NORMAN — In the spring of 1999, Sooner offensive coordinator Mike Leach got the best of Oklahoma co-defensive coordinators Mike Stoops and Brent Venables. "Our first scrimmage, he threw for 800 yards on us,” Venables said. "I remember how stressed Mike Stoops and I were trying to defend it. How exhausted we were, our hair messed up. A deep state of depression in the locker room afterward. "It was bad. All bad.” But ever since Leach left to become Texas Tech’s head coach in 2000, Venables has been returning the favor. No defense has unmasked Leach’s high-powered Red Raider offense the way OU’s has. In the Leach era, Tech is scoring 37 points a game. But against OU, Leach’s Red Raiders have averaged just 20 points. And in Norman, Tech has scored more than 15 only once. "From a defensive standpoint, you can’t let them get into a rhythm,” Venables said. "You’ve got to keep the ball in front of you, tackle well, come up with some big-time third-down stops. "That’s been the key.” But tonight’s showdown between the second-ranked Red Raiders and fifth-ranked Sooners could be a different story. Leach is bringing his best team to Norman. The Red Raiders are averaging a school-record 48 points a game and are led by two Heisman contenders in quarterback Graham Harrell and wide receiver Michael Crabtree, as well as a host of other veteran players. "I feel they’re a little more put together than in other years,” said Sooner senior safety Nic Harris. "Right now, it seems like they’re clicking on all cylinders.” The Sooners, meanwhile, enter tonight’s game having surrendered 28 points or more in five straight outings, the first time that’s happened in the Bob Stoops era. But week-by-week, the defense has improved since allowing 45 in a loss to Texas. "The last couple weeks you feel guys are getting more comfortable,” Venables said. "They are more certain in what they’re doing.” Tonight offers redemption for both the Tech offense and OU defense. Whoever seizes it, should come out on top.
Why it could be the same