No. 4 Sooners succeed with shuffled defense Print
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Sunday, 19 October 2008 10:38
NCAAF Headline News

 NORMAN, Okla. (AP) -Oklahoma's Nic Harris had been told before that he looked like a middle linebacker. After getting his first chance to actually be one, the feeling wasn't so great.
``I feel right now that I just want to go home and get in bed,'' Harris said after becoming the new core of the defense for the fourth-ranked Sooners.
With a little deception, Oklahoma decided to move Harris from his strong safety spot into the middle to shore up a gaping hole created when Ryan Reynolds went out with a season-ending knee injury a week earlier. After some growing pains early, the move to what's essentially a base dime defense was mostly effective in keeping Kansas at bay in a 45-31 victory on Saturday.
Harris has played as a nickelback, outside linebacker and most recently at strong safety before taking over Reynolds' position. He joins another converted safety, Keenan Clayton, in Oklahoma's linebacking corps.
the win, and we went out there in the second half and really, really stood our ground.''
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables said the Sooners prepared several options, including a sturdier package with linebacker Austin Box involved. But against Kansas' spread offense, he went with Harris' experience and versatility while inserting backup Quinton Carter for his first career start at safety.
``This is my third linebacker position that I've played throughout the course of my tenure here,'' Harris said. ``It's extremely different because this is pretty much the center of where everything happens, and you've got to know exactly what's going on and who's doing what throughout the course of the game.''
A week earlier, Texas had taken advantage of Reynolds' injury to exploit the middle of Oklahoma's defense with receiver Jordan Shipley coming out of the slot and then gashing the Sooners with a big run by Chris Ogbonnaya that all but sealed the Red River Rivalry win.
Sooners coach Bob Stoops and Venables had indicated throughout the week that it'd be Box who'd play the most important role in replacing Reynolds, although rumors of Harris' move slipped out even with all practices closed.
``I didn't feel it was to our advantage just to let them know what we were planning on doing,'' Stoops said.
e ended up leading the Sooners with 10 tackles.
Harris also had to learn all the additional responsibilities of a middle linebacker, reading the offense and adjusting the defense accordingly.
``It is tough. Everyone thinks you just line up in there and go play ball,'' Stoops said. ``Offenses don't allow it to be that simple.''
Lewis believes there are some advantages with the Big 12's high-powered offenses - six teams are in the top 13 in the nation in passing - to having more defensive backs on the field. But that doesn't mean Oklahoma is locked into the smaller, speedier package.
Venables said he'd decide on a week-by-week, or even play-by-play, basis which package to use, depending on personnel. If Kansas State (4-3, 1-2) emphasizes its two-back sets on Saturday, that could mean more involvement for Box - or maybe some more creativity from the Sooners' coaches.
But the debut of the quasi-dime package was at least worth keeping as an option.
``Some parts were good, some parts still need polish. We kind of expected that,'' Stoops said. ``It's good to have the experience in doing it, and everyone will learn from it and make some adjustments from it and get better at it.''
 

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