Behind seven touchdowns from Kyler Murray, the Oklahoma Sooners cruised to a 33-point win over Baylor in Norman Saturday. But for me, that’s not the developing story as the Sooners go to 5-0.
For me, the developing of cornerback Tre Brown is. I think he’s the key to Oklahoma possibly winning a national championship this season, and I’ll explain why.
First, big props to head coach Lincoln Riley for enforcing team rules and sitting Murray for a series. Kyler was late to practice on Friday, and so he didn’t get to start the game. And while nobody will ever say, “Baker who?” you have to give Kyler some serious consideration for the Heisman Trophy at this point, after looking at these numbers:
Murray finished 17 of 21 for 432 yards.
He accounted for seven touchdowns.
His QB rating was 99.4, tied for his best of the season. Murray has been super consistent this season so far, too, hitting the 90-plus mark each week in terms of QBR.
CeeDee Lamb, Lee Morris and Hollywood Brown were fantastic yet again, and Kennedy Brooks stole the show on the ground with 107 yards on eight carries and two TDs.
However, let’s talk defense. Having watched the Sooners since the early 80s, I had always hypothesized without evidence that something our national title teams had in common was an awesome secondary, one that took away the ball at a strong clip. I thought back to guys like Sonny Brown and Rickey Dixon in 1985. I thought about J.T. Thatcher, Ontei Jones, the late Brandon Everage, Derrick Strait and Roy Williams in 2000.
These are teams that helped the Sooners create separation by taking the ball away.
So, I took it upon myself to count the number of Sooners interceptions for each season since 1985. I didn’t find any cause-and-effect, but it shouldn’t surprise you that we really dropped off in the interception department in 1996, 1997, 1998. It shouldn’t surprise you that we magically got better in that department once Bob Stoops arrived (Mike, too). Remember, that the first couple of years were with John Blake players.
Notice, however, the extreme drop-off the past couple of years, and take note that the Oklahoma Sooners defense only has three INTs so far this season, on pace for no more than we’ve had the past two years. In my estimation, this is extraordinarily discouraging when thinking about our national championship chances. Let’s look at the numbers:
Sooners INTs by year (1985-2018):
1985 – 18
1986 – 18
1987 – 25
1988 – 23
1989 – 11
1990 – 20
1991 – 25
1992 – 14
1993 – 17
1994 – 14
1995 – 11
1996 – 5
1997 – 6
1998 – 9
1999 – 16
2000 – 24
2001 – 20
2002 – 24
2003 – 22
2004 – 8 (OU made it to the title game and got trounced, 55-19)
2005 – 13
2006 – 18
2007 – 19
2008 – 19
2009 – 18
2010 – 19
2011 – 15
2012 – 13
2013 – 16
2014 – 12
2015 – 20
2016 – 9
2017 – 9 (missed opportunity last year?)
2018 – 3
Here’s where I tap the breaks… because Tre Brown is helping turn that Oklahoma secondary around, not with INTs yet (although he would have taken one to the house Saturday if only he had held on to it) but with what they call PDs — passes defended.
That means he made contact with the ball to cause an incompletion.
The PD and its impact on a team’s defense reminds me of how the Sooners rolled in 2000. Remember the tipped pass against Oklahoma State to save a Sooners’ 12-7 win? Remember the tipped passes against Florida State, a 13-2 win that was one of the most dominant defensively in the history of college football?
It starts with one guy, but in combination with the improvement we’ve shown at linebacker with Kenneth Murray Jr. anchoring the Oklahoma defense, we have the personnel in place, I believe, to go from good to great. What needs to happen is for them to convert PDs into INTs. I believe there is a correlation between interceptions and championship defenses. It’s one thing to tackle a guy right after he catches a pass; it’s a whole other to take the ball away.
A lot of college teams have the “turnover chain.” I think the University of Miami has one of those.
I’d suggest that Oklahoma get an “interception belt.” As we get into the meat of the Big 12 schedule, especially against OSU, Texas Tech and West Virginia, takeaways will become especially important. I’ll be especially excited to watch Tre Brown continue to improve.
I think he is this close (picture me going “theeeeeees close”) to becoming a national defensive superstar.
Ryan Welton is a digital content and marketing specialist who lives in Oklahoma City. You can find me at ryanwelton.com and bunnygap.com as well as on Twitter @ryanwelton. My YouTube channel is at youtube.com/ryanweltonmusic.