LAWRENCE, Kan. — A year ago, Oklahoma's defense could simply stand on the sidelines and enjoy the view.
Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford was directing a point-a-minute offense as the Sooners scored 60-plus points in each of their last five regular-season games.
OU amassed a school-record 99 touchdowns and was the highest-scoring team in the post-World War II era of college football with 716 points.
That was last year.
This year, the Sooners are on pace for 54 touchdowns and 446 points if they play 14 games.
An injured Bradford now stands alongside his defensive teammates while the OU offense musters what it can.
For the Sooners to get the most out of the 2009 season, their defense must excel, and another prime performance came Saturday in a 35-13 victory at Kansas.
The OU defense already has thrown back-to-back shutouts this season and came within a late fourth-quarter score of keeping a third opponent out of the end zone.
"You know how defensive coaches are," defensive backs coach Bobby Jack Wright said of KU's lone touchdown that came with 4:21 remaining. "We're always upset about giving up something. Yeah, we hated to do that. Though it's probably not realistic, we go into every ballgame to shut down the opponent, or to shut out an opponent."
The victory over the No. 24-ranked Jayhawks was impressive and significant for the No. 25-ranked Sooners, primarily because they would have been a bummed-out bunch had they lost this game and fallen to 3-4 on the season.
In addition to an ailing Bradford (throwing shoulder), the offense also is without All-American tight end Jermaine Gresham (knee) and two NFL linemen selected in last April's draft.
The offense can be forgiven for not oozing confidence these days. Meanwhile, OU defenders are tending to their own business.
"I just think we've got to do our part," All-American defensive end Gerald McCoy said. "Defense has to do their part. Offense has to do their part. If the offense doesn't score, we have to come out and stop 'em. That's just what we're supposed to do."
Sooners defensive end Jeremy Beal and his cohorts insist they don't feel any added pressure when the OU offense is spinning its wheels.
"We expect to play great defense every year, every game," Beal said. "If we make errors, hey, it's on us, but there's not any more pressure to not make errors (this season)."
Beal said the defense is gaining confidence every week, which results in the entire unit getting better every week.
"Jeremy is telling the truth," said a smiling Wright. "As a coaching staff, we don't approach our players any differently than we ever have. It's always, 'Hey, guys. We want to be perfect.' "
While the Sooners' offense attempts to find itself, the defense is feeding off each other.
The front seven brags about the secondary. The secondary boasts about the guys up front.
"It's really coming together nicely and it's fun to be a part of," defensive end Auston English said.
OU cornerback Dominique Franks had an 85-yard interception return for a touchdown and would have had another pick-six had he his eyes not gazed into the open green pasture that was ahead of him.
"I wanted that one bad," Franks said. "I was already looking downfield seeing where I was going to go, but I've got to keep my eyes (focused) and look the ball in.
"The D-line is doing great right now and it's making it a lot easier for us in the back end to make plays. They're just harassing the quarterback and it's helping us out a lot."
Sooners linebacker Travis Lewis had a bad taste in his mouth from how poorly the OU defense played against Kansas in a 45-31 victory last season in Norman.
Saturday's effort appeared to be a cleansing experience.
"With every snap, with every week that goes by, this team is getting better and better," Lewis said. "The confidence grows, the experience grows and we're just growing as a defense."
Wright smiled in agreement, again.
"We're getting a little better, getting a little more physical," Wright said. "We've still got to get better. We're certainly not there by any means."
Perhaps not, but the Sooners' defense appears to be awfully close.
John Rohde: 475-3099. John Rohde can be heard Monday-Friday from 6-7 p.m. on The Sports Animal Network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.