Oklahoma defense hoping to sustain momentum

Oklahoma’s Tre Brown pulls down a Texas ball carrier during the Red River Showdown Saturday at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

NORMAN — Oklahoma will close the season against a handful of Big 12 teams that shredded its defense over the past three seasons.

Call it a revenge tour.

The sixth-ranked Sooners’ numbers are up across the board defensively, the latest development being last week’s 34-27 win over Texas. Next, the challenge is sustaining momentum against other league schools that have run wild against OU in recent history.

West Virginia (3-3, 1-2 Big 12) isn’t its old self offensively but plays at Owen Field on Saturday (11 a.m., FOX). Road games at Baylor (6-0) and Oklahoma State (4-2), however, still await.

“[After the Texas game] we were really proud and really enjoyed the moment,” cornerback Tre Brown said. “Knowing where we came from and where we’ve been, it hadn’t really been that good. The fact the defense put up one of the most complete games we had seen, very prideful in that moment. As far as now, we got past that. It’s time to work now.”

OU survived last season’s game at West Virginia 59-53, leaving Morgantown by the hair of its chin. It was a must-win for the Sooners to reach the Big 12 championship game and ultimately the College Football Playoff.

“It’s crazy looking back at it,” Brown said. “We knew what to expect going into that game. They had a big-time quarterback in Will Grier who was really good. And outside receivers that were really good. We knew we had to bring our A-game that year. We’re gonna try to not have a shootout in this game. We’re gonna try to do our job this year.”

West Virginia is struggling offensively, scoring 24.2 points per game, and may not have quarterback Austin Kendall healthy enough to play Saturday.

But down the stretch, Alex Grinch’s defensive turnaround will be put to the test repeatedly against other offenses that have bullied OU in the past.

Baylor has put up several big totals against the Sooners over the past half-decade, including 523 yards and 41 points in 2017 and 544 yards and 48 points in 2014.

Oklahoma State has, too. The Cowboys compiled 661 total yards and 52 points in the 2017 game at Stillwater and 640 yards in a 48-47 loss at OU a year ago.

Prolific offense helped OU go 3-1 in those games.

“It feels great, man, for once in a lifetime, the defense carried this team,” cornerback Parnell Motley said of the Texas game.

Houston’s 31 points and 408 yards are the most surrendered against the Sooners this season. In five other games, OU has allowed an average of 18.2 points and 326.8 yards.

Junior middle linebacker Kenneth Murray is one of the biggest differences in this defense from previous ones. Players and coaches feel there’s an enforcer at that position, something that has lacked.

The fact Murray is playing at a high level — the Associated Press put him on its midseason All-America second team on Tuesday — is helping back up his vocal leadership the past two seasons.

“I feel as if you’re seen before you’re heard,” defensive back Brendan Radley-Hiles said. “You have to put in the work first. You have to get your results first before people listen to you, and I feel he’s the prime example of a person you’d listen to and take advice from and follow his lead because he has the results. He puts the work in to get those the results. If he speaks, I definitely make sure I listen. We have great conversations.”

Murray is staying serious as ever following the win over the Longhorns, with a handful of spread offenses still on the schedule and a little less than a month before the first College Football Playoff rankings are released.

“Just realizing what it took to play great football in the first place. That preparation, that time we put in,” Murray said of maintaining this level of play. “Understanding that we can’t cheat the process if we want to play well. That’s really just the message: not cheating the process.”

———o———

West Virginia at Oklahoma

When: 11 a.m., Saturday

Place: Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium

Records: West Virginia (3-3, 1-2 Big 12); AP No. 5 Oklahoma (6-0, 3-0)

Line: OU (-32.5)

TV: FOX

Radio: KADA-FM 102.3 

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