The record books will reveal this wasn't one of Oklahoma's best defenses in the Bob Stoops era. Statistically it will rank near the bottom.
But watching film of OU's 23-20 win over Nebraska was evidence the defense played a pivotal role in the Sooners winning their seventh Big 12 title.
Coming off a defensive meltdown in the fourth quarter in a loss at Texas A&M two weeks after surrendering 486 yards in a loss at Missouri, OU's defense was having trouble finishing off games.
The turnaround began with a dominating performance against Texas Tech followed by a suffocating performance against Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin.
As a team, OU gave up 41 points in Bedlam, but the defense gave up only 27. One touchdown was scored on an interception, another on a kickoff return.
Nebraska's offense is one dimensional. But after giving up a 66-yard TD run early in Saturday's title game and falling behind 17-0, OU's defense was dominant.
What was most impressive during the late-season turnaround was the defense's success against different styles.
The Sooners clamped down on Griffin and Baylor running back Jay Finley. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables installed a â€œ50 Defenseâ€ to frustrate Oklahoma State and consistently put the Cornhuskers' ground oriented attack in long-yardage situations.
The biggest key to the turnaround was players returning from injuries.
Austin Box, sidelined two months with a back injury, solidified middle linebacker.
Ronnell Lewis, who missed three games with a sprained knee, provided a pass-rush threat opposite Jeremy Beal.
Stacy McGee, missing much of the conference season with a knee injury, provided depth at defensive tackle down the stretch.
OU's opponent in the Fiesta Bowl has a Nebraska-like offense. UConn's Jordan Todman (1,574 yards rushing) is one of the nation's top running backs, but Ryan Broyles has nearly as many receptions and more receiving yards than the Huskies' top four receivers combined.
After passing late-season tests against more dynamic offenses â€” Texas Tech, Baylor, OSU and Nebraska â€” a defense matched against a flawed Big East champion should allow the Sooners to end their five-game BCS bowl losing streak.
Other observations after watching film:
Five of Cameron Kenney's six receptions were one-on-one battles with Prince Amukamara, the coaches' Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. ... Kenny Stills' ability to adjust on deep balls has produced big plays all season. ... A week after converting 17 third downs in Bedlam, the Sooners were 1-of-16 against the Cornhuskers. ... Ryan Broyles was just a little off the entire game, but his 46-yard catch set up the game-tying field goal in the third quarter. ... OU had trouble blocking Nebraska defensive tackle Jared Crick, who twice blew around guard Stephen Good for sacks. ... Jarvis Jones started again at left tackle and is sharing the job with Donald Stephenson. ... Senior guard Brian Lepak has played more late in the season in the offensive line rotation. ... Tight end James Hanna didn't have a highlight reel play but produced two key catches on a second-quarter drive that trimmed Nebraska's lead to 17-10.
One of the biggest plays of the game was Joseph Ibiloye hitting Nebraska wildcat quarterback Rex Burkhead with just under five minutes to play. Taylor Martinez was a wide receiver on the play. Martinez got open deep but Ibiloye's hit prevented Burkhead from getting the ball to Martinez inside the 10-yard line. ... Some sacks were the result of exceptional coverage. Jamell Fleming again showed he should have been first-team All-Big 12. ... Pryce Macon had a career game (three sacks, five tackles for loss) and was arguably OU's best player. ... Defensive end Ronnell Lewis has shown Jeremy Beal-like speed off the corner. ... Safeties Jonathan Nelson and Quinton Carter combined for 18 tackles without being burned for big plays, a key against Nebraska's offense. ... Beal didn't record a sack but was disruptive, forcing Martinez to look beyond his first option.
OU's defense was dominant in the second half. Nebraska's second half drives and stats offensively.
Fumble; Punt; Punt; Punt; Fumble; Punt; Punt; Downs
First downs: 5
The Sooners consistently got pressure on the Cornhuskers. OU's defensive stats for the game:
14 Tackles for loss
5 Forced fumbles
5 Pass breakups
4 QB hurries