"He told us everything that was coming," said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. "He told us everything they would do, and how they would do it. And everything he said they would do, they did."
Venables stressed the importance of forcing Harrell off of his first read. When he's able to find that guy, his completion percentage hovered around 70%. In ensuing film study the coordinator would point out to the Sooners how comfortable and casual Harrell looked in the pocket. "It's like he's writing a book back there," noted McCoy, whose mission it became to disrupt the quarterback's progressions, to afflict the comfortable.
Having been sacked five times all season, Harrell was taken down four times in Norman—once by McCoy—and hurried into bad throws on numerous occasions. How do you disrupt Tech's spread offense? You occlude the quarterback's passing lanes. You get your arms up. Against this offense, if you bat down a ball, it's as good as a sack.
McCoy seemed more delighted by the pass he swatted down than his sack. He has been working on his vertical jump at least since his senior year at Southeast High in Oklahoma City. Mike Branch, the Spartans' football coach, recalls the day McCoy found himself in a spot of trouble: "It was during his senior year, in science class. He was standing there, looking at the table, and all of a sudden he jumped on top of it. The science teacher took exception. She was a little heated about it. They brought him to me. I asked, 'Why did you do it?' And he said, 'Coach, I just wanted to see if I could.'"
Naturally gregarious, McCoy can't bring himself to engage in the traditional on-field trash talk, other than to tell an offensive lineman the first time he beats him, "How'd you like that move? I've got five more where that came from."
As the Red Raiders fell behind by three, then four, then five touchdowns, things got chippy in the trenches. McCoy didn't overreact. Hit from behind, bumped and elbowed after the whistle, he would flash an indulgent smile, assuring the Tech players, "Look, it's cool. I understand you're angry. You gotta do what you gotta do. But I'm just gonna keep coming."
As did the entire defense. The Air Raid converted one of 13 third downs. As dominant as McCoy and his fellow down linemen were, no unit shone more brightly than Oklahoma's linebackers. Considered a weak link in the preseason, they absorbed another blow during the Texas game, when middle 'backer Ryan Reynolds tore his right ACL and was lost for the season.
His replacement, redshirt freshman Austin Box, was everywhere on Saturday night; his nine tackles included three behind the line of scrimmage. The only Sooner with more takedowns was outside linebacker Travis Lewis, a 6'2", 232-pound converted high school running back. Lewis was demoted to second string in the off-season for butting heads with strength coach Jerry Schmidt. So luminous was Lewis's talent, however, that Venables—without Stoops's permission—put him back on the first team on the eve of the season. In the most important game to be played at Owen in eight years, Lewis racked up 13 tackles, forced a fumble and returned an interception 47 yards.
No one defends Leach's spread better than Venables, his old friend and former associate at Oklahoma. "The perception is they're doing a million things," says Venables. "In reality they're just executing nine or 10 things really well."
After nine years of busting his butt to avoid being embarrassed by Leach, Venables has a few things figured out. "Depending on the formation, where the back is, you can really break them down," Lewis said afterward. "We really took advantage of their tendencies tonight."