Here’s three key defensive players to keep an eye on for the Oklahoma Sooners as they travel to take on Oklahoma State in Bedlam.
Oklahoma enters Bedlam feeling great about itself defensively. The Sooners smothered Iowa State for the most part. OU recorded seven sacks, 11 tackles for loss and created three Cyclones turnovers.
As the stage is set for Bedlam with an Oklahoma offense that has been limping in of late, the impetus for that type of defensive performance to continue is at a fever pitch.
At least going in, it feels like the Sooners need to come close to matching last week’s defensive showing.
So, let’s take a look at which Oklahoma defensive players need to step up in order for the Sooners to punch their ticket into the Big 12 championship game.
Woodi Washington, cornerback
It’s uncertain whether or not sophomore cornerback D.J. Graham will be available for Oklahoma on Saturday. Oklahoma head football coach Lincoln Riley had this to say on Graham’s status earlier this week.
“Questionable right now. But I would say questionable. Yeah, we’ll see how the week progresses,” Riley said.
Assuming Graham can’t go, that means how redshirt sophomore cornerback Woodi Washington plays is all the more important. If Graham is out, expect Washington to get the bulk of the responsibility covering the Cowboys’ top receiving target, Tay Martin.
The senior wide receiver has 54 grabs for 765 receiving yards with six receiving touchdowns. Sophomore wide receiver Brennan Presley has 35 receptions for 422 yards and five touchdowns in his own right, so he’s someone Oklahoma will have to worry about as well.
Still, if Graham is sidelined and Washington assumes the coverage responsibility on Martin, then how well that matchup goes for Washington will help decide who wins Bedlam.
Washington finished tied with the team-high in tackles in the Sooners’ 41-13 win over the Cowboys last season with his eight stops.
DaShaun White, linebacker
It’s a massive day for the linebackers in general. Let’s highlight senior linebacker DaShaun White. If things go south for Oklahoma, this could be White’s final Big 12 game in a Sooner uniform.
White is eligible to return with an extra year of eligibility because of the COVID season if he so chooses. Right now, that’s uncertain. Certainly, White doesn’t want his final statement in Big 12 play to be a disappointing one.
Oklahoma State junior quarterback Spencer Sanders has been intercepted just once in the Cowboys’ past five games. That’s due in large part thanks to its outstanding defense and what senior running back Jaylen Warren has been able to provide in the ground game.
Warren has carried it 220 times for 1,078 rushing yards for Oklahoma State and he’s found the end zone 10 times.
Oklahoma needs to be sound in the run game and force Sanders to have to make throws in the passing game. In order to do so, White and redshirt junior linebacker Brian Asamoah both need big days stuffing the Cowboys’ rushing attack.
“Yeah, I just see guys getting movement. I think when you look at the running game, as much as anything, guys use the term winning the line of scrimmage, and you just make note of that as you watch it on film. You’re seeing, you know, the opposite color jersey from the defensive standpoint going in the wrong direction and the offense going kind of like a wave going down field, and obviously the tailback is doing a great job of finding the crease and kind of making you pay for it. And so it’s just a downhill style running,” Oklahoma defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said of Oklahoma State’s running game.
Isaiah Thomas, defensive lineman
When Oklahoma has been at its best defensively, redshirt senior defensive lineman Isaiah Thomas has been at his individual best.
Just look at some of the Sooners’ best halves or games of defensive football this season.
Against Texas, Thomas had a sack and a pair of tackles for loss to help spark the Sooners’ Red River rally. In Oklahoma’s blowout win over Texas Tech, Thomas directly influenced a pair of turnovers and finished with a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss. Then, last week versus Iowa State, Thomas recorded a pair of sacks and two more tackles for loss.
It’s no secret. The Sooners need that to be the case from Thomas again versus the Cowboys.
The other part of the defensive pressure puzzle is this: Cowboys quarterback Spencer Sanders has been sacked just once in Oklahoma State’s past four games. He’s also thrown just the lone interception over OSU’s last five games.
If Oklahoma wants to create turnovers, they need to make Sanders’ evening uncomfortable. That hasn’t been the case for him of late. That starts up front with Thomas being a hunter.
“And we use the term hunt at times. We need to go hunt. We’ve got to go hunt that football. We can’t be okay getting blocked,” Grinch said.
Contact/Follow us @SoonersWire on Twitter, and like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Oklahoma news, notes, and opinions.