OU secondary not living up to nickname

NORMAN, Okla. -- During the preseason, Oklahoma's defensive backs proudly proclaimed on ESPN they would be calling themselves the "Sharks."

After such a poor performance in Waco, it's time to drop the nickname. A secondary so seemingly special in September has turned out to be rather unremarkable in November.

Last month, the "Sharks" made Texas Tech's Seth Doege look like an All-Big 12 quarterback. Saturday, they might have won Robert Griffin III the Heisman.

"RGIII" threw for a school-record 479 yards and four touchdowns, including a game-winning 34-yard bomb with eight seconds left.

It's crazy to ponder, but the Sooners were lucky Griffin didn't gash them more. His 80-yard touchdown pass to Kendall Wright on the second play from scrimmage was negated by holding. Griffin just overthrew a wide-open Tevin Reese for what would have resulted in an easy 85-yard score, and Terrance Williams bobbled, then dropped what would have been a 46-yard touchdown.

Five games into the season, and more specifically after the Sooners obliterated Texas, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops was fielding questions about whether this was his best secondary yet. He was fielding very different questions on Saturday night.

"What was going on? They were beating us," Stoops said. "When they spread you out the way they do, and have the ability to run the football, they stretch you out. A lot of guys have to make some one-on-one battles. In the end, they out-executed us more than we out-executed them."

More than once, safety Javon Harris turned receivers loose behind him after biting on play-action. Other times he was too slow to come up and make a tackle. In the first half, with Oklahoma blitzing, Wright hauled in a quick slant, then made Harris whiff before racing 55 yards to set up Baylor's first touchdown.

Having witnessed Harris come up slow on the slant, Baylor brilliantly dialed up a slant-and-go off playaction against him later in the second quarter. Even with linebacker Travis Lewis providing coverage underneath, Harris bit on the fake, allowing Reese to break untethered downfield for a 69-yard touchdown.

"They didn't do a good enough job covering," said Stoops, when asked what impact playaction had on the safeties getting burned. "They weren't involved in the run. It was more their route running and us not being able to cover them. They just worked us."

To be fair, Harris was hardly the only "Shark" to get worked.

Jamell Fleming got flagged for a pair of pass interference penalties, the second coming on 4th-and-11. It didn't matter, as Williams still came up with a 23-yard reception setting up the go-ahead touchdown that put the Bears up 31-24 late in the third quarter.

Then on the final drive, with Harris on the sideline and Sam Proctor in at safety, Griffin located Williams slicing open between Proctor and cornerback Demontre Hurst for the game-winning score.

"Robert Griffin is a terrific player," defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. "But we did a real poor job playing with discipline. Didn't coach 'em good enough. Didn't have any answers."

What's more, none of the "Sharks" -- not Tony Jefferson, not Aaron Colvin -- forced a big play, either. No turnovers. No interceptions. No momentum-changing hits.

"In the end, they made a few more big plays than we did," Stoops said. "That was the difference in the game."

In August, the OU players were outspoken in gunning for the school's eighth national championship. "Chase for Eight" they called it. Now, they'll have to settle for pursuing an eighth Big 12 championship.

But to bring home that consolation prize, OU must topple Oklahoma State, which owns the second-best passing offense in the country.

In October, that looked to be a battle of strengths. Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon against OU's "Sharks."

Lately, though, the "Sharks" have lost their bite. About time they lost the moniker, too.

Jake Trotter covers University of Oklahoma football for SoonerNation. He can be reached at trotterjake@gmail.com. and look for answers every Friday.

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