Calvin Thibodeaux presides over a defensive line unit that has performed as one of the nation’s best in 2020 and has been a catalyst for Oklahoma’s major defensive improvement this season. After losing third-round 2020 NFL Draft pick Neville Gallimore and without starter Ronnie Perkins (suspended season’s first five games), OU’s line has stepped up to lift the defense to top-15 national rankings in yards allowed, rushing yards allowed, pass efficiency rating, sacks, tackles for loss, opponent third-down conversion percentage and opponent first downs per game. As a result, the Sooners have won six straight games and are 11th in the CFP rankings.
Thibodeaux is in his fifth season on the Oklahoma staff, and the Sooners won Big 12 titles each of his first four years and advanced to the College Football Playoff in three of those campaigns. He coached the defensive line in 2016, defensive ends in 2017 and has been back with the defensive line since 2018.Led by AP first-team All-Big 12 selection Neville Gallimore, second-team all-league pick Ronnie Perkins and Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year LaRon Stokes, Thibodeaux’s defensive line played a big role in OU improving from 114th in total defense in 2018 (453.8 ypg) to 38th in 2019 (356.4 ypg), and from 59th in rushing defense in 2018 (159.8 ypg) to 32nd in 2019 (134.1). He was named one of Rivals’ top 25 recruiters of 2018 and 2019.
Oklahoma’s defensive linemen/ends have accounted for 38.5 of the team’s 72 tackles for loss and 18 of the team’s 33 sacks. Among teams that have played more than four games, OU ranks fourth nationally in rushing defense (88.1 ypg), fifth in opponent third-down conversion percentage (27.3) and sacks per game (3.7), 11th in tackles for loss per game (8.0), 13th in pass efficiency defense (112.7 rating), 14th in total defense (322.3 ypg) and 15th in opponent first downs per game (17.4). All are improvements over 2019. During the team’s six-game winning streak, OU leads the nation with its 27 sacks and 194 sack yardage.
Redshirt junior Isaiah Thomas had not started a game prior to 2020 but has started all nine contests this season and has posted team highs of 11.5 tackles for loss (69 yards) and 8.0 sacks (59 yards). He leads the Big 12 with his 0.9 sacks per game and ranks fifth nationally in the category among players who have played more than five games (third among linemen). Thomas has added two pass breakups, seven QB hurries, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. Junior Ronnie Perkins missed the season’s first five games but in his four games since returning has 8.0 tackles for loss (43 yards), 4.0 sacks (29 yards) and six QB hurries. He is on pace for 9.0 sacks and 18.0 tackles for loss if he had played in all nine games (would rank second nationally in both categories).Newcomer Perrion Winfrey has 6.0 tackles for loss (20 yards), three pass breakups and a blocked field goal in overtime vs. Texas.