Who's Hungry?

A stinging defeat in the Fiesta Bowl is motivating a Sooners defense that is eager to make amends
August 10, 2008

THE SIGN hangs prominently in the Oklahoma football complex, recalling comments made by West Virginia quarterback Pat White moments after the Mountaineers had demolished the Sooners, 48--28, in the Fiesta Bowl last January. "I think we were just a little bit hungrier than they were," White said at the time. "I look at that thing every time I'm in there," senior strong safety Nic Harris says.

Oklahoma's defenders needed to take a hard look at themselves after they gave up 525 yards, including 349 on the ground. The memory has motivated a group that must break in a pair of linebackers and two starting cornerbacks in a conference loaded with explosive passing games.

The Sooners, who added a no-huddle set in the spring, have a big-play offense of their own, led by quarterback Sam Bradford, who last year threw for an NCAA freshman-record 36 touchdowns and led the nation in passing efficiency. All five starters on the line return, as do running backs DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown, who combined to rush for 1,375 yards and 22 touchdowns. But if Oklahoma expects to win a sixth Big 12 title in nine years and contend for the national championship, it can't expect to win a shootout every week. That's where Harris and junior middle linebacker Ryan Reynolds come in.

Harris plays the Roy position, a safety-linebacker hybrid that coach Bob Stoops named after Roy Williams, the former Sooner now with the Dallas Cowboys. At 6'3", 230 pounds, Harris is fast enough to cover a wide receiver and big enough to take the pounding a linebacker endures. He had off-season shoulder surgery, so he spent spring practice coaching up the younger safeties. Reynolds, who started seven games last year, must shepherd a relatively green LB corps while shouldering the load left by the departed Curtis Lofton, last season's Big 12 defensive player of the year.

There are no issues along the defensive front, which is so deep that sophomore end Jeremy Beal, who had a breakout game in last year's Big 12 championship win over Missouri, started preseason camp as a backup. As for the interior, junior DeMarcus Granger and sophomore Gerald McCoy, the Big 12 defensive freshman of the year, should tie up blockers well enough for the new linebackers to make plays.

Quite simply, don't expect Oklahoma to get embarrassed again this season.

OKLAHOMA CAN'T EXPECT TO WIN A SHOOTOUT EVERY WEEK.

CONFERENCE: Big 12

COACH: Bob Stoops (10th season)

2007 RECORD: 11--3 (6--2 in Big 12)

FINAL AP RANK: 8

RETURNING STARTERS Offense 8, Defense 6

SCHEDULE

AUGUST
30 Tenn.-Chattanooga

SEPTEMBER
6 Cincinnati
13 at Washington
27 TCU

OCTOBER
4 at Baylor
11 Texas in Dallas
18 Kansas
25 at Kansas State

NOVEMBER
1 Nebraska
8 at Texas A&M
22 Texas Tech
29 at Oklahoma State

KEY GAME
The Red River Shootout will be the first major test for the Sooners, and—as usual—the winner will be the team to beat in the Big 12 South.

WORTH NOTING

Bob Stoops won the national championship in 2000, his second year in Norman, and since the start of that season the Sooners lead Division I-A with 90 victories. However, they have lost in their last four BCS bowls, including a pair of defeats in the title game.

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PHOTOTY RUSSELL/AP (HARRIS)The 230-pound Harris may be listed as a safety, but he sneaks up to the line and makes jarring hits like a linebacker. PHOTOGREG NELSON (BRADFORD)The offense is in good hands with Bradford, who as a freshman led the nation in pass efficiency. PHOTO

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