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How do you stop Oklahoma?

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This week I had the opportunity to chat with Matt Hofeld from the Oklahoma Crimson and Cream Machine blog. Matt is an authority on Sooner football and he has a great blog on the subject.

Matt : What kind of depth do the Huskies have on defense? Are they young? Experienced? Somewhere in between?

UW is extremely young on defense. The entire Husky team only averages 2.12 years in overall experience. Washington has two true freshman that are starting or playing a lot on the defensive line. Alameda Ta'amu, and Senio Kelemente are HS All Americans but are over matched as freshman. The defensive backfield sports two converted safeties at cornerback. Red shirt Quinton Richardson has played well so far and he is flanked by senior Mesphin Forrester. Nate Williams is a true sophomore that will start at safety alongside walk on Tripper Johnson who is a 26 year old sophomore playing football for the first time since HS. The best LB is true sophomore Mason Foster. Junior Donald Butler backs up the middle and they have another walk on by the name of Josh Gage mans the outside. The Huskies have some good young talent but they are missing some key pieces and experience.

John: How do you stop the Oklahoma offense?

Last year I would have just said, "take them on the road!" Oklahoma struggled on the road last season with losses at Colorado and Texas Tech and a near miss at Iowa State. However this is a new year and a new monster when it comes to the Oklahoma offense. They installed a fast paced, new huddle look in the off-season and it has been extremely successful. They are so fast and so versatile at the skill positions that they can use the same 11 guys and line up in several different sets. DeMarco Murray can burn you on a 25 yard run out of the backfield on one play and then line up in the slot on the next. Tight end Jermaine Gresham is a mismatch for just about anyone who tries to cover him because he is 6-6 and 261 pounds. He'll line up in several different spots as will Juaquin Iglesias, Manny Johnson and Ryan Broyles. You don't know where they'll be from play-to-play and the pace at which they run their plays doesn't allow for the defense to make substitutions.

The bottom line is I don't know how to answer your question because I haven't seen them stopped this season. I would start by getting pressure on quarterback Sam Bradford so that he doesn't have time to find the mismatch but that won't be easy either. He hasn't been sacked yet.

The whole key to this team is how much they have grown since last year. They were very young last year at all the skill positions and struggled to overcome the adversity they encountered on the road. If they can keep their poise then there may be no stopping them.

John: I am hearing that the Oklahoma defense is strong up front but has some holes in the back seven. Is that true?

Matt: Oklahoma is very strong up front. So far they've done an excellent job at stuffing the run. Opponents are only averaging 1.7 yards per rush against the Sooners and while the linebackers have a lot to do with that it is the defensive line that is wreaking havoc in the offensive backfield. In both of Oklahoma's first two contests they've knock their opponents starting quarterback out of the game. Once you move from the front line you find that the Sooners only return on starting linebacker. Ryan Reynolds moves from playing on the outside last year to middle linebacker this year and ranks third on the team in tackles. Keenan Clayton is a hybrid linebacker who plays on the outside. He had been a reserve safety his entire career at Oklahoma but has fit in nicely at linebacker. I call him a hybrid because he has the size and strength of a linebacker but the speed of a defensive back. On the other outside position is redshirt freshman Travis Lewis. Lewis packs a big punch and leads the team in tackles.

In the secondary only strong safety Nic Harris returns to play the same position as last year. Free safety Lendy Holmes has moved back-and-forth from safety to corner during his time at OU. He does have an interception on the season but also got burned on a touchdown last week. Junior Brian Jackson and sophomore Dominique Franks play the corner positions and are both new starters this year.

The secondary was strongly tested last week against a very good Cincinnati receiving corps. After surrendering 200 passing yards in the first half they gave up virtually nothing in the second. I would like to think that they grew up in that first half.

Matt: Two walk-ons starting on defense! How concerned are you facing this OU offense? 

John: I think Oklahoma is capable of putting 45-55 points on Washington. The key for Washington on defense is going to be turnovers. If they can make the Sooners beat themselves a few times it will help. On offense it will be the ability to keep pace with Oklahoma scoring and stay within striking range.

John: How many Oklahoma fans are going to make it out for this one?

Matt: I don't know that I can give you an exact number but OU fans have been looking forward to this game for years. Sooner fans like to travel and Oklahoma has sold their allotment of tickets. Many fans have also gone to the internet and to ticket brokers to get their tickets as well.

There should be a strong contingent of OU fans there Saturday evening.

Matt: Let's talk O-Line. Who are the guys protecting Jake Locker?

John: Center Juan Garcia is a sixth year senior on all the national watch lists. Seniors Jordan White-Frisbee, and Casey Bulyca flank him. Ryan Tolar is also in the rotation at guard. Out at tackle we have sophomore Cody Habben, and junior Ben Ossai. The line is supposed to be strength this year because all of them are returning starters and they have great size. I think the line has underachieved in the first two games of the year. They will have to elevate their game on Saturday.

John: We hear that the Sooners have the best offensive line in college football. What can we expect from them?

Matt: I don't know if they are the best but they certainly are among the elite. After taking some criticism for getting dominated by a smaller, faster West Virginia defensive line in the Fiesta Bowl they worked on becoming quicker themselves in the off season. Led by All-American left guard George "Duke" Robinson Oklahoma's offensive line has dominated their counterparts this season.

There are four seniors on the line (Robinson, LT Phil Loadholt, C Jon Cooper, RG Brandon Walker) and one junior (RT Trent Williams). They average 6-5, 311 lbs in size and have paved the way for Oklahoma running backs to average over 4 yards per carry. They have provided exceptional protection for quarterback Sam Bradford who has yet to be sacked this season.

Matt: Alright, let's talk Jake Locker. How is he living up to the hype and what does he bring to the table regarding this game?

John: Jake is a mobile QB with great size and speed. He can score from anywhere on the field and he has the uncanny ability to make people miss. Jake's passing is still a major work in progress. He missed three sure TD passes against BYU when his receivers were three steps ahead of the opposition. Until he makes people respect the deep ball teams are going to stack the line of scrimmage to contain him.