doing well. We’ve got to keep building on them and be ready to play our best ball at the end. That’s what we’re all pushing towards.”