TALLASSEE, Fla. -- Bob Stoops said he didn't know for sure until the morning of the game that linebacker Travis Lewis would play Saturday at fifth-ranked Florida State.
Lewis knew the day he broke his big toe.
"The doctors told me eight weeks; I said, you have six," Lewis said. "I knew the whole time I was playing. They were going to have to leave me at home for me not to play in this game."
With Lewis back in the lineup weeks before he was expected, Oklahoma's defense played with attitude, hit with swagger.
And save one fluky pass play, the defense shut down the Seminoles offense as top-ranked OU prevailed 23-13, leaving Tallahassee with its biggest non-conference road victory in almost 35 years.
"The defense played great," Stoops said. "Except the one play, the rest of the night, they were outstanding. They created turnovers, got pressure, got us out of some tight spots. Just did an excellent job."
The Sooner defense, which utilized a three-man front most of the night to counter FSU's speed, held the Seminoles to just 27 yards rushing on 26 carries, picked off three passes and very nearly kept the Seminoles out of the end zone.
The rest of the night, the Sooners defense surrendered little.
Despite playing at less than 100 percent, Lewis tied for the team-high with eight tackles. One of those came when he knocked FSU quarterback E.J. Manuel out of the game in the third quarter with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder.
"We were dominating," said Lewis, who was only able to practice on Friday. "Completely dominating."
The Sooners sacked Manuel and backup Clint Trickett six times, and finished with 12 tackles for loss, the most negative plays inflicted on an FSU offense since 2004. As a result, the Seminoles constantly faced second- and third-and-long.
"Everyone was making hits," said sophomore middle linebacker Tom Wort. "Everyone was making plays."
Nobody seemed to benefit more from Lewis' presence than Wort, who unleashed the finest performance of his young career.
Wort had eight tackles, two sacks and one acrobatic interception that thwarted FSU's most promising drive of the first half.
After Harris was flagged for a helmet-to-helmet personal foul, the Seminoles had the ball inside the OU 20, poised to take their first lead of the night. Instead, Wort tipped Manuel's screen pass up in the air, gathered his feet and hauled in his first interception since high school. The Seminoles failed to get into field-goal range the rest of the second quarter.
"Just an incredible play on a tight-end screen, something he had never seen. But he defended it incredibly well," said defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who compared the pick to Austin Box's driving fourth-quarter interception at Oklahoma State last season.
"Tom didn't just make the plays he's supposed to make. He made exceptional plays."
Two weeks after costing OU three huge pass plays in the opener against Tulsa, Harris responded in his second career start at safety with several big hits and two critical interceptions.
The first he returned 69 yards to the FSU 3-yard line, setting up a Jimmy Stevens field goal just before half.
The second pick, a diving interception in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter, effectively put the game away.
"Our guys really responded in tough situations," Venables said. "We had a bunch of guys make a bunch of special plays."
By defeating the Seminoles, OU seized the driver's seat to the national title game. The Sooners should be favored by a touchdown, at the least, in every remaining game until the regular-season finale in Stillwater.
With Lewis getting healthy, and Wort, Harris and OU's other young defenders -- like safety Tony Jefferson -- getting better by the game, OU looks more and more like a championship-caliber defense.
"We're playing with fire," Jefferson said. "We're locked in.
"Our defense is getting to where it needs to be."
Jake Trotter covers University of Oklahoma football for SoonerNation.
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