NORMAN, Okla. — In retrospect, all the signs were obvious Oklahoma had a serious hole in its secondary by the second half of its season opener. Once senior Dakota Austin struggled in the first half against Houston, next up were freshman Parrish Cobb and junior Michiah Quick.
Options No. 2 and 3 show what kind of predicament the Sooners’ coaching staff knew it was in going all the way back to spring.
“Trying to find a consistent playmaker has been somewhat problematic through the first three games. Got a true freshman, a receiver that transferred to corner that didn’t do it until after spring, and the other guy we played with a year ago, held up well, just got off to a bad start,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “[We’ve] just got to keep trying to solve that problem. I wish we could just roll up and play cover 2, but that’s not the world we live in.
Experience and age, or lack thereof, have defined the Sooners’ struggles at cornerbacks this season. They’re fine with Jordan Thomas on one side. But the other side has been a target at which both Houston and Ohio State fired with incredible success.
Three of the four touchdowns Ohio State receiver Noah Brown scored were with Cobb or Quick covering him. Houston picked on the spot throughout the game.
But when spring practice ended in April, neither Cobb nor Quick were part of the Sooners’ plans at the spot.
In the spring, Cobb was a Baylor recruit. His letter of intent was signed. The Sooners didn’t become an option until former Baylor coach Art Briles was fired in May, and Cobb asked Baylor to free him from his National Letter of Intent.
Quick figured to be one of OU’s slot receivers this season. He caught four passes for 66 yards and a touchdown in the spring game. It wasn’t until summer workouts began that Quick changed positions.
One could argue Zack Sanchez’s early departure to the NFL might have caught the coaching staff off guard. But in reality, how could it?
Sanchez was a two-time All-Big 12 defender. He seriously contemplated the jump following the 2014 season. They had to anticipate he was leaving after the 2015 season.
Apparently what caught OU by surprise was the lack of development at the cornerback spots. They have eight on the roster and three of them are freshmen. Parnell Motley and Jordan Parker join that group.
From those who have waited in the wings, apparently sophomore P.J. Mbanasor, redshirt freshman Antoine Stephens and senior Stanvon Taylor are not options. Stephens and Mbanasor didn’t even play against Louisiana-Monroe. Taylor’s seen action primarily on special teams.
“There are players that we’re counting on that have had to play sooner than later,” Mike Stoops said. “But it is what it is. No one cares what grade you are or how long you’ve been playing the position. You’re out there, and we need guys to step up and produce.”
It’s a mixture of tough love and comforting words as the cornerback trial by fire continues. Cobb started the last two games and is likely to hold the job as long as he shows improvement.
Safety Steven Parker said the freshman makes strides in practice. Translating it to the field has to be the next step. Parker went through the rugged experience of playing as a true freshman in 2014. Thomas was right there with him.
“I talk to Parrish a lot. He’s a real good kid. He’s gonna be great here at OU,” Parker said. “I’ve talked to him plenty of times and just told him to keep his head up. He’s a freshman. I was in that situation plenty of times. Even when he got scored on those two times, I didn’t yell at him. I told him to keep his head and keep competing because that’s all you can do.”
Mike Stoops’ frustration is apparent. Cornerback isn’t the only rough spot. OU hasn’t intercepted a pass this season. As a team, it’s only broken up or defended 14 passes in 97 attempts.
“We’re not playing well as a team,” he said. “We didn’t stop the run worth a [expletive] the other day. We got a whole lot better in a lot of ways. It ain’t just the DBs or the corners. That’s not how we look at it. We’re not playing well as a group.”
But the cornerback dilemma isn’t surprising. All the signs were there months before the season began.
John Shinn writes for The Norman Transcript.