OU-Alabama Locker Room Report

Bob Stoops, Kevin Wilson, Darrell Wyatt, Danny Bradley, Jason White, Vince Carter, Mike Stoops, Lance Mitchell, Dusty Dvoracek, Michael Thompson, Brent Ferguson and Brent Venables talk about OU's 20-13 win over Alabama. (Photo by Allsport/Jaime Squire)

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The Sooners couldn't help but celebrate. Oklahoma had just been in one of the hardest fought football games of the Bob Stoops era and they didn't want to leave Bryant-Denny stadium. The Sooners had to put forth every ounce of energy they had and Coach Stoops had to dig into his bag of tricks. An old hero once again was in the spotlight and a new star had been unleashed for all to see as the Sooners beat unranked Alabama, 20-13, in front of a nationally televised audience on ESPN.

So who could have blamed the Sooners if they wanted to stick around a little longer? seven thousand Sooners had made the long trek to Tuscaloosa, and they came proudly. Many Sooners fans drove with their OU car flags flying and many others flew, but dressed in OU gear. Many took Sooner Athletic Director Joe Castiglione's message to heart and wore white to offset the Crimson Tide's home crimson. However, for some to not wear the Sooners crimson was just too much to handle, thus they matched crimson for crimson and did so proudly.

OU had just played one of only two other programs to equal to them in the college football world, and for the first time in the their storied histories the two great powers were playing on the Crimson Tide's home turf. When you consider how great both programs are it is amazing that they haven't played more often, and it's certainly amazing that OU had never played at Alabama. After what I witnessed yesterday, I hope the Sooners don't wait to long before they repeat the trip.

I have been to a lot of road football games in my life, but never have I been to one as electric as the one in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide fans loves their football and they really know how to put on a show. The old house was rocking in Coach Mike Shula's home debut. And with the Crimson Tide on probation, the Sooners were their bowl game. Why Alabama is unranked is a mystery to me. I can understand the USA Today/ESPN Poll, because they don't vote for teams on probation, but what is the Associated Press' excuse? By leaving ‘Bama out of the top 25 the voters are showing that they really don't know football.

Alabama had everything laid out for a major upset and to secure respect for the rest of the year, yet it was Oklahoma who never lost their poise, came up with the big plays and came away with the seven point win. In the process, this group of Sooners proved something to themselves and to the college football world.

"Hey, we just proved to the entire world that we are not afraid to play anywhere and that we can win anywhere," said a jubilant Dusty Dvoracek while celebrating on the field. "Alabama is a great football team and they have a great place to play. I tip my hat to their great fans, because they got after us all night, but we have been through some tough games before and this kind of stuff is something that we feed off of. We do not crawl in a hole and look for a place to hide."

While celebrating, the Oklahoma players raced from one end of the field to the other, saluting those Sooners fans who tried to match the 75-thousand fans Bama fans yell for yell. You see, this football team is not oblivious to the college football scene and they noticed the Sooner fans in attendance.

"This was a great crowd to play before today, but I was more impressed with our own fans to be honest," said junior center Vince Carter. "Their crowd was great. You knew that it would be, but we could hear the Boomer-Sooner chants as well. I want to thank all the OU fans for coming all this way to support us and I hope we put on a good show for them."

I'll say. Is there anybody out there that is not going to be happy with this Sooner win?


The Sooner locker room was up a small tunnel, and across from the locker room was an interview room where Coach Stoops would hold his postgame press conference. It was also in that room where Mark Bradley was going to get his first national attention as an Oklahoma Sooner. Bradley had just emerged from the depth of the Sooner wide receiver corp to spark the Sooners with four catches for 83 yards. Bradley's team-leading speed was evident on two big plays. In the second quarter he caught a 35-year screen pass where he seemed to be running away from Alabama defenders. And then in the third quarter, Bradley ran down a White throw, just out-running the football to the point for the catch.

Bradley's screen catch and run set up the Sooners first touchdown as Chuck Long made one of the best calls of the night coming back and faking the same screen, drawing the Bama safeties towards him and going deep to Mark Clayton on a 47-yard seem route.

"It is a good sequence that we worked on in practice," said Long immediately after the game. "I had a gut feeling about it. Our guys did a nice job in practice with that all week. It was a play that we had three or four years ago and we brought it out again and hit it at the right time. There was great execution on our offense."

The fact that the Sooners were using Bradley in the sequence is only a minor surprise. The OU coaches were not hiding the fact that they were trying to find some ways to get the ball in Bradley's hands. Of course, to do that the Sooners had to put Bradley in the game and that was decided during the week as well.

"I told Mark that if he continued to work hard this week that we were going to play him in the game and that he had a chance to have a great game," said wide receiver coach Darrell Wyatt. "Mark may be the best pure athlete on our team, and the reason why we wanted him back on offense is because he is so dangerous with a football in his hands. Mark is getting better every single day at practice and he deserved to play. Now that he has made some big plays, you can bet that he will only get better."


Before the season Coach Stoops said that the 2003 Sooners would be his deepest OU squad yet. He stated that OU would have more good football players who could play winning football and who could contribute to the Sooners winning efforts. That is never more evident than at wide receiver where Brandon Jones is emerging as a star (7 catches for 86 yards and one touchdown) and JeJuan Rankins, Mark Clayton, Travis Wilson and Bradley all played and all posed big time athletic ability.

"It was fun to see Mark get in the game and make some big plays for us," said Coach Stoops following the game. "He has battled a little bit of a leg injury, but when he goes he can really go. He is a player that has speed and size that not many others have. Mark made some plays out their today on special teams and at receiver. I am very proud of him and I was glad to see him on the field. In fact, Mark needs to continue to stay on the field, because he has a lot of presence to him."

The Sooners moved Bradley from second team cornerback to second team wide receiver with a week to go in double sessions. The staff had quite a battle over the move, and to this day the defensive coaches aren't happy they lost him. However, Bradley had a minor knee injury at the time that still bothers him a little. The thinking is that on offense he knows where he is going so he won't have the sudden movements that will cause pain in his knee that he would have on defense. However, that doesn't mean that the defensive coaches don't get a chance to use his talents.

"I know Mark made some plays at wide receiver, but he was tremendous on special teams for us as well," said Co-Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables. "Mark has never played on the punt coverage team or the kick coverage team before, but he is very good at it. One time they are trying to jet off one of the gunners out there to try to come on off the edge to go block the punt. Mark knocks him to the ground and then solo tackles the return man with all that space for the return man to work with. That resulted in only a one or two yard return and that was a big time play. I'm sure not as many people noticed the special teams play, but believe me that play is just as important to us as a coaching staff and as a team as his catches on offense."

Everybody in the media wanted to talk to Mark after the game, including me for SuperTalk 930 WKY. Mark's dad, former Sooner quarterback Danny Bradley, does the post-game show with me after each game. I have developed a great relationship with Mark, however that relationship didn't save me here.

All of us in the media were trying to find Mark when I finally tracked him down in the media interview room where Coach Stoops had just held his own press conference. Mark sees me and I am drawing up my microphone to do an interview, which Mark wants to do it because he wants to be on the show with his dad. And then, boom, I get big timed. That's right, ESPN radio jumps in and grabs the kid by the arm and says, ‘We have to have him and have to have him now for two interviews now.'

Well, that doesn't make me happy, but this producer has Mark by the arm and is taking him to a phone where he is going to call into ESPN, but Mark is telling the guy he wants to go on with Mr. Hale and his dad. In the end, Mark had to go on ESPN leaving papa Bradley and I in our wake. But considering how great it was to see Mark get some attention, it was well worth the diss.


I have known Danny since his playing days at OU and he always told me about his talented son Mark, who was bigger than him and who could run faster too. Now, if you remember Danny was pretty fast when he used to quarterback Barry Switzer's wishbone. So, I didn't know if it was just a daddy bragging or if Mark was really that big and fast and as it turns out he is that big and fast.

"Mark has all the ability in the world and James he can play a number of positions," said Danny Bradley on the SuperTalk 930 post game show. "He has great speed and power, and all he needs to do in settle into a position. He has always played four or five different positions, and in retrospect, that has hurt him because college coaches really didn't know where to play him. Until recently that was the case even at OU, but we knew that Bob Stoops and this coaching staff would eventually get him in the right spot and I think Mark has found a home at wide receiver. He has a lot to learn, but he has a great capacity to learn, so I am looking forward to watching Mark really mature as a receiver."

Not only will Danny look forward to that, but every Sooner fan in the country will wait for that with great anticipation.


Once again Bob Stoops proved that he coaches with more guts than any other coach in college football. Who will forget in last year's Alabama game that the Sooners were faced with a fourth and one from their own 29. His brother Mike told him that the Sooner defense was exhausted and that the offense needed to do something to keep the football. So, against all conventional wisdom Stoops went for it and picked up the first down, resting the defense for another five minutes.

During his first year and the Sooners national championship year Stoops' willingness to use fake field goals and punts gave him the reputation of a riverboat gambler, willing to do whatever it takes to win a football game. That reputation forced opponents to prepare for the Sooner trick plays and that takes up time from the regular game plan of the Sooners. However, the last two years Coach Stoops didn't call many trick plays, but the fourth and one last year proved that he would still take risks if it would help his football team win the game.

"Coach Stoops is coaching to win and we always realize that," said quarterback Jason White following the game. "He is not afraid to take a chance, but if you notice it is a sound chance. I know it doesn't look like it sometimes, because we are backed up in our own territory, but realize that our coaching staff has scouted out their tendencies and know exactly what they are going to do when they line up a certain way. So as it turns out, the fact that we are backed up deep in our own territory only adds to our ability to surprise. We love the fact that Coach Stoops and our coaching staff is always coming up with ways to help us win football games."

Alabama had just closed cut the Sooner lead to 13-10 midway through the third quarter and the momentum was on the Bama sideline. Bob Stoops didn't like the feeling and realized that his Sooners needed a big play.

"Coach Venables had drawn it up early in the week and I liked it, so we worked on it during the week," said Stoops. "I felt if they were going to be that reckless off the corner that we needed to take advantage of it. I was kind of mad at myself for not calling it earlier in one instance, and fortunately we had the chance again. The second time we saw that it was open. I felt like in some games when you are away from home, that you need to make something happen. You need to make a play. You have to have guts enough to go with it, and fortunately it worked."


Most of Coach Stoops' trick plays use little unsuspecting players and this time it was punter Blake Ferguson and former defensive hero Michael Thompson. Thompson started at cornerback as a freshman in the Sooners' national championship game against Florida State and played his best game as a Sooner. If he stayed on course, Thompson was going to be a certain All-American and future NFL player.

All of you now know his story about the car accident, amazing rehab and the tremendous team attitude that Thompson takes to the team and his willingness to accept any role he can get with the Sooner football team.

Saturday night, that role was as a punt coverage gunner turned wide receiver on the punt team, and it was his 22-yard reception from Ferguson that returned the momentum back to the Sooners. One play later, the Sooners executed a 47-yard touchdown pass from Jason White to Brandon Jones. There isn't a player, coach or administrator who doesn't root for Thompson to have success, and that made his 22-yard catch and run even more of a success story.

"It is just a great feeling to watch Michael Thompson have some success again," said Bob Stoops after the game. "I was watching him run with the ball, and even though he ran with it and started bobbling it for some reason, I had a big smile on my face just watching him run down the field. We were ready to run that play on our own ten, and the fact that Blake and Michael made it work at our 31 was great to see."

Ferguson admits that he has never been much of a quarterback. Most kickers spend so much time working on kicking that they don't really work on anything else. Ferguson didn't really throw a pass to Thompson, it was more like….well, lets let Ferguson call it.

"I threw a shot put to him," said a chuckling Ferguson after the game. "I was really nervous and I have never been good at throwing the ball anyway, but I threw it well enough in practice that the coaches thought it would work. I guess you could say that is what happened, because the ball got to Michael and we picked up a first down, which is what we were trying to do."

For Thompson, it was another appearance in the bright lights and another chance to be in the spotlight. With cameras blazing and lights shining on him, Thompson was once again the center of attention from the local and national media. And as always, he handled it all very well. Thompson even had some fun with the fact that he bobbled the ball and almost fumbled the ball away.

"We had worked on the play all week, but I didn't know if we would have a chance to use it or not," said Thompson as he was boarding the team bus for the trip home. "I am the primary receiver on both sides so the play is coming to me. Blake throws it to me and I have to wait a little bit for it to get there and then I start running with it. I haven't even touched a football on offense in five years and I am trying to decide if I want to switch it or keep it in my left hand. Finally, I held on to it and got the first down."

"We have the kind of coaches that aren't scared to make a tough call," Thompson continued. "We know they are going to work all night to come up with a gameplan that works for us and that is where this play came from. If they say it will work, it will work. They have never failed us."

That feeling is a big reason why this football team is so strong. The players have totally bought into what the coaches are teaching them. And without question, the Sooners are a total team.


KeJuan Jones started at running back against Alabama and got most of the carries against the Crimson Tide. Senior Renaldo Works was named the starting running back before the start of the season, but he sprained his knee early against North Texas. Works didn't go through a full practice with the team until Thursday of last week, thus Jones got the call responded by rushing for 63 yards on 20 carries.

"I thought we improved in two big areas in this game compared to last year's game," said Offensive Coordinator Chuck Long. "As you recall last year in this game we gave up six sacks and this year we didn't give up any. You also look at our run stats from last night. We didn't have over 100 yards, but we had 100 yards better than last year. We had -21 to 26 yards last year, and we looked at our effort on Saturday and felt we improved in the running game. Not many teams are going to run against those guys and the yards we got in the running game last night were valuable. We hit them hard with it, and not only that, but we set up the play-action and the run game set that all up."

Works did get six carries against Alabama for 12 yards on the final drive, but since he didn't practice much last week Jones got the majority of the work. This week Works is expected back at practice on a full-time basis, and if he goes through all the drills the question is whether he is still the starting tailback or not?

"Well, probably, or at least I believe so," said Coach Stoops. "That is something they will work out and see how he is this week. If he goes through practice OK then I think he would be, but we will make that decision later in the week."

Jones is still feeling his way along as the feature tailback in the Sooner offense. He wasn't quick hitting the holes and it looked like he missed some as well. Jones just didn't look very quick against Alabama, but the Crimson Tide defense could have had a lot to do with that.


Alabama's defense was a load up front and very difficult to block, but the Sooner offensive line got a passing grade.

"Davin (Joseph) and Chris (Bush) probably played half the time," said Run Game Coordinator and offensive line coach Kevin Wilson. "Davin had not practiced a whole lot in the week. Actually, he played pretty well, but on a couple of plays his mobility got him in a couple of rushes against guys that I would have liked for him to stay in there a little bit better. He played pretty well for having not practiced. He kind of just did some walk through, meaning he was there, but not physically going through the practice. Chris (Bush) did pretty fair in the game. Wes (Sims) played the most at left tackle. I was worried about that (Antwan) Odom kid on the edge. Chris Messner played well, but I didn't want him to get rattled against what I thought was a pretty top-notch guy in a hostile environment. We did play Wes at left guard for one series and Chris played alongside him. I wasn't trying to slight Chris, but Wes has been in more big games against top guys and I felt more comfortable with him. Wes actually did pretty well blocking Odom for the most part. We will continue to play all seven of those guys."


Defensively, the Sooners gave up a few plays, but for the most part played like one of the better defenses in college football. Lance Mitchell was incredible finishing with 10 tackles, and at times he played without a helmet.

"I was sweating a lot and I couldn't get it to stay on, so I just kept playing through the play," said Mitchell following the game. "I was hitting pretty hard out there and I guess the force popped my helmet off. I really didn't care. All I know is that I still had to make the play."

The Sooners gave up 303 yards of total offense to the Crimson Tide. OU finished the game with six sacks and two interceptions.

"I thought we played well the majority of the night," said Co-Defensive Coordinator Mike Stoops. "I thought we pressured the quarterback really well and controlled the run as well. That was the key, we forced them to throw the ball a lot, because 42 times is a lot for them. We got them into some long-yardage situations that they probably thought they had to use the play-action on first or second down more than they usually do."

"We played well at the line of scrimmage and handled their run game pretty well," M. Stoops continued. "They rushed for a little over 100 yards and they had well over 200 last week. We just wanted to make sure that we were good at defending the run game. We knew that Brodie Croyle was a really good player and a very underrated player. I think he is one of the best quarterbacks out there. He has a great presence and gets away from pressure. We had pressure on him all day and he did a good job of getting away from it. We had six sacks, and anytime you get six sacks that is pretty darn good. Our pass rush is the most improved aspect of our defense. Dan Cody and Jonathan Jackson are creating a lot of pressure off of the edges."


Boarding the team bus, the Sooners team were the happiest that I have seen them in a long while. Going into this game the Sooners knew they had their hands full. Alabama scared the Sooners in 2002 and the Oklahoma coaches knew that playing at Bryant-Denny Stadium was going to be incredibly tough. The Sooners weren't a good road team last year and the coaches wanted to change that, and so did the players. As a group they talked about going on the road to Alabama and making a statement, and that is exactly what the Sooners did with their 20-13 win.

So, as the team boarded the bus all the players, coaches and administration had a big smile on their face. OU had just taken Alabama's best shot, and yet the Sooners' national title hopes were still alive.


In that small tunnel leading to the Sooner locker room there wasn't much room to move around. So, everybody was bumping into everybody and with all those big guys around it was tough to slide by. However, Carol Stoops always manages to ease her way into celebrations such as this. She is always careful to not to attract attention, so she will drift over to a wall away from the action and just watch everybody have a good time.

As always, Mrs. Stoops looked beautiful and eloquent despite the fact she had just been through a football game. She was holding a box of Kentucky Fried Chicken, which is what the OU group was getting as a snack for the road. I happened to walked by her and we chatted a little about the game and then I asked her what she was doing. She said that she was waiting for Bob, and then I started to turn around looking for him, but as it turned out Bob had celebrated so much and had done so many interviews that he was late getting into the shower.

Bob was holding up the travel party, but I don't think anybody cared. Carol said it best when she said, "I don't think we are going to leave without him, so let's just have some fun."

So the players, their families and friends all continued to celebrate as their head coach worked to get dressed for the road trip back home. However, nobody could blame him for taking his time. And actually, the Sooners were in no hurry to leave. They had just completed quite a trip road trip to Alabama — one that they won't forget for a long, long time.

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