NORMAN — In three short weeks, Tom Wort feels exponentially better about Oklahoma's defense and his role in it.
The Sooners stuffed what had been a highly productive Texas offense Saturday, when Oklahoma routed its archrival 63-21 inside the Cotton Bowl. Individually, Wort played the best game so far of his junior season.
“We love the way he played Saturday,” said defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. “If we can get that out of him every time he steps on the field, we'll be in business.”
That was the problem through OU's first four games. Wort was badly struggling to adapt to a new scheme under Stoops, who replaced Brent Venables after he left OU for Clemson in January.
“Of course I've had my struggles this season,” Wort said. “I think anyone can see that. With the coaching change, and the system, it's been hard for me.
“But it doesn't mean I can't hustle to the football and hit. I can still play football. ... It was good to get that game in, and kind of feel like the old Tom.”
After Oklahoma's 24-19 home loss to Kansas State on Sept. 22, Wort was roundly criticized by fans and media for his perceived lack of involvement in the defense. But he was critical of himself, too, the next week. He badly whiffed on John Hubert's 9-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown run that put the game out of reach for the Sooners.
But while criticizing himself, Wort also called his teammates outs for lacking physicality in practice and “being nice” to the scout team.
Three weeks and two big-time defensive performances later, Wort said he no longer feels that way about practices.
“Practice has been exceptional the past three weeks,” Wort said. “Guys have just been physical, wrapping up a lot better ... and being a lot more locked in. It definitely showed this past weekend. The way we've been practicing is the way we've been playing, and we've gotta keep it up.”
The Texas game's stat sheet says Wort only recorded two tackles, with one forced fumble, Saturday. But under Stoops' tweaked system, linebackers are asked to man specific gaps in the offensive line, and push opposing players out to defensive backs.