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Phil Taylor
September 15, 2003
Oklahoma's D stifled 'Bama but had its soft spots revealed
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September 15, 2003

Too Fast, Too Furious?

Oklahoma's D stifled 'Bama but had its soft spots revealed

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Oklahoma defensive Tackle Tommie Harris was reasonably pleased with his unit's performance in the No. 1-ranked Sooners' 20-13 win over Alabama last Saturday. "I don't like that we gave up a touchdown," he said, "but giving up 10 points on the road to a very good team is pretty decent." Harris was apparently forgetting a late field goal that boosted the Crimson Tide's point total, but after watching the thunderous hits he and his teammates laid on the Alabama offense, no one wanted to risk correcting him.

The Sooners sacked quarterback Brodie Croyle five times, intercepted him twice and made tackles so violent they brought gasps from the crowd, which was exactly what you'd expect of a unit widely regarded as the best in the nation and potentially among the best ever. Six Oklahoma starters—linemen Harris and Jonathan Jackson, linebackers Teddy Lehman and Lance Mitchell, and defensive backs Brandon Everage and Derrick Strait—were on the preseason watch lists for national awards at their positions. "The thing that sets them apart is their speed," Crimson Tide coach Mike Shula said. "As fast as they are on film, they're faster in person."

Cornerback Antonio Perkins demonstrated as much on the game's first play, when he closed on a Croyle square-out with breathtaking speed and made the interception. The linebackers and linemen are like sprint-relay teams in pads as well. Lehman, who can run the 40-yard dash in a tailback-worthy 4.35 seconds, would be the anchor man.

Yet Alabama showed that the Oklahoma defense isn't impenetrable. Tailback Shaud Williams slashed through it for 91 yards, and Croyle, when he wasn't being tossed around like a Hacky Sack, scrambled effectively. The Tide's plan was to use the Sooners' speed against them, throwing screens to blunt their pass rush and running counters to catch them in overpursuit. The strategy succeeded well enough to provide Oklahoma's future opponents with some useful footage to study.

"We knew they were going to run some of that stuff against us, and we know we'll probably see more of it," said Mitchell. "People are going to throw everything they've got at us, and we take that as a compliment."

Do the Sooners have a championship offense to complement that rampaging D? Jason White's performance was heartening in that regard. The senior quarterback, who has been sidelined with ACL injuries in each of the past two seasons, threw for 259 yards and two touchdowns. 'Jason threw some excellent deep balls and looked sharp overall," said Sooners coach Bob Stoops. "His health is something we're depending on."

Still, the Sooners depend even more on that defense, which holds itself to some awfully high standards. "We played O.K., but we want to be great every week," said Harris. "Other teams are going to look at this game and see some things they think they can attack. We've got to make sure we get those things fixed in a hurry." That shouldn't be a problem. Oklahoma's defenders do just about everything in a hurry.