Thu, Nov 13, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Oklahoma puts on fearsome displays of defensive skill

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NORMAN, OKLAHOMA

Even to someone as accustomed to success as Oklahoma co-defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, the Sooners' recent surge has been amazing.

Texas A&M, which scored 73 points last month against Baylor, produced 54 yards and three first downs against OU in a record 77-0 loss last Saturday. The Aggies never crossed their own 41-yard line in the kind of performance that earns defenses nicknames that start with "fearsome."

"That was a great performance, probably the best we've had since we've been here," Stoops said. "The numbers are starting to get mind-boggling. To get in there and play like we have is really gratifying and indicative of how special this team is."

The Sooners have gone eight straight quarters without an offensive touchdown allowed. The big performances have come in revenge games against Oklahoma State and A&M -- both of whom embarrassed the Sooners' defense in losses last year.

Memories from those games burned like a crucible for the fiery Stoops and co-defensive coordinator Brent Venables. OU tackle Dusty Dvoracek said the Sooners' recent surge was lit at the beginning of game preparations for the Cowboys.

"Coach Mike Stoops was so pumped up that tears were coming out of his eyes," Dvoracek said about the first defensive meeting before the OSU game. "He was so ready for us to play hard."

The Sooners lived up to their coaches' wishes -- and more. Even after starting linebacker Lance Mitchell went down with a season-ending knee injury and Pasha Jackson was hobbled with a sprained knee for several games, the Sooners' defensive unit kept humming along.

Head coach Bob Stoops' intense defensive philosophy has been improved this season by emerging talent nurtured by the two coordinators.

The sum has been a devastating unit that ranks in the top 15 in every major statistical category charted by the NCAA and leads the nation in total defense and pass defense.

"We're just playing better as a team," OU linebacker Teddy Lehman said. "We've got a better understanding of what we're doing defensively and most of us have been in the program for another year. Guys are more comfortable with what we're being asked to do and it's reflected in how more consistent we are playing."

The 10-0 Sooners, who face Baylor on Saturday in Norman, Okla., have a defense studded by several star players. The unit features an Outland Trophy nominee in tackle Tommie Harris, a Butkus Award nominee in Lehman and a Thorpe Award nominee in cornerback Derrick Strait.

"I've played Oklahoma six times over the years and this group is as good as any of them," A&M coach Dennis Franchione said. "If you get them to take a bad step or two, they are so fast they can make up for it. They don't miss many tackles, but when they do, there's a host of them around it."

The key for the Sooners' defensive success has been the development of consistent pressure from the front four. That area struggled last year when Harris was slowed by various injuries.

The defensive line runs two deep at every position.

Younger players have supplemented starters Dvoracek, Dan Cody, Jonathan Jackson and Harris. The front line has helped produce 30 of a school-record 44 sacks, including eight by Cody and seven by Dvoracek.

ESPN does not broadcast any regular season NCAA college football games in Taiwan.

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