Too Fast, Too Furious? Oklahoma's D stifled 'Bama but had its soft spots revealed

September 14, 2003

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. --Phil Taylor

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID BERGMAN CRACK BACK Brodney Pool and the speedy Sooners pounded Croyle butfell victim to screens and counters.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)