NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma’s defense has passed test after test this season.
Yet, TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin brings a test the Sooners have not seen in 2013 when TCU visits Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Saturday. It’s a scary prospect for Sooners’ fans nine months after they watched Johnny Manziel run around, weave through and flat out outrun the Sooners defense in the Cotton Bowl last January.
“He’s a great running quarterback and he has a great arm,” defensive end Geneo Grissom said. “We’re going to have our hands full keeping him in the pocket.”
Quite simply, OU’s defense has been outstanding during the 4-0 start. The defense has been the driving, consistent force while the offense struggled to find its way early. Louisiana-Monroe, West Virginia and Tulsa brought spread attacks to the table, testing the Sooners’ secondary, while Notre Dame brought a physical run game. The 4-0 record makes it clear that OU passed both tests.
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops’ move to a three-man front to help increase the overall versatility and make the unit faster has paid off thus far but OU hasn’t seen a runner at the quarterback position like the Horned Frogs’ signal-caller. And Stoops didn’t think twice when asked if Boykin presents a test as a running quarterback which his defense hasn’t seen in 2013.
“Without question," Stoops said. "When you look at his speed, athleticism, ability to run and cut and then throw the football, he’s a very dynamic player.”
Fortunately for OU, it won’t be the first time it had to deal with Boykin’s unique running ability. One game before the Sooners’ defense was embarrassed by Manziel, they handled Boykin well in a 24-17 win on Dec. 1, 2012. He was held to 36 yards on 11 carries while completing 17 of 31 passes for 231 yards and one touchdown.
Yet, the majority of the Sooners’ defense didn’t make major contributions on that day, watching from the sidelines as their teammates slowed down the Horned Frogs offense. Seven new starters will line up against Boykin on Saturday with the hope of being as prepared as possible to keep a TCU offense, which has struggled this season, under wraps.
“A lot of guys don’t necessarily know what kind of athlete he is,” said cornerback Aaron Colvin, one of the few Sooners’ defenders who was on the field in Fort Worth that afternoon. “But when you watch him on film or TV, you can see he’s elusive with the ball. You can tell them all you want but when you see a guy on the field, it’s a different feel than what you’ve seen on film.”
OU’s scheme changes were made, in part, for games like this and quarterbacks like Boykin. Their 3-3-5 system gets more speed and athleticism on the field to help deal with athletic quarterbacks who can make defenses pay with their legs and arm.
One of the key players on Saturday could be linebacker Eric Striker, the main player who has seen increased playing time in the 3-3-5 system. The sophomore spends most of his time as a rush linebacker-- his hit on quarterback Tommy Rees caused Corey Nelson’s interception against Notre Dame last Saturday-- and he will be asked to help corral Boykin on Saturday.
“He’s very shifty and fast,” Striker said. “Our scheme will help [contain him) and our athletic ability [will help contain him].”
While Boykin is far from a Manziel-like test for the Sooners, the sophomore is a different test than they've faced this season. It’s a test the Sooners feel better prepared for this season than they may have been in the past.
“We’re faster and being more aggressive,” Stoops said of his defense. “We’ll, hopefully, use that aggressiveness to contain him, but you still have to be able to control their run game as well.”