Defense continues steady decline

ARLINGTON, Texas -- After yet another Johnny Manziel touchdown, Mike Stoops didn't hop and scream. Didn't track down the defender who missed the assignment. Oklahoma's otherwise fiery defensive coordinator simply took his headset off and hung it at his side. He didn't say a word. There was nothing to say.

Friday night, it was Johnny Football's turn to sock it to this punching bag of an Oklahoma defense as Texas A&M rolled to a 41-13 pasting in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.

The Aggies set a Cotton Bowl record with 599 yards of offense, even after letting off the gas pedal long before the fourth quarter mercifully came to an end. Manziel broke the individual yardage record, too, making the Sooners look even more ridiculous than they did against West Virginia's Tavon Austin.

"Best player I've ever seen," said Stoops, who also said the same of Austin after he rushed for 344 yards facing the Sooners.

During the offseason, head coach Bob Stoops brought his brother back to resuscitate a defense that had been on the mat the previous two seasons.

Like they had been for decades, the Sooners were dominant defensively through Mike Stoops' first stint in Norman. SEC dominant. Championship dominant. Even against Heisman winners. Ask Florida State's Chris Weinke.

But it has been five years now since the Sooners were serious national title contenders past October, and hope-for-the-best defense is a major reason why. Yet even with the regime change from Brent Venables to Mike Stoops, the defense continued its decline in 2012.

West Virginia put up 49 on the Sooners. With its third-string quarterback, Oklahoma State scored 48. This time, though, the Oklahoma offense couldn't save the defense, as a trio of three-and-outs to begin the second half ignited the Texas A&M rout.

"We've been lucky with the offense bailing us out," said senior defensive lineman David King. "But they couldn't bail us out tonight."

It didn't take long to figure out that Oklahoma would need another half-a-hundred from its offense to have any chance against the Aggies. Hardly fearing the Sooners, Texas A&M took the ball after winning the opening toss, then took it right down the field. Obliterating Oklahoma's game plan out of the gate, Manziel effortlessly dashed for a pair of long runs, including a 23-yard touchdown down the sideline in which the Sooners seemingly gave up on the play early.

At times, Oklahoma was successful in keeping Manziel in the pocket. Except with the Sooners' defensive line getting no penetration and no push, it was like watching a game of backyard football, with eight Mississippi's. Eventually, coverage broke down, leading to big pass plays, one after the next.

"After seven or eight seconds, those receivers aren't even running routes anymore," said senior safety Javon Harris, one of the few Oklahoma defenders to show a little life on Friday. "When our d-line wasn't getting to him, those receivers started finding open spots."

It feels like the previous millennium now, but the Sooners actually played some salty defense early in the season. Through three quarters, Oklahoma hung with Kansas State, then the Sooners overwhelmed Texas Tech and Texas. But once opposing offenses adjusted to Mike Stoops' man-to-man scheme and began spreading the Sooners out, Oklahoma capitulated.

"I don't think there's any question the second half of the year (we played) poorly in most ways," Bob Stoops said. "We've got to make improvements in all areas, run defense, pass defense, pressures, whatever we're doing.

"But again, some of it, too, our players have got to make some improvements. We had guys in position a bunch of times today to make plays, and they didn't make them. The schemes and that kind of stuff only goes so far. Bottom line, it comes down to when you get opportunities to execute, you have got to execute."

Before the scoreboard went final, Oklahoma fans already were pinning Friday's loss on beleaguered senior quarterback Landry Jones, who didn't have his best stuff. But without Jones, this team would have been 8-5. Maybe worse.

These Sooners would have been no closer to contending with Josh Heupel or Jason White or even Sam Bradford quarterbacking them. Not with a defensive line that continued to get thoroughly blown off the ball, linebackers that whiffed on tackles to the point Mike Stoops preferred not to use them, and a secondary that, while solid, was far from imposing.

When asked for a message of hope for 2013, all King could muster was that the defense "couldn't get any worse." Then again, the Sooners graduate the bulk of their line and two steady defensive backs in Harris and cornerback Demontre Hurst. Oklahoma also could lose its only two All-Big 12 performers on defense in cornerback Aaron Colvin and free safety Tony Jefferson, both of whom are considering jumping early to the NFL.

"We didn't have enough defense," said Mike Stoops, who was referring to the Cotton Bowl, but could have been talking about the entire season.

"We gotta regroup. Take a look at ourselves in the mirror. And improve going forward."

Until the Sooners do, more nightmares like Friday await for a program that has utterly and completely lost its way on the side of the ball where championships used to be won.