DALLAS -- Oklahoma's defensive line entered the season as a much-maligned group, with many fans and analysts calling the Sooners' front four the weak link that could snap during a quest for a BCS title.
In the Sooners' 55-17 win over Texas at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday, the defensive front showed it soon could be considered the strength of OU's defense.
"That's been the best group we've had [this season]," defensive coordinator Brent Venables said of his team's defensive line. "The best group and the most consistent. We've been really, really pleased."
Defensive ends Frank Alexander, who is having an All-Big 12-caliber season, and Ronnell Lewis were relentless off the edge, combining for five sacks and seven tackles for loss against the Longhorns. David King and R.J. Washington also had success rushing the passer, each recording a quarterback pressure, with King adding a 19-yard fumble return for a score.
The final tally for the Sooners? Eight sacks, 17 tackles for loss and seven quarterback hurries.
"That's what we do; that's how we make a living," King said of the defensive ends getting pressure. "Every week our goal is to come out and hit the quarterback in the face."
Texas quarterbacks David Ash and Case McCoy never got comfortable in the pocket against the Sooners, as it consistently collapsed around them, forcing them to take sacks or make poor decisions with the ball. Ash threw two interceptions after being pressured, with one of those picks returned 55 yards for a touchdown by Oklahoma cornerback Demontre Hurst.
"I love it when the D-Line gets after it," Hurst said. "When the quarterbacks are not comfortable standing in the pocket, it makes our job easier."
In addition to the two interceptions, OU's defensive pressure forced two fumbles, one by Ash and one by McCoy when defensive tackle Casey Walker crushed the Longhorns sophomore, and Alexander jumped on the turnover.
"No quarterback wants to get hit," Alexander said. "So that was our big point: Get after them. My biggest thing was getting after that quarterback, not giving him time to get set."
The Sooners changed things up against the Longhorns, playing with two defensive tackles instead of one. Walker, Stacy McGee and Jamarcus McFarland were superb in the interior, as Oklahoma held UT to 36 rushing yards on 45 carries (0.8 yards per carry).
"I was happy for the defensive tackles. They've kind of been the long lost stepsister out there, with us being in the 3-4 all the time," Venables said. "To go in during our biggest game of the year thus far and be an integral part of our success is pretty cool."
Walker was a strong inside presence for much of the game, finishing with two tackles, both for loss, one sack and a forced fumble. He joined McGee and McFarland to provide strength in the defensive interior that was unexpected heading into the season. OU's defensive interior allowed the defensive ends to attack upfield -- as well as allowing the Sooners to blitz --without having to worry about the Longhorns gashing the Sooners up the middle.
"It was want to," Walker said of the Sooners' dominance. "It wasn't, you go here, you go there, a certain stunt or anything like that; we just got after them."
Brandon Chatmon covers University of Oklahoma sports and recruiting for SoonerNation. He can be reached at email@example.com.