NORMAN — Because of the quarterback's smarts and the offense's design, not many defenses have gotten all that close to Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden this year.
The Cowboys have given up 11 sacks in 11 games, 15th in the country. Texas A&M got to him early, registering three of those 11 sacks, but then Weeden shredded the Aggies in the second half.
Next to Texas A&M, and perhaps Texas, this week figures to present OSU with its biggest challenge up front.
Even without junior Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma's line – questioned entering the season – has turned out to be one of the team's consistent strengths. The Sooners have recorded 37 sacks, tied for third in the country.
Might this be a week when Weeden, at the very least, has someone speeding up his decisions?
“It'll be a factor,” OU coach Bob Stoops said of pressure. “It always is.”
A lot of the success in pass protection has been OSU's offensive line. And a lot of it has been Weeden, too.
“He's very efficient when he gets rid of the ball and how he distributes it,” Sooners defensive ends coach Bobby Jack Wright said. “He understands coverages, and he knows where his people are. He's not holding on to the ball very long. Getting pressure on a guy like him makes it pretty difficult.
“Nobody's gotten very many sacks on them. But, again, part of that is keeping pressure on him, keeping the pocket coming back at him, being in throwing lanes, throwing windows, where he doesn't have clean shots at you.”
Pressure – any level of it – is made more important in light of the fact OU has been extremely vulnerable all season to big-play passing offenses.
But where will the Sooners get their pass rush?
Lewis had 5½ sacks and 13 tackles behind the line before going down with a sprained knee two weeks ago. In his place, Wright and defensive coordinator Brent Venables moved Corey Nelson to end against Iowa State.
But Wright said that had a lot to do with the Cyclones' zone-read game, putting Nelson in similar positions to when he plays the “jack” in the 3-4 scheme. Don't presume he'll get a steady diet of snaps there this week, even if he did record eight tackles last week.
“He's a pretty good blitzer, as a linebacker, but he's not a quote-unquote edge rusher, if you will,” Wright said. “But we'll have other guys ready to go in our rush package.”
That puts more weight on David King and R.J. Washington, who have been pleasant surprises this year, and Frank Alexander, who is surprising no one by now.
The senior has 8½ sacks and 18 tackles for a loss this season. He's in position, as of now, to be the league's defensive player of the year.
Alexander, though, had a flare-up of a month-old stinger Saturday against Iowa State. He said he played more snaps against ISU than he was accustomed to, another product of Lewis being out.
Like in the Texas game, Venables could be more aggressive with blitzes from the secondary and linebackers. Tom Wort and Travis Lewis tag-teamed last week for a tipped pass and interception returned deep into Cyclones' territory.
Blitzes from Aaron Colvin and the other safeties have been successful this season, as well.
And perhaps a new wrinkle will present an opportunity for pressure. In the Texas game, Venables rolled out the four-defensive ends “endies” look. Last year, before Bedlam, it was the three-man front “50” defense – which featured some different blitz looks from the edges.
Venables smiled Monday and said “no tricks” are in the works for Saturday. But, c'mon, do you really think he's going to tip his hand a few days before the game?
“We need to put guys from one sideline to the next,” Venables said, joking. “Would that cover them up?”