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Key defensive players for OU versus Tennessee

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Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Sound fundamentals enabled the Sooners to hold Akron to three points last week.  It is fair to say that Tennessee is not Akron.  Last week in Knoxville, the Volunteers ran for 399 yards on the ground, showing power and speed that netted them, as a team, with 6.2 yards per carry.  A full 89 of those rushing yards belonged to Tennessee quarterback who, oh by the way, also hit 15/22 passes for 205 yards and two scores.  The numbers from the box score are impressive, but seeing it in action brings it home that if the Sooners want to leave Neyland stadium with a victory, they'll need to be at their best.

Our Genius Robot Overlords give us the offensive plays that Tennessee ran against Bowling Green.  (And don't think for a second that Coach Butch Davis showed his entire hand versus the Falcons.)

It's fair to say that the Oklahoma Sooners are probably a more talented defensive ball club than the Falcons, however.  And I don't care if you're the Volunteers, the Mountaineers, the Alabama Elephant Ears, Britney Spears, or Stephen King's "The Langoliers," if you're playing OU, you dismiss us at your peril.  These three players are ones I think can make a big difference.

Number One: Dominique Alexander

Number One with a bullet is the guy who wears #1 and who was our #1 tackler against Akron.  Dominique Alexander has shown improvement in each of his seasons in Mike Stoops' squad, and showed great awareness against the Akron option attack.  Often utilized as the "spy," he showed quick analytical skills and sound technique throughout the game.  While Eric Striker is Oklahoma's most feared linebacker for his ability to Dramatically Erase Opponents' Will to Live, we will need Dom to play cerebral and sound defense.  Ridiculous comparison: if Striker is our Andre Agassi, we need Alexander to be our Ivan Lendl.

Number Two: Charles Tapper

The 6'2 Senior DE from Baltimore had admitted that he was dissatisfied with last season.  "Because of a lot of disappointments I had in myself last year, not playing to my full potential and kinda just going through the motions a lot of the times," Tapper said. His emotions took a further hit this offseason when Assistant Coaches Bobby Jack Wright and Jerry Montgomery left the program.  But for a defensive line that lost Jordan Phillips and Chuka Ndulue, Tennessee's rushing attack will need his senior leadership.  Oh, and tackling would be good, too.  Ridiculous comparison: Luke Skywalker was demoralized after the duel on Cloud City; he found peace and victory on the Death Star Mk. 2.

Number Three: Hatari Byrd (or, as I call him, "Hatari 2600," because I'm old)

While the Junior Safety out of Fresno made a career-high five tackles in his first career start versus Akron, his responsibilities change quickly against Tennessee.  The Zips don't possess the kind of big play threat the Vols will have in Knoxville, and Byrd won't be able to cheat downfield to get in on those assisted tackles as easily.  As Sooners fans, we know what we're going to get with Zack Sanchez at cornerback -- he's a high-risk/high-reward kind of player who will often bring down the INT or often get burned trying for it.  When the latter happens, Byrd and Stephen Parker are the guys who need to defend the green in front of that checkerboard endzone.  Not an easy task, trying to bring down guys like Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd once they're in space.  Ridiculous comparison: Gandalf the Grey famously stood before the Balrog and said, "You shall not pass!"  (No word on whether or not Hatari 2600 can summon giant eagles.)

Honorable Mention: Samaje Perine

No, he's not lining up as our third linebacker, but Tennessee can line up quickly and grind, grind, grind.  It's the kind of offense that can wear the Sooners' D down with a quickness.  Much as I wouldn't mind a good old 84-yard touchdown scamper, the defense will need Perine and company to convert on those 3rd-and-short possessions to keep the wind in their sails.