NORMAN — Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables unveiled a new wrinkle to the gameplan last week, playing three, sometimes four, defensive ends.
Texas' slower offensive linemen were overwhelmed.
Moving Frank Alexander and David King to defensive tackle on passing downs, the Sooners used special blitzes to create confusion, which helped the Sooners compile a school-record eight sacks.
The strategy isn't a new concept. Football coaches have used it for years to confuse offensive linemen.
As soon as the ball is snapped, Alexander and King, lined up in the middle, instead of charging straight ahead, ran wide around ends R.J. Washington and Ronnell Lewis, who filled the inside gaps.
“It was very effective,” said coach Bob Stoops. “You get David and Frank coming around the corner ... you're not worried about a quarterback breaking contain. They're going to be able to close on him.”
Stoops mentioned to Venables two weeks ago to consider using Alexander and King at nose guard in OU's version of a 3-4 defense — three defensive linemen and four linebackers.
Venables expanded the package. On occasion against Texas, the Sooners lined up in their base 4-3 defense, using four defensive ends, Alexander and King playing inside.
“The have the size to do it,” Venables said. “If they were 250 they can't do it. But they're both 275-plus. In throwing situations they can more than handle themselves inside. It just helps them get there a half a step sooner than the other guys.”
Weighing 285, King likes mixing it up in the trenches and is willing to do anything to get on the field since he backs up two of the most talented defensive ends in the Big 12.
“I've been very vocal to the coaches I'd love to play some inside,” King said. “At the end of last year I was playing some inside. It helps us get more speed out there pass rushing. If they need me to play some D-tackle, I wouldn't blink twice.”
Stoops said he considers King “a starter” even though Alexander and Lewis are listed as the defensive end starters on the Sooners' depth chart. OU's fourth defensive end, R.J. Washington, would start for a lot of teams.
“I can't tell you how great Frank and Ronnell have been,” Stoops said. “David is right there with them, pretty darn close. The surprise for me maybe has been R.J. Not that it should be a surprise. But he's really come on and is making a lot of nice plays.”
A Parade All-American at Keller Fossil Ridge High School in Fort Worth, Texas, who played in the 2008 U.S. Army All-American Bowl, Washington finally is playing a key role in his fourth season in Norman.
“When they put that package in for Texas I wasn't mad at all. That was fine with me,” Washington said, smiling. “We had a little banter about it (with the defensive tackles).”
With four athletic defensive ends, the Sooners can rotate fresh bodies, utilize their speed and prevent starters from getting worn down.
A candidate for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Alexander has recorded 28 tackles and a team-high 5.5 sacks.
Projected by some to be an NFL first-round draft pick if he leaves a year early, Lewis is tied for the team lead with 32 tackles and 3.5 sacks.
“They're both great athletes,” Stoops said. “Everyone forever has talked about Ronnell. And they should. He's an amazing athlete, but so is Frank. As you saw on his interception (against Tulsa), Frank has great hands. I can't tell you how many times he'll pick off a screen in practice, one hand the ball.”
Venables is pleased with the play of defensive tackles Casey Walker, Jamarkus McFarland and Stacy McGee. But having the luxury of playing Alexander and King inside on passing downs gives the defense more flexibility.
“We have some guys who are comfortable (moving inside) and can push the pocket,” Venables said. “They have the athleticism we like. It speaks more to what (Alexander and King) can do than the other guys.”