Watching from upstairs, former OU great Teddy Lehman sees every flaw
By Bill Haisten Tulsa World
In six previous seasons as an analyst with the Sooner Sports Radio Network, Teddy Lehman worked from the Oklahoma sideline.
This season, he’s watching games from the broadcast booth high above the field.
From that vantage point, he’s gotten a panoramic look at some really bad defense.
In advance of Saturday’s 11 a.m., ABC-televised Big 12 game at TCU, the ninth-ranked Sooners are 97th nationally in total defense, 107th in pass defense, 65th in run defense and 101st in third-down conversion defense.
It must be a shock to the sensibilities of Lehman, a former two-time Sooner All-American linebacker.
During his senior season in 2003, the Sooners were No. 3 nationally in total defense.
“I think our problems are what we’ve seen from the last couple of years,” said the 36-year-old Lehman, a Tulsa native and former Fort Gibson High School superstar. “A lot could be cured if our guys would just make the plays that they’re in position to make.
“If you’re unblocked and have an opportunity to make a tackle, you have to make it. And as a team, if you routinely don’t make those tackles, you’re not going to play good defense. It has to start there. I don’t care what front or coverage they’re in.”
Oklahoma plays for the first time since Oct. 6, when Texas prevailed 48-45 over the Sooners in the Cotton Bowl; and for the first time since Oct. 7, when OU coach Lincoln Riley fired defensive coordinator Mike Stoops.
“It all comes back to the coaches, and I understand that,” Lehman said. “The buck has to stop somewhere. But you have to make the plays that you’re in position to make. I don’t know if there’s any motivation from a coach that can change that.”
Even with last week’s open date in the schedule, there wasn’t time for OU to totally reinvent itself defensively.
Against TCU, the Sooners probably won’t be much different schematically and they’ll go to battle with the same defenders who struggled against Army and Texas.
In 2001, Lehman was involved in one of the more famous plays in OU history. After Sooner safety Roy Williams executed his “Superman” dive and collided with Texas quarterback Chris Simms as he attempted to release a pass, the wobbly football landed in the hands of Lehman at the Texas 3-yard line.
With two minutes left to play, Lehman barreled into the end zone for a touchdown that would give Oklahoma a 14-3 victory.
The call from ABC’s Brent Musburger: “Longhorns with no timeouts left. Lehman showing blitz. Here’s the blitz! Touchdown, Lehman! Touchdown, Oklahoma! Williams got (Simms) on the blitz! Lehman on the pick! OU is gonna win it again!”
Seventeen years later, Lehman was in the Cotton Bowl press box for the OU-Texas stunner.
One week after totaling only 339 yards and failing to score during the second half of a 19-14 win at Kansas State, the Longhorns had 501 total yards against OU. Texas got points at the end of seven of its first nine possessions and finished a combined 8-of-16 on third- and fourth-down conversion attempts.
On 37 Texas pass attempts, OU recorded only one sack. Longhorn QB Sam Ehlinger completed 69 percent of his passes for 314 yards and two touchdowns.
Lehman was an All-American in 2002 and again in 2003. After playing four NFL seasons with the Detroit Lions, he spent time on the rosters of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars.
As an OU senior, Lehman won the Butkus Award, established in 1985 and given annually to the best linebacker in college football. Three Sooners — Brian Bosworth, Rocky Calmus and Lehman — were Butkus recipients.
Linebackers Kenneth Murray and Curtis Bolton have been consistently pretty good for the 2018 Sooners, but there are myriad issues otherwise.
Since Riley made the move against Stoops, there has been this thought: Might OU defensive players feel responsibility for the in-season dismissal of their coordinator? Might they respond with greater levels of accountability and ferocity?
Just on the basis of possibly heightened determination, could there be improvements?
Not necessarily, Lehman says.
“You may see an initial surge, but if the players haven’t been holding themselves personally accountable up to this point, I wouldn’t expect them all of a sudden to say, ‘Now I’m going to,’ ” Lehman said. “So now, because a coach was let go, a light comes on and you start playing harder?
“If that’s the case, you’re late to the party. That switch should have been flipped (long before now).”