Sooners Defensive About Perceived Shortcomings

For Oklahoma to take home the BCS trophy, its defense will need to be more stout than in the regular season.
For Oklahoma to take home the BCS trophy, its defense will need to be more stout than in the regular season. (By Lynne Sladky -- Associated Press)
By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 8, 2009

MIAMI -- Bowl officials directed the Oklahoma Sooners to the team bus after a media session at Dolphin Stadium this week, but nearly all of the players got sidetracked, stopping to admire the massive crystal football trophy on display.

At least a dozen pulled out digital recorders and cameras, and player after player posed for pictures with the glittering hardware that will be awarded to the winner of Thursday night's BCS national championship game between the second-ranked Sooners and No. 1 Florida Gators.

"This is the one we want," Oklahoma defensive back Nic Harris said into his camera's microphone, maneuvering around the trophy to capture every angle. "Thursday, we're going to get it."

If the Sooners manage to get it, it would bring an end to what has been a rough week at times for the nation's top-ranked team in the BCS ratings, an offensive powerhouse that occasionally has been nitpicked, ridiculed and overlooked, particularly defensively.

"We're going to play with an edge," Harris said, "for the simple fact that nobody has given our defense any respect."

The Sooners' defense, which ranked tied for 58th in points allowed and 99th in passing yards allowed this season, has become something of a punch line, and the lack of appreciation hasn't stopped there. Florida is considered the fastest team in the nation, while Oklahoma is considered . . . slower. The questions about Florida's otherworldly speed grew so constant that at one point Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford felt compelled to stick up for his squad by noting, somewhat absurdly, "It's not like we have bad athletes; we have good athletes."

Despite having won the Heisman Trophy, college football's biggest award, Bradford can't match the cult-hero status of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, who won the Heisman last season. Bradford wandered around New York's Times Square in a baseball cap the day after the Heisman ceremony and went completely unrecognized. Tebow, meantime, can't go to a shopping mall without getting mobbed.

"I call him Superman all the time," Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes said about Tebow.

Even Oklahoma's fans are expected to be outnumbered given the far-reaching tentacles of Gator Nation and the fact that Oklahoma sits in the middle of the country -- though some Florida players didn't seem precisely sure where. ("They got a lot of tornadoes, right?" Florida safety Ahmad Black said when asked what he knew about the state.) Even Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops worries his team will face a hostile, pro-Florida crowd.

Stoops went so far Monday as to ask for help from local Gator haters from the University of Miami and Florida State: "I'm calling on all of the Hurricane and Seminoles fans that are down here to root for us," he said.

The fact that Stoops, a former Florida assistant, reached out to the former enemy speaks to the stakes of the game, which will crown a national champion despite insistence from other teams around the country -- namely Utah, Texas and Southern California -- that they, in fact, deserve to be No. 1.

With a pair of Heisman winners leading units that together have averaged 99.2 points per game, the game seems certain to provide splendid theater. Bradford has thrown for an average of 343.4 yards per game, leading a no-huddle, hurry-up offense installed this year that churns out yardage and worries Florida's defenders. Oklahoma's opponents have struggled to get in position between plays, let alone keep up with the Sooners once the ball is snapped.

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