NORMAN — More missed tackles against Iowa State have certainly caught Lincoln Riley’s attention.
The same thing happened during last year’s contest in Norman, and the result was a stunning loss to the Cyclones.
This time, Oklahoma pulled out a 37-27 victory on Saturday in Ames. But the methodology by which the Sooners arrived at the result of this year’s Big 12 Conference opener was, too frequently, the same: missed tackles.
Riley said he’ll address it beginning with Monday’s practice.
“It’s through practice structure,” Riley said. “You can’t sit there and say, ‘Well, we just tackled bad.’ Why did we not tackle well in these instances? Sometimes it’s fundamentals. Sometimes it’s something schematic. Or a guy reacting to something he needs to understand where his help is. There’s a lot that goes into it. So we found some key areas. We’ll make some adjustments through practice to address those areas.”
NCAA rules prohibit teams from exceeding 20 hours per week. Does that mean OU will sacrifice game-planning periods in practice to return to a segment dedicated simply to the fundamentals of tackling?
“You just make it an emphasis,” Riley said. “Some of it is physical and some of it is mental. There are some fundamental things that we need to do better that we’re going to spend a lot of time on this week.”
Whether it was slippery running back David Montgomery or big-bodied wide receiver Hakeem Butler leaving Sooner defenders in their wakes, the Cyclones seemed to fix what ailed them the previous week in a 17-3 loss to Iowa, when Iowa State averaged 0.8 yards per carry on 25 rushing attempts, and just 5.5 yards per pass attempt.
Apparently, all they needed was the OU defense.
Against Oklahoma, the Cyclones averaged 3.0 yards per rush and 10.0 yards per throw. Those aren’t awful by anyone’s defensive standards, but they did more than triple and almost double what ISU did in its opener. And, with so many whiffs both in the backfield on running plays, at the line of scrimmage and even deep downfield, no one in the Switzer Center is pretending those numbers are acceptable.
“I watched Saturday probably three times now,” said linebacker Kenneth Murray. “You learn a lot from it. Obviously, we need to tackle better as a group.”
Murray said players are “hungry” to correct the errors that cropped up against Iowa State. After two previous games of mostly efficient tackling, the Cyclones did to the Sooners almost exactly what they did in last year’s monumental upset.
“As a unit, we try not to make the same mistakes twice,” Murray said. “When we make mistakes, we’re always eager to get better. Even after the game, the game was over with and we had just won, but we all knew tackling was an issue, an issue we had to work on. What comes down to tackling is just effort. One guy may miss a tackle, but as long as we have effort to the ball, it will be cleaned up.”
Tackling is more important than ever this week. The No. 5-ranked Sooners (3-0) host Army (2-1), which operates a run-heavy triple-option attack. The Black Knights rely on deception and high-level execution, and if OU defenders are either out of place or don’t wrap up, the result will be a lot of frustration.
“You always kind of battle as a coach, and playing some of the teams we’ve had the last few weeks and the challenge they present schematically — how much time do you spend on scheme? How much time do you spend on fundamentals? There’s always some give and take. There are times when you feel like you spend too much time on fundamentals and maybe there’s something schematically that you weren’t prepared for. Then if you cut the fundamentals a little bit, you feel the leakage there.
“It’s constant. It’s ever-changing. You evaluate your guys each week. You decide what they need, what you have to get better at. That obviously exposed that we have to do a better job there and we’ve got a great job to get that done this week.”
“We always work on tackling throughout all of our practices throughout the week,” Murray said. “It’s nothing different for a coach to be like, ‘Here are some more tackling drills.’ We would always work on tackling, like, every day. It’s just mentally, we have to hone in and make those tackles. Effort-wise, we have to all be running to the ball and get to the ball, so if someone does miss a tackle then someone is there to make it.
“At the end of the day, our coaches put us in the position to work on our tackling every day. So we’ve got to just mentally get ready and lock in to make those plays.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “The Franchise Drive” every weeknight from 6-8 on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and appears throughout the day on other shows on The Franchise. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Hoover also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.