Harris' switch keys Sooners defensive attack

October, 18, 2008
10/18/08
9:46
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

NORMAN, Okla. -- Only about 15 minutes before kickoff, Nic Harris was still going through his paces with the Oklahoma secondary.

Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables shouldn't worry about his grand experiment of spinning Harris down to the middle linebacker position as it worked well enough to confuse the Jayhawks. The Sooners' basic defense with Harris in the middle played well enough to handcuff Kansas in a 45-31 victory.

The idea to move Harris to the middle for injured linebacker Ryan Reynolds came to Venables when he was riding the bus back from Dallas last week after the Sooners' loss to Texas.

Even as the Sooner coaches tried to confuse the media with subterfuge during the week -- he didn't work with the linebackers during pre-game workouts -- his position was set as soon as he started practicing behind the locked gates at the Oklahoma practice field on Monday.

"Between his experience and athleticism, it was our best matchup," Venables said. "They were never able to pick on him. He works in space and his leverage off the ball is a linebacker most of the time anyway. And we felt a guy with his experience could help us mentally as well as physically."

Harris had previously played both other linebacker positions and gradually warmed to the idea as the week progressed. Quinton Carter moved into his position in the secondary in the starting lineup.

"All I know is I'm ready to go home and go to bed," Harris said. "I knew that at the end of the day I was going to do it if I liked it or not. I just tried to make the best of the situation and tried to make some plays when they were out there."

Harris produced five tackles and broke up a pass. But it wasn't as much his statistical offerings as the leadership he provided to a Sooner defense that was being questioned after being torched by Texas last week.

And while the Sooners were gashed for 491 yards, they made enough plays in the second half to turn the game around and stretch their home winning streak to a nation-best 22 games.

After Kansas had pulled within 31-24 on its second third-quarter possession, the Sooners turned the tide. Oklahoma notched sacks on three of the next four drives as the Oklahoma defense seized the game. Venables said his defensive line played as well as in any game this season.

"We were a little inconsistent early on," Harris said. "But at halftime, we came in decided we couldn't play that way. We had to set the tone and play Oklahoma defense. That pretty much what we did up until the last couple of minutes of the game."

Oklahoma finished with five sacks, matching their season high set in the opener against Chattanooga. And they were a consistent force by pressuring Todd Reesing throughout the game.

The Sooners kept the Jayhawks on their heels throughout the game, flummoxing an offense that came into the game third in the nation and best in the Big 12 in third-down conversions.

But not on Saturday. The Jayhawks failed on their first 10 third-down plays and didn't convert a third down until less than two minutes were left in the game.

"We weren't a very good team today on third down like we have been," Reesing said. "They played almost flawless ball and we had some mistakes. And in the end that's what it came down to. They didn't make mistakes."

Venables might choose to argue. The Sooners struggled with some parts of Kansas' offense. They enabled Kansas wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe to set a school record with 12 receptions for 269 yards.

And it led to Venables describing some part of his defense in a manner not exactly suitable for a family Web site.

"We've got to be a lot more consistent," Venables said. "Big plays have killed us the last two weeks. You feel like the mistakes are correctable. But for us as coaches it's not acceptable. We've got a lot of things to get better at."

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