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SPORTS: University of Oklahoma

OU Defense Will Be Tested Without Nelson In Lineup

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At first glance, Saturday night's game between Oklahoma and TCU was a woeful display of offensive performance. On further examination, the Horned Frogs and Sooners waged a terrific game, defined by great defensive performances from both teams.

Yes, those games still happen in the offense-happy Big 12. Just not in Waco.

Last year, the Sooners' 24-17 win over TCU in Fort Worth was an anomaly for the two teams as well, although that was really more attributed to bad offense than good defense.

We knew TCU had a good defense—even though they'd already lost two games this season to LSU and Texas Tech—but it's about time to start treating the Oklahoma Sooners defense as if it's for real and not the result of poor opposition.

Unfortunately, the Sooners will be put to the test the rest of the way, now that linebacker Corey Nelson is likely out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. Nelson was having a terrific season, a huge part of the Sooners' resurgence on defense that had the Sooners sixth in scoring defense and ninth in total defense so far this year.

Related Story: Nelson Suffers Torn Pectoral Muscle, Will Miss Remainder Of Season

Saturday, the Sooners held TCU to 16 yards in the first half and zero first downs. I don't care how bad the offense is, that's a very impressive thing to do. For the game, the Sooners only gave up 210 yards and 17 points. You're doing a lot right if those are the opponents' offensive totals in this day and age of college football.

However, the Sooners weren't as good in the second half, allowing TCU to control the clock for almost 13 minutes in the third quarter and gave up two touchdowns after Nelson went out with an injury. The scene may be familiar for the Sooners, and not in a good way.

In 2008 against Texas, OU middle linebacker Ryan Reynolds tore his ACL and missed the rest of the season. For the rest of the game, Texas' Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley abused Reynolds' replacement, Brandon Crow—en route to a 45-35 win. The Sooners improved and wouldn't lose again until falling to Florida in the national championship game.

Related Story: Clay Day: Oklahoma Squeaks By TCU Thanks To Long Touchdown Run

The injury to Reynolds really only prevented the Sooners from winning one game in 2008, but the fear of that struggle translating to 2013 and several games Is legitimate. Waiting in the wings to replace Nelson is freshman Dominique Alexander or redshirt junior Aaron Franklin. Both are talented, but it's probably going to take some time for either to acclimate to being the starter and being counted on to anchor the middle of the defense.

Oklahoma is lucky they face Texas and Kansas the next two weeks before Texas Tech comes to Norman on Oct. 26. Imagine having to face Baylor while breaking in a new middle linebacker—although that may not even matter given the rate the Bears are scoring this season.

The Sooners' defense has been tearing up opponents this season. Whether it's Aaron Colvin in the secondary or Eric Striker getting to the quarterback off the end, everyone on the field has been making plays for Oklahoma, some of them for the first time in their careers. It'd be a shame for an injury—albeit a huge injury—to derail such an encouraging start for a unit that was much-maligned in 2012.

The next two weeks will be key for the Sooners to acclimate to life without Nelson and continue the stifling play we've seen in the first five games of the year. How far the Sooners are able to go this season may depend on it.

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