Oklahoma Switching to a 3-4 Defense?!
Bob Stoops
Posted Feb 2, 2013

According to sources, Oklahoma coaches have told incoming recruits that the team will likely switch to a 3-4 defense in the fall. CFN's Terry Johnson weighs in on why the Sooners would make the move, what it takes to run the 3-4, and whether or not OU should use this scheme in 2013.

By Terry Johnson
Follow me @TPJCollFootball

National Signing Day hasn't even arrived yet, and we've already seen our first bombshell. According to a report in The Oklahoman, the Sooner coaches have told incoming recruits that they will likely switch to a 3-4 defense this fall.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that Bob Stoops needed to shake things up on that side of the ball. The Sooner D has steadily declined over the last three years, finishing 64th nationally in total defense after fielding a Top 10 unit in 2009. Last year, OU's run defense was one of the worst in the nation, allowing almost 200 yards per contest (94th) and a whopping 5.17 yards per carry (113th).

However, the biggest reason that the Sooners are thinking about making this change is because the defensive line has very little experience returning. After losing Jamarkus McFarland, Casey Walker, and Stacy McGee to graduation, Jordan Phillips is the only Sooner big man that's seen any significant playing time at the FBS level. Since OU has never had a shortage of talent at LB, the conventional wisdom is that implementing the 3-4 would help Stoops get his best eleven players on the field to stop the explosive offenses of the Big 12.

While moving to a new scheme might seem like the most logical answer to Oklahoma's struggles on defense, implementing it this season is a bad idea. After all, this approach requires a much different skill set than the hybrid 4-3/4-2-5 look that the Sooners have used throughout Stoops' extremely successful tenure in Norman.

A closer look at the nuts and the bolts of the 3-4 defense will bear this out. In order to be successful, the 3-4 requires two things. First, it relies on having big defensive linemen. The average nose tackle usually weighs anywhere from 325 to 350 pounds, and the average defensive end hovers around 280 pounds. The big uglies need the extra size in this scheme because they'll be responsible for manning two gaps while preventing the offensive linemen from getting to the next level to block the LBs.

In addition to size up front, every 3-4 defense needs to have a wealth of talent at outside linebacker. Arguably the toughest position to recruit in college football, the typical OLB in the 3-4 is a little bigger than a 4-3 defensive end, yet every bit as fast as a safety. He's effective as a pass rusher, but also fast enough to drop into coverage. More importantly, the OLB must excel against the run since he's usually responsible for the outside gap and off-tackle hole on running plays -- the bread and butter of most collegiate ground games.

The specialized nature of the 3-4 is what will cause so many problems for the Sooners if they choose to utilize it this fall. Oklahoma has only three defensive linemen on the current roster weighing over 300 pounds, leaving it extremely thin at one of the most important spots on the field. And while OU should have enough talent at defensive end in the 3-4 scheme, it doesn't have a true fit at OLB. The converted linebackers would be too small for this defense, and the converted DEs are a liability in pass coverage.

Simply put, the Sooners are an additional recruiting class or two away from having the type of players that they need to run the prototypical 3-4 defense that Alabama and Georgia use. Without more size up front and the right players at OLB, the Oklahoma defense would be better off running its traditional 4-man front - which its current players were recruited to play in - rather than trying to place several square pegs into round holes.

That way, the coaching staff could move on to more important issues - such as how it's going to replace Landry Jones, arguably the greatest signal caller in school history.