- Rating: 118.10 (46th in the country)
- Yards Per Game: 251.1 (100th)
- Yards Per Attempt: 6.7 (58th)
- Completion Percentage: 55.4 (33rd)
- Interceptions: 19 (11th)
- Touchdowns: 22 (86th)
In the pass-happy Big 12, however, those aren't too shabby. More sophisticated measures likely would show the Sooners did a pretty good job stopping the pass. College football statistician extraordinaire Phil Steele, for example, ranked OU 11th in "pass efficiency" defense.
OU's opponents in '09 will share that same proclivity for the pass, so the performance of the Sooner secondary should go a long way towards determining if OU will win a fourth conference title in a row.
The strength of the group clearly lies at cornerback, where OU boasts one of the best tandems in the country. He Who Dared Call Out Tebow, junior Dominique Franks, will man the "field" corner spot. The former Union Redskin made second team All-Big 12 in '08 after recording 10 pass deflections on the season. The opportunistic Franks also turned two turnovers into touchdowns.
"Boundary" corner Brian Jackson returns as well. The unheralded senior quietly put together a strong 2008 campaign, earning an honorable mention all-conference nod. Jackson finished fourth on the team with 66 tackles, and he broke up 10 passes. Jackson also snared three picks on the year, while forcing two fumbles.
The safety spots are where it starts to get murky, as all-conference performers and longtime starters Nic Harris and Lendy Holmes are gone. The coaching staff has raved about junior Quinton Carter, who will take over for Holmes at the free safety position. Carter worked his way into the mix last season, earning two starts when the Sooners went to a five defensive back lineup. Carter's ferocious hitting has become his calling card--ask Jeremy Maclin. As he takes on a bigger role on OU's defense, though, Carter's coverage skills in centerfield will take on greater importance this year.
Sam Proctor, a sophomore who played special teams in ’08, appears to be the favorite to start at strong safety. The coaching staff’s assessment of Proctor seems to shift about as often the winds sweeping down the Oklahoma plains, so talented underclassmen such as Joseph Ibiloye and Javon Harris could make a push in the preseason. (With his size, it wouldn't be surprising to see Ibiloye move to linebacker at some point.)
Ibiloye and Harris also figure to get looks when the Sooners go to a traditional nickel package. Others vying for the nickel spot include Desmond Jackson and Lamar Harris. Keep in mind, however, that strongside linebacker Keenan Clayton is a converted safety. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables really values Clayton's versatility in that spot, so he'll continue to see plenty of action as a quasi-DB in passing situations.
The losses of Holmes and Nic Harris at safety certainly loom large heading into a year in which OU has depth and seasoned vets at every other position on defense. The upside: Harris and Holmes each played more than their fair share of poor pass coverage during their time in Norman. Each was known to bust an assignment or two as well. Overall, Harris and Holmes were good, but Homerism wouldn't say great. They're far from irreplaceable.
Hopefully, an outstanding front seven and strong cornerback play will give the new safeties cover, enabling them to get their feet wet early before key matchups with the wide-open offenses of teams like Texas and Oklahoma State.