Originally created 12/31/01

Sandlin loves OU defense



DALLAS -- If Kenny Sandlin weren't busy on Tuesday, he would kick back and watch the Oklahoma defense.

As a fan of the game, he can appreciate their talent and their fervor.

"They don't take one play off," Sandlin said. "They'll run 30 yards downfield just to be near the pile. You see them jumping over people and not having any regard for their body.

"If I had something to tell little kids, 'If you want to be a defensive player, watch Oklahoma's defense,"' Sandlin said. "These guys love to play the game; they live to play the game. Defenses like that are tough to play against."

As the Arkansas center, Sandlin will have an up-close look at the Sooners' defense in the Cotton Bowl. Sandlin and his pals in the offensive line must have some success against OU (10-2) if Arkansas (7-4) is to have a chance.

The Sooners' defense has scored five touchdowns this year and has had its hands on the ball an incredible 157 times, including breaking up more than 100 passes.

Honestly, Sandlin said, a lot of talented guys in college football don't go hard every play. "But these guys do and that's a deadly, deadly combination," he said.

"Quite a few teams have had a tough time moving the ball against this bunch," said Arkansas coach Houston Nutt. "I am asking our guys to have their best game - their best blocking day."

"The key for us is staying on the blocks," Sandlin said. "That's what they do so well, is their ability to get off the block and make the play, even if it's 2 or 3 yards downfield. These guys run east-west, north-south, north-east ... all over the play," Sandlin said.

Sustaining blocks goes to fundamentals, he said, "having your pads low, stepping with the right step, getting your hands up.

"The key between the offensive and defensive line is hand placement. If I get my hands on your chest, I'm going to win 99 percent of the time. If you get your hands on my chest, I'm going to lose 99 percent of the time."

He said Arkansas saw several good defensive teams in the Southeastern Conference, but never a unit with so many good players at every position.

Despite the gaudy stats, OU's defense is not big - the four down linemen range from 245 to 280.

"I'd rather face a big defensive line because they are slower," Sandlin said. Oklahoma, he said, is "lightning quick. That helps them to get off the block a lot better. They're able to sidestep you and get around you and make plays in the backfield. In your offense, that's the worst thing that can happen."

The Razorbacks made a total of 206 yards in their first two games, but showed marked improvement after Sandlin moved from guard to center, Mark Bokerman moved from tackle to guard, and freshman Shawn Andrews took over at right tackle.

"I told coach Nutt whatever I needed to do help this team," Sandlin said. "That's one reason this team is so successful, everybody is like that. Mark Bokerman said, 'Coach, if I need to go to guard, I'll go to guard."'

He also said Josh Melton, squeezed out of the starting lineup, helped him with his steps and that the team-first attitude goes way back. He mentioned that all the players were housed in the same dorm during two-a-days and that the coaches let the seniors pair up roommates - black with white; scholarship players with walk-ons; offense with defense.

"To me, that was awesome," Sandlin said. "In college, guys like myself, I'm engaged, I'm not going to hang out. To be in the dorm, all have a life together outside of on the field, I definitely think it paid off."

Left guard La'Zerius White and left tackle Shannon Money, both seniors, are underrated, he said. "One of the keys in my eyes, we could count on those guys," he said.

"It's different when you are a senior," he said. "It's kinda like things are going a little slower. When you're a freshman, everything is just a blur."

Often, Sandlin said, the coaches will ask the linemen about the potential success of a particular play - a draw, for instance.

That the coaches listen is impressive to Sandlin. So is the fact that he can walk into the office of offensive line coach Mike Markusson and discuss his March wedding.

"You either respect them by fear or respect them because they care for you and they deserve it," he said. "This coaching staff definitely deserves our respect and that's why they get it."