- Jake Trotter, College Football
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NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma's 2001 defense featured Rocky Calmus and "Superman" Roy Williams. The '03 unit had six All-Americans. And Gerald McCoy and the oft-overlooked '09 group kept the Sooners in almost every game despite an injury-ravaged offense.
But so far, the 2011 defense is making an unexpected yet convincing claim as the best of the Bob Stoops era.
"So far, they've been very comparable to those defenses," Stoops said.
Last weekend the Sooners obliterated Texas in perhaps the program's most dominating defensive performance since the 2001 Orange Bowl. Excluding a meaningless touchdown late in the fourth quarter, the OU defense limited the Texas offense to a single field goal while becoming the first in school history to score three defensive touchdowns in one game. The Sooners also tied school records with eight sacks and 17 tackles for loss.
"I don't know if they were intimidated. But I know we were intimidating," said nickelback Tony Jefferson, who appears to be the second coming of Williams. Jefferson didn't soar over the Texas offensive line, but he did record his fourth interception in two games, igniting a 28-point scoring barrage in the second quarter that left Texas shell-shocked.
"I feel like we have a lot of good players, a lot of talent on this defense," he said. "The sky is the limit for us."
With just three senior starters, this defense figures only to improve as the season rolls along. And yet, it already owns two signature performances: knocking then-fifth-ranked Florida State to the mat Sept. 17 in Tallahassee before clobbering the Longhorns.
"Toughness, leadership, instinctive players, depth -- they have some of those intangibles our better defenses have had," said defensive coordinator Brent Venables.
Still, to rank with OU's best in the Stoops era, they'll need more dominating displays. The bar is that high.
Against the '01 OU defense, Texas, Texas Tech and Arkansas combined for just 19 points. Only North Carolina, Kansas State and Nebraska scored more than 17 against those Sooners, who finished fourth nationally in scoring and total defense.
The '03 unit was phenomenal in defending the pass, with Brodney Poole, Brandon Everage, Antonio Perkins and Jim Thorpe Award winner Derrick Strait. That team also included Butkus Award winner Teddy Lehman and consensus All-America tackle Tommie Harris.
Finally, who knows how bad it could have gotten in '09 had it not been for a resilient, hard-nosed defense that overcame numerous injuries and an anemic offense. Eight opponents failed to score more than two touchdowns against a group that finished 8-5.
"The '09 defense was consistent," said quarterback Landry Jones, who made his debut that season. "But the way our defense is playing right now, it's the best I've ever seen them play."
Going into the season, everyone expected Jones and All-America wideout Ryan Broyles to pour on the points. Few anticipated the defense being this good this soon. Safeties Aaron Colvin and Javon Harris had never been full-time starters. Tom Wort was forced to step in at middle linebacker following the death of starter Austin Box. And a line with few proven performers was a big question and potential weakness. Instead, it has become the defense's biggest strength.
"I would say, right now, they are playing as well as anybody we've had," Stoops said. "The productivity has probably been better than any we've had through six games."
Senior end Frank Alexander has spearheaded the charge. He was named the Walter Camp national defensive player of the week after compiling three sacks, four tackles for loss, a forced fumble, a recovered fumble and a quarterback hurry in the victory over Texas.
"Frank has been in his own league," Venables said. "He's been like that every week. It's been terrific."
Ends Ronnell Lewis and David King have been menacing, too, and Casey Walker has been stout at tackle.
"Our D-line has been playing great," cornerback Jamell Fleming said. "We really don't have a weak link, as far as I can see."
But as disruptive as the ends have been, corners Fleming and Demontre Hurst, who both scored touchdowns against the Longhorns, have been as good, or better.
"They're as good," Stoops said, "as any of the groups we've had, for sure."
Is the overall defense? The '03 defense was stingier against the pass; the '01 unit was tougher against the run.
But no other of Stoops' OU defenses showed a propensity for the big play like this one. The Sooners rank fourth nationally in turnovers and sacks. Those rankings could climb Saturday against Kansas, which surrendered 70 to Oklahoma State last weekend.
"The turnovers, the touchdowns; we haven't had anything like that," Venables said. "We have guys with some athletic skill sets that can go after the ball."
The '11 defense can also still accomplish something that eluded those other three defenses -- a national title. If they do that, their case probably would be solidified.
"I've seen a few people on the All-American board on the wall here," Fleming said. "But if we go on to win a national championship, then I would have say we were the best."
Jake Trotter covers University of Oklahoma football for SoonerNation. He can be reached at email@example.com. Submit questions to his mailbag and look for answers every Friday.
Just how good is the Sooners' defense in 2011? Jake Trotter compares Oklahoma's '11 unit with past Stoops squads.