Oklahoma mailbag: Questions surround Sooners defense

Oklahoma remains at No. 5 in the College Football Playoff rankings, despite the 62-52 victory over Oklahoma State. The Sooners need to defeat No. 6 TCU on Saturday to stay in the hunt for a playoff berth.

What occurred in the Bedlam game was the top topic by questioners in the Oklahoma mailbag this week. Fans want to know how high quarterback Baker Mayfield’s NFL stock can rise and whether the Sooners’ defensive issues are fixable.

Aaron, via Twitter, asks: Do you expect a lot of secondary changes or will cornerbacks Parnell Motley and Jordan Thomas be out there?

Parnell Motley and Jordan Thomas have forced the hand of Oklahoma’s coaching staff as they have struggled this season. Oklahoma State was the first team the Sooners faced with a quarterback and receivers good enough to exploit both of them.

Thomas limped off the field during the Bedlam game and wore a knee brace coming out of the locker room. The injury could keep him out. The coaching staff benched Motley during the game in Stillwater.

Based on the way freshmen Tre Brown and Tre Norwood played against Oklahoma State, I would start both of them against TCU and see what happens.

Lack of competition for playing time is the Sooners’ biggest defensive issue. Until the depth improves across the board, Oklahoma isn’t going to get any better.

Kenneth, via Facebook, asks: How much do you think the tempo of the offense affects the defensive performance?

The tempo is always a question when judging defenses. You can’t argue with math. If there are more plays in a game, you’re going to give up more yards and more points.

Oklahoma’s offense hasn’t run at warp speed the last three seasons. It’s averaging only 71 offensive plays a game.

The offensive change, though, that we’ve seen this season that’s affected Oklahoma’s defense the most is that we haven’t seen many of the drives of 6 minutes-plus to put games away.

It always will be hard to put up great defensive numbers at Oklahoma because the offense is so prolific. The Sooners score quickly. You have to defend more plays than the average Big Ten or SEC team.

But I don’t think you can blame the offense for the Sooners’ defensive struggles this season.

Matt, via Facebook, asks: What do you think is the biggest cause of the defense’s struggles?

Take a good look at Oklahoma’s depth and you see the problem. Kenneth Murray has a lot of potential, but there’s no way a freshman should vault into the starting middle linebacker spot almost unchallenged.

You need at least four quality cornerbacks to handle Big 12 offenses, plus at least seven defensive linemen. It wouldn’t hurt to have more than four linebackers you feel favorable about in any situation.

Because of injuries, attrition, recruiting and development issues, the Sooners don’t have the depth they once did.

Mike, via Twitter, asks: TCU beat Oklahoma State but don’t you think Mayfield’s ability to extend plays is the X-factor for OU success Saturday?

Baker Mayfield’s elusiveness is a factor in every game. I think the real factor in this one is Mayfield’s arm and decision-making ability. He can get balls into places most quarterbacks can’t, and he doesn’t throw many interceptions.

The offensive X-factor in the game Saturday against TCU is Oklahoma’s receivers. Schematically, the Horned Frogs always try to take away the run first and try to get offenses in long-yardage situations.

The Sooners had the perfect counter for that in the meeting between the two teams last season. Mayfield threw deep to Dede Westbrook. Marquise Brown looks like that kind of threat these days.

A crucial factor in this game will be touchdowns of 20-plus yards. TCU’s defense is excellent in the red zone. The Sooners don’t want to get bogged down there and settle for field goals.

Chef, via Twitter, asks: Who has higher NFL draft stock now? Mason Rudolph or Baker Mayfield?

Mason Rudolph looks like the prototype for an NFL quarterback, but based on what I saw last Saturday, my money is on Mayfield.

The reason why is arm strength. I don’t know if Rudolph is healthy or not, but Mayfield has a stronger arm. The NFL scouts see that more and more.

There’s a lot of them around the Switzer Center these days. They’re also there to see left tackle Orlando Brown, tight end Mark Andrews and defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo.

But I know the more the NFL personnel evaluators see of Mayfield, the more they like him. What he does on the field is great. They also love what they see from him in terms of leadership.

I’m still not sold that he’ll be a first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. But I think he’s a solid second-round selection who could move up.

The post Oklahoma mailbag: Questions surround Sooners defense appeared first on Diehards.

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