Sooner defense emerged late in the season

By Mike Baldwin Modified: December 5, 2010 at 11:08 pm •  Published: December 5, 2010
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photo - The Sooners' Stacy McGee (92) Jeremy Beal (44) and Corey Nelson (25) after stopping Nebraska on fourth down late in the fourth quarter to seal the 23-20 win in the Big 12 football championship game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers (NU) at Cowboys Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2010, in Arlington, Texas.  Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman
The Sooners' Stacy McGee (92) Jeremy Beal (44) and Corey Nelson (25) after stopping Nebraska on fourth down late in the fourth quarter to seal the 23-20 win in the Big 12 football championship game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers (NU) at Cowboys Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2010, in Arlington, Texas. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman

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 “50 Defense” 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 — Texas Tech, Baylor, OSU and Nebraska — a defense matched against a flawed Big East champion should allow the Sooners to end their five-game BCS bowl losing streak.

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SECOND-HALF DOMINANCE

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

Yards: 80

First downs: 5

DEFENSIVE STATS

The Sooners consistently got pressure on the Cornhuskers. OU's defensive stats for the game:

14 Tackles for loss

7 Sacks

5 Forced fumbles

5 Pass breakups

4 turnovers

4 QB hurries

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