SOONER defense playing at championship level

Thursday, November 8th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ Oklahoma's offense may not be playing at a national championship level, although that might not matter if the defense keeps performing as it has.

Each week, it seems, the opposing coach spends part of his postgame news conference raving about Oklahoma's defense. Terry Allen, then at Kansas, said it was the best defense he had seen. Tulsa's Keith Burns praised the group after a 58-0 loss last week.

Texas A&M (7-2, 4-2 Big 12) will get its turn Saturday morning. No. 3 Oklahoma (8-1, 4-1) seeks its 19th straight home victory and its third in a row over the Aggies.

``We're getting better,'' co-defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. ``We're real consistent right now, doing a lot of things. We're pretty consistent, is what I like.''

That consistency wasn't there early in the season.

The Sooners gave up two fourth-quarter touchdowns in a 41-27 victory over North Carolina in the season opener. Then one week later, they beat Air Force 44-3, giving up just 137 yards rushing and holding the Falcons without a touchdown for the first time in 70 games.

Two games later, the defense gave up 446 yards and several long pass plays in a 38-37 victory over Kansas State.

Since then, the unit has been outstanding.

Led by strong safety Roy Williams, the Sooners shut down Texas 14-3 in the Cotton Bowl. Oklahoma followed that with a 38-10 victory over Kansas, allowing the Jayhawks 84 yards rushing. Baylor gained 60 on the ground a week later. Nebraska ran for 164 yards, about half its per-per game average, in a 20-10 victory. Tulsa gained 48 yards on the ground last week.

Oklahoma has gone 29 straight games without giving up 200 yards on the ground. The defense also has come up with a turnover in 23 straight games _ five of the Sooners' takeaways this year have been returned for touchdowns.

``We're just sound in what we do. We're coming together I think at the right time,'' Stoops said. ``We didn't have all that consistency early on. We'd play some really good quarters of football and then drop off.

``We're able to finish stronger. We finished strong in all the games, the big games, which is good. It's what you want to see.''

Williams and linebacker Rocky Calmus give Oklahoma arguably the two best players at their position in the country. Sophomore defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson has 15 tackles for loss and four sacks, both team highs. True freshman tackle Tommie Harris ``is probably one of the premier defensive linemen in the country as a true freshman,'' coach Bob Stoops said. End Cory Heinecke and tackle Kory Klein have been solid.

Mike Stoops said the play of the defense is all the more impressive considering several defensive starters play on special teams.

The opponents' style of offense hasn't seemed to matter, either. This defense has found a way to shut it down and give the offense a chance.

``Our kids just play so hard and they're usually in the right spots. They're disciplined in the way they play, so I think it's a credit to them,'' Mike Stoops said. They practice hard and they take a lot of pride in it, too.

``We're building a foundation for great defenses. That's what you like. I think we're finally getting to where we think we can control any game, no matter who it is.''