During his time as a defensive coordinator at Clemson and before that at Oklahoma, Brent Venables established a reputation as one of college football’s top defensive minds.
So it was especially disappointing for Venables, during his first season as Oklahoma’s head coach, that the Sooners’ defense struggled as they slipped to a 6-7 finish in 2022.
The defense finished near the bottom nationally in total defense, struggling in virtually every area.
When the 20th-ranked Sooners open the season at home against Arkansas State on Saturday, the personnel on defense will look much different than it did last season.
Venables and defensive coordinator Ted Roof made overhauling the defense a particular emphasis in the offseason, adding a wave of experience in the transfer portal — defensive ends Rondell Bothroyd from Wake Forest and Trace Ford from Oklahoma State, interior linemen Jacob Lacey from Notre Dame, Da’Jon Terry to Tennessee and Davon Sears from Texas State, linebacker Dasan McCullough from Indiana, safety Reggie Pearson from Texas Tech.
Venables was frustrated with his team’s depth all around, but particularly on defense.
Heading into the opener, Venables said he feels much better about where his team stands entering his second season.
“I thought we were soft in short-yardage situations and got knocked off the ball,” Venables said. “Second level didn’t support like we needed to support.
“I think we’re more knowledgeable as well as more physical. Our football IQ has improved. … I do feel like we’ve helped ourselves with the development of the guys that are on our roster and with some of the portal guys that we have brought on.”
The last time Oklahoma and Arkansas State faced off, the Sooners also were ranked No. 20. Oklahoma won that game 45-7 in 2000 and went on to an undefeated season and the program’s seventh national championship – with Venables as co-defensive coordinator.
Arkansas State is coming off an even tougher season than the Sooners, going 3-9 in 2022 in its second season under Butch Jones.
The Red Wolves are looking for their first win over a Power Five opponent since 2020, when they knocked off Kansas State.
Arkansas State hasn’t beaten a ranked opponent since knocking off No. 25 Troy in 2016.
“I like where we’re at, but we’ll know a little bit more (Saturday),” Jones said. “When you play a quality opponent like Oklahoma, everything that you do can be exposed. What I mean is fundamentals, details, simple things like your hand placement, the violence or mentality that you play with, with your style of play, the discipline to execute play-in and play-out, the ability to handle the clutter and distractions of the crowd noise.”
One player who does have experience in those environments is Red Wolves’ starting quarterback J.T. Shrout.
Shrout spent the last two seasons at Colorado, throwing for 1,220 yards and seven touchdowns in nine games last season, after playing for Tennessee from 2018-20.
Shrout beat out redshirt freshman Jaxon Dailey for the starting spot, with Jones saying Shrout’s consistency and experience helped turn the tide.
“We’ll see how that goes,” Jones said.
–Field Level Media