NORMAN — Travis Lewis lurked behind the line before almost every snap, pointing and hollering and gesturing and hollering some more.
Who does he think he is?
Well, as last week at Florida State showed, no one plays the quarterback role for the Oklahoma defense quite like Lewis. The senior linebacker returned to the lineup and reminded everyone of his value to this team. It's not only his skills or his tackles or his sacks.
It's his voice, too.
“I talk a lot,” Lewis said with a smirk.
That's never been in question, but what exactly is he saying out there? What did he say against the Seminoles that helped propel the Sooners to one of their most dominant defensive performance in years? What will he say Saturday night when Missouri comes to Norman looking to spoil OU's national title hopes?
He has a special formula.
“It's 90 percent trash talk, 10 percent Xs and Os,” he said.
His teammates don't dispute that the loquacious Lewis is a trash talker of the highest order. He wolfs at quarterbacks. He barks at running backs.
But in the pointing and hollering and gesturing is a bevy of information.
“Travis is one of the smartest people on our defense,” free safety Javon Harris said. “Sometimes, he'll tell you exactly what the play is before it happens.”
Lewis did it regularly against Florida State. Apparently, the Seminoles give away a lot in their formations and their tendencies with their motion.
He saw a quarterback run coming on the play that ultimately knocked EJ Manuel out of the game. The Seminole quarterback practically ran to Lewis, who put him on the ground and sent him to the locker room a few plays later with a shoulder injury.
That type of recognition is a product of preparation. On Sundays alone, Lewis studies two hours of film solo and two hours with coaches.
By the time its game day, he almost always knows what's coming when an offense steps to the line.
Is it a run or a pass? Is it going out up the middle or to the side? Is it going over the top or underneath?
Lewis lets his teammates know and lets his opponents know they know.
“I think that intimidates a lot of offenses,” Harris said.
And bolsters the OU defense.
Want to know how much Lewis's mouth means to the Sooners?
Look no further than Tom Wort. The sophomore linebacker had a career game against Florida State. Eight tackles. One and a half sacks. One interception. But more than anything, he played with an abandon that we haven't always seen.
“He has a much better understanding and did a really good job Week 1,” Sooner defensive coordinator Brent Venables said of Wort, “but it sure does help when he doesn't have to worry anything about Travis and what he's doing.
“It really helps everything.”
But truth be told, there are times when the words that Lewis says aren't nearly as important as the fact that the preseason Big 12 defensive player of the year is out there yapping in the first place.
The simple sound of his voice is a confidence booster.
“I know when I hear him out there, I've got a little more comfort back there,” Harris said. “I know that he's going to make plays. I know when he's out there ... it's a feeling of, ‘Let's go.'”
It elevated the play of an already stellar defense last weekend. Heck, this is the kind of thing that makes comparisons to great Sooner defenses of the past — 2000 and 2003 come to mind — quite reasonable.
Lewis might look a little crazy when he's hooting and hollering before the snap, but the results are serious.