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Oklahoma Sooners defense takes slights personally

MIAMI — In his mind's eye, LB Travis Lewis sees himself turning Mr. Hyde-like into something of a crazed player as soon as he hits the Dolphin Stadium field on Thursday.

He wants to hit someone and hit 'em hard.

"I'm going out there to throw my body around," he said.

So much for the stereotype of the Sooners defense, which statistically is the team's weakest link and perhaps too weak to secure a national title against the Florida Gators. The Sooners allow an average of 359.1 yards (63rd nationally) and 24.5 points (tied for 58th nationally). Florida allows 279.3 yards (eighth) and 12.8 points (fourth).

The numbers, OU players insist, are misleading, that you have to factor in the dynamic QBs and WRs populating the Big 12, which skews the numbers.

"Of course we take it personally," Lewis said. "That we're a soft conference, that we can't play defense, that we don't like to hit."

Coach Bob Stoops is certainly trying to hit that nerve.

"You challenge their pride (with it)," he said. "For most years, we've stood for great defense."

Former OU coach Barry Switzer said the defense may be young, but it's talent laden even with DT DeMarcus Granger out (surgery last month on his lower back) and better than the units that played for national titles in the 2003 and 2004 seasons.

"I think this is a better (defensive) football team than those were," he said. "The best defensive team was the one that throttled Florida State (13-2 in the 2001 Orange Bowl to win the national title)."

"Are you able to play to that degree? That'd be tough to do," Stoops said. "But hopefully we can play a strong game. It matters."

Speed disparity: Recent bowls have validated the conventional wisdom that there's more speed in the SEC than in the Big Ten, but is that also the case for the Big 12?

"I don't know, I haven't been monitoring it," Stoops said. "There is great speed throughout the SEC, but I also think throughout college football, most of the top teams in most conferences have really good speed as well. I thought Utah looked awfully fast the other day."

Utah beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Hmm.

Disregard the uniforms: The Sooners may be designated the home team (as the higher-ranked team in the BCS standings) and wearing their home uniforms, but Switzer said this is a home game for Florida: "Anytime you play in that state and you're playing Miami or Florida State or Florida, it's a home game (for them). It's a tremendous psychological advantage."

Ready to go: After his team's last practice in pads on Tuesday afternoon, Stoops said his group was ready and eager to go. "The guys were great; they've really done a good job," he said. "Everyone's good to go."

Brian Landman can be reached at landman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3347.

Oklahoma Sooners defense takes slights personally 01/06/09 [Last modified: Thursday, January 8, 2009 11:26pm]

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