OU's Harris fights double-teams to dominate
Friday, December 5th 2003, 12:00 am
News On 6
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ There are plenty of ways to evaluate a defensive tackle: sacks, tackles for loss, quarterback hurries.
Oklahoma's Tommie Harris prefers to be judged by game tapes.
``If you watch film, you'll see that I'm disruptive,'' Harris said, eager for a chance to state his case. ``All people care about is statistics. I've never been about stats.''
Harris is a bit sensitive about criticism of his rather modest numbers _ 34 tackles and four sacks _ because he faces two blockers on just about every play.
The true measure of his productivity, Harris says, is in the No. 1 Sooners' defensive dominance: Oklahoma has the nation's top-ranked defense and has set a school record with 45 sacks.
He'll get another chance to bolster his argument against No. 13 Kansas State in Saturday's Big 12 title game. The Wildcats (10-3, 6-2) have the nation's fifth-leading rusher in Darren Sproles, and Harris will be pivotal in slowing down the 5-foot-7 tailback.
``A game like K-State is where Tommie's play is really going to show up,'' said Oklahoma defensive end Dan Cody, the team's sack leader with eight. ``He's so disruptive with the way he explodes off the ball. He's always in the backfield and opens up things for us.''
On the first snap of his college career, Harris sliced through North Carolina's line and tackled a running back for a 3-yard loss. He was just a few months removed from high school, the first Oklahoma freshman in 14 years to start the opener on the defensive line.
Since then, offenses have focused on him.
As a sophomore, Harris hobbled through much of the year with a groin injury. He still was an All-American and Lombardi Award finalist, but Harris shrugs off those honors as the result of name recognition from his impressive freshman season.
``I was all out of whack last year,'' Harris said. ``It was crazy. I couldn't do anything.''
This season, a healthy Harris recaptured the form that made him such a coveted recruit.
Harris is a finalist for almost every major national award a player at his position can earn _ the Bronco Nagurski Trophy and Chuck Bednarik Award for outstanding defensive player, and the Lombardi Award for the top linebacker or lineman.
``He's a lot to deal with,'' Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. ``He's extremely fast and powerful. It's hard for people to handle him one-on-one.''
Harris has been so good this season, he's developed a knack for making the amazing play look routine.
Against Iowa State, Harris chased down a receiver from 20 yards away and forced a fumble with his crunching tackle. Against UCLA, Harris recovered a fumble, reversed field, switched hands with the ball and ran 14 yards.
The lure of the NFL could be the only thing that prevents Harris from disrupting college offenses for another season.
The 6-foot-3, 290-pound Harris has astounding speed for someone his size (4.68 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and is the strongest player on the team (470-pound bench press).
He's projected as a probable first-round draft pick and could go as high as the top 10.
``I'll cross that NFL bridge when I get to it,'' Harris said. ``I get asked that question about a hundred times a day.''
Stoops said that if Harris probably will be among the first five picks, he'd encourage the player to go.
``I'd kick him out the door,'' Stoops said.