NORMAN — Corey Nelson didn't hesitate.
The first play that the Oklahoma defense was on the field against Texas a week ago, he lined up on the right side of the Sooner line, and when David Ash snapped the ball, Nelson made a beeline for the Texas quarterback. Nelson leapt. Ash passed. And the deflected ball fell harmlessly to the Cotton Bowl turf.
That same type of aggression was on display time and again. When Tony Jefferson corralled a scrambling Ash. When R.J. Washington blew by a blocker and smashed into Ash as he released the ball.
And that was just on the Longhorns' first possession.
Want to know how Mike Stoops has most changed this Sooner defense?
It's way more aggressive.
Want to know why?
“Preparation is a key,” Sooner safety Javon Harris said. “It just gives you a chance to be more aggressive.”
Stoops is a stickler for being prepared. Always has been. Back when he and Brent Venables had those doberman defenses of the early 2000s, their greatness stemmed from their aggression.
We haven't seen this style of play from the Sooners consistently since then. It's not just that the first-team defense held Texas Tech and Texas, a pair of high-powered offenses, to one touchdown combined these past two weeks. It's that the Sooners completely stonewalled them.
Expect more of the same Saturday vs. Kansas.
Coaches and players alike are careful not to criticize Venables. It's a sign of great respect and class, but it's also a nod the fact that the Sooners did win five Big 12 titles and play in two national championship games with him leading the defense solo.
Still, this Sooner defense is different than those Sooner defenses.
In his return to OU, Stoops didn't come in and blow up the defense, didn't come in and start over from scratch. What he did was simplify. Reduce the formations. Limit the options.
What remained was drilled into the players' heads.
Granted, credit needs to go to the players for their dedication to study and film. They say more guys are spending more time preparing than the past few years. Part of that is because of the embarrassment of last season.
But part of it is Stoops.
He has taken the guesswork out of the game and put the defense in positions to be successful.
“You know we can narrow it down to what three plays they're running,” Sooner defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland said. “You can pretty much be confident in where you're going and don't hesitate.
“People always want to look for an easy way out in a game. Like it's some kind of special formula to the game.”
It's not magic.
“I think we have a completely different attitude with what we're doing on the field,” Harris said. “Guys want to make those plays.”
And they're making them.
That's a direct result of Mike Stoops. Everyone knew he'd have an impact, but even program insiders are surprised just how much he has changed things.
He hasn't dramatically overhauled the scheme, but he has drastically altered the style.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. You can also like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.