Oklahoma defense has something to prove in Rose Bowl

Dec 30, 2017 - 4:11 PM Most of the focus on the lead-up to the Rose Bowl between No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 3 Georgia has centered around the Sooners' offense vs. the Bulldogs' defense -- strength against strength.

Oklahoma's defense enters the game feeling like it has something to prove after allowing an average of nearly 385 yards of total offense per game this season.

"I've always told our players -- we know what good defense is," Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. "Statistics can be misleading in a lot of ways, whatever. It doesn't matter. We're here, we're ready to play a great Georgia team."

Stoops' defenses have, for the most part, fared well in recent years outside of Big 12 play, including earlier this season at Ohio State, when the Buckeyes managed only 350 yards and 16 points.

"Winning is the only statistic that matters," Stoops said. "But there is still a way that you need to play the game, the techniques you need to use to be successful, all those things are really what, as coaches, that we pride ourselves on.

"Our schemes, our gap integrity, our ability to tackle, get off blocks, those things are going to be the things that win us this game or not."

Linebacker Emmanuel Beal, Oklahoma's leading tackler, is looking forward to a chance to prove in Monday's playoff semifinal game that the Sooners defense is better than the perception.

"They're a physical, run-downhill type of offense," Beal said of Georgia. "SEC of course. SEC got that big name -- they're bigger, faster, stronger. I'm just like, 'We're going to see.'"

Georgia has the best rushing offense the Sooners have faced all season. The Bulldogs average 263.5 rushing yards, good for No. 10 nationally.

"We've got to be physical, come downhill, and we've got to be great tacklers," Beal said. "All year, people have been talking about we haven't been physical, we haven't been great tacklers in open field or whatnot."

Middle linebacker Kenneth Murray figures to be a big part of Oklahoma's push to slow down Georgia's running game. Murray, a freshman, has started every game this season and is third on the team with 69 tackles.

Oklahoma's best defender is linebacker/defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, a first-team All-Big 12 selection who has recorded at least half a sack in eight of 13 games. He has eight sacks on the season.

The Sooners figure to try to stop the run and force Georgia freshman quarterback Jake Fromm to test Oklahoma's defense downfield.

"They put him in good positions to do what he does," Stoops said. "We don't look at him as a game manager. How they set up their game plan week to week, they do an excellent job. They know how to get him in the situations they like.

"That being said, they don't want to be third-and-long all day. They do a good job keeping themselves in manageable situations."

NOTES: Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield needs 118 yards of total offense to break Oklahoma's single-season record of 4,767, set by Sam Bradford in 2008. He needs 381 passing yards to break Bradford's school record of 4,720 passing yards, set that same season. ... TE Mark Andrews and OT Orlando Brown joined Mayfield as unanimous All-Americans. Andrews won the Mackey Award as the top tight end in college football. ... K/P Austin Seibert leads the nation with 75 extra-point makes and has yet to miss one this season. He's also 15 for 18 on field goal attempts and is averaging 42.6 yards per punt.

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