AMES, IOWA — OU had just completed their 53-7 thrashing of Iowa State and it was time to celebrate. OU doesn't celebrate anything until the game is over, and now that it was in the bag OU was celebrating and thinking ahead. Since the start of the season players and coaches alike had been asked about Texas, and to every single Sooners credit nobody would bite and look ahead to Texas.
Each and every person within the OU football program would give the standard line that they are not looking ahead to the annual battle in the Cotton Bowl and that they always take each game one game at a time. I have heard the questions and the answers so many times that I wanted to slap some reporters for their repeated efforts to get at least one Sooner to bite. However, with the Iowa State game in the books the Sooners could finally look ahead, and most of the players couldn't hold their emotion.
The first player up the ramp of note was All-American defensive tackle Tommie Harris. I was standing beside the entrance to the Sooner locker room and all the players and coaches had to pass by me.
"Hey James, now we get Texas baby ...now we get Texas," said a joyous Harris as he walked into the locker room immediately following the game. "Go ahead and tell your homeboys (media) they can ask me about Texas now and I will tell them that Tommie is ready."
"Hey, James now it is Texas time baby ...now it is Texas time," shouted a jubilant Mark Bradley after he had just scorched the Cyclones for a 39-yard touchdown catch and a 100-yard kickoff return. "Tell those Longhorns that we are ready for them."
"Yeah it's Texas time, it's Texas time," said a confident Jammal Brown as he held up his index finger to signal the Sooners are No. 1. "I am undefeated against Texas and that isn't going to change."
So, the shackles were off and now the Sooners were free and clear to talk about, to think about, to get worked up about and to shout about the Texas Longhorns. And even the Sooner Head Ball Coach got into the act.
"I can't believe you media people," said a chuckling Bob Stoops in the Sooner postgame media conference. "Can I ask you guys a question? For three weeks all you (I am happy to say not me) have been asking me about Texas. All of you have been trying to get me to talk about Texas for the last three weeks, and now that the Texas game is finally here and you haven't asked me about Texas yet (7 minutes into an 8 minute interview). I can't believe you guys. You have been bugging me about Texas for the last three weeks and now that you can bug me about Texas you don't ask me one question about Texas. Man, I never know what I am going to get from you guys."
Of course, I immediately pointed out that I learned my lesson in year one of the Stoops era, and since then I have never talked about Texas before it's time. And to Bob's credit he gave me credit, which drew a laugh from Bob's better half after the media conference was over.
"That's right James you haven't asked about Texas before Texas week. I know that for a fact," said Carol Stoops as I wandered how this lady seems to know everything about everything and yet seems to hide in the background. "Don't let Bob put you into that ask Texas camp before it's time category. You don't belong there."
Thanks Carol. And folks that is just about as good an endorsement as you can get.
So, for the last question of the news conference as Coach Stoops was getting ready to leave I had to ask, "Hey Coach, what about Texas?"
"I can't wait," said a confident Stoops as he rose to leave the media room. "I wish we could play them tomorrow."
If the Sooners sound totally confident, well there is good reason for it. This Sooner team has been a team totally focused on the goal they set at the beginning of the year. That goal was to win the Big 12 South, then the Big 12 Championship and then the National Championship. And they have followed Bob Stoops game plan perfectly.
"I would say that at this time, at least at this point, we are on par with that 2000 team when it comes to concentrating on just what is in front of them. And then going out and executing in an tremendous fashion to put us in a position where all of our goals are still attainable," said Bob Stoops today from his football office on Sunday. "Whether this team turns out to be as good as the 2000 team still remains to be seen. There is a lot of football still to be played, but up to this point I have been really pleased with how this football team has played and how they go about their business."
This Sooner team takes on a business-like attitude. The OU defense started the year one of the nation's best and after five games they still have that rep. The OU offense started the year with questions marks at quarterback and in the run game. And after five games the quarterback is a Heisman Trophy candidate and the run game is coming along.
"Chuck (Long) and his staff have done an excellent job of re-tooling our offense this year," said Coach Stoops. "We are still running our offense with different wrinkles here and there, but everything fits with how we have played. They (coaches) are doing a real good job, an excellent job I think. All of them working together and they have a great working relationship. All of them contribute, and Chuck does a great job of managing all of them and gathering everybody's thoughts and using only those ideas that fit us. I like the way we are playing. We are very diverse as we are throwing the ball more from under center than we used to. However, we still have our offense out of the shotgun as well. That gives us a lot of diversity and I believe that has helped us."
The Sooners offense seems almost unstoppable. Admit it, all of you are a little shocked when the Sooner offense doesn't drive the ball down the field and put some kind of points on the board. This offense has improved each and every week, and after a slow start they toyed with the Iowa State defense.
The Sooners finished with 613 total offense against Iowa State, 199 yards on the ground and 414 yards in the air. The total offense mark was the best for the Sooners in the Bob Stoops era.
"Yeah, it was really good. We did well with our opening drive, because we like to get some kind of points out of opening drive, and that was good," said Chuck Long. "That was good and then we stalled a couple of times, but really came on from that point on. That is as good as we have seen it in a while, as far as good run game production and a great job in the passing game. Not only that, but catching all those footballs in traffic. Those are the things you look for in great execution, and our receivers did that very well last night. Plus, we had great pass pro, the best we have had all year."
In fact, the Sooners are playing so well, could they be peaking at the just the right time for those dirty, rotten scummy Longhorns?
"I believe that as far as feeling good about all phases, we feel good offensively going into the game," said Long. "Before the season started we knew what we had player-wise, but we didn't know what we had chemistry-wise. So, going into training camp we really didn't know what we had, because simply we didn't have a lot of starting experience. Our guys have really taken that challenge and we did challenge to step forward in a fast way. We don't have a lot of starts between all of these skill guys, but they have done a tremendous job. They have worked hard at it, and to their credit we have developed some good chemistry going into the Texas game.
"Our offensive line is taking a lot of pride in protecting Jason and you can sense that among them," Long continued. "It is a real good feeling to be around our offensive line right now. Our offensive line is playing their best football of the year and it couldn't have come at a better time. We are getting ready to play the toughest part of our schedule, and just like last year our offensive line has jelled and is playing its best football."
However, no matter how you slice the reason why the Sooners are doing so well on offense, it is because senior Jason White is playing better than any quarterback in the country. In fact, after hitting on 27 of 35 passes for 393 yards and five touchdowns, it is safe to say that Jason White is playing better than any other offensive player in the country. So, can you say Heisman?
"I don't worry about that or any kind of individual awards," White said during his postgame press conference. "I have said this many times, and I really believe this, that the Heisman is a team award and not an individual award. This is not something that I worry about, because it is not what drives me. I am only concerned about winning. I know these questions are going to keep coming, but my answers are always going to be the same. I only want to win games and if we win all of our games then my award will be winning that national championship."
White's maturity and poise has been amazing when you consider than he hasn't played that much football. This has been talked about a million times, but going into in the season it was generally assumed that White would go through a period where he would work off the rust and the offensive would struggle as he struggled. However, there has been no rust period. And in fact, White is playing as if he has been a three-year starter who has never missed a game.
"I think in many ways the injuries have forced Jason to be more of a pocket passer, but he was growing to that anyway," said Long. "He was maturing to become more of a refined pocket passer and I think the injuries hurried the process. He came into the program with excellent physical talent, but he was very raw. Jason didn't read things very well at first and was very impatient. He would take one read and take off. Now Jason is going one, two, three and four with his reads and he is doing it very, very quickly. He has worked very hard at it and he has come a very, very long way. However, Jason has done it in a short amount of time. He hasn't had a lot of playing time until now and he still doesn't. He is acting and playing like a guy who has been a three or four-year starter and that is good to see. Jason has worked hard at it."
Early in White's career we were all enamored with his scrambling ability, but it his pure passing ability has caught the nation by surprise. That is all but Coach Long himself.
"I am not surprised at his passing ability at all," said Long. "Jason has worked hard and I keep mentioning that, but he always had good accuracy and it was just a matter of refining his skills and working on them on a daily basis. Here was a guy that was out two years because of bad knees and didn't have the benefit of those repetitions, and he has caught up pretty quickly and he has now passed a certain level that we expected out of him. I think his performance was indicative of how well he is playing right now. He did so many things well and was incredible in some ways."
With White ahead of the performance curve, can he still get better?
"Sure, I can get a lot better," said White after the ISU game. "I missed some reads tonight and threw the ball to many times in coverage. I made a couple of bad decisions and threw into double coverage. I know when I look at the film I will see that I had better options. I can also always get better at going through my reads and making them more natural for me. The better I learn the offense, the more natural those reads will become."
White is a not a cocky guy and he is not going to put anything on the opponents bulletin board, but remember it was the Texas game where White first earned stardom for the Sooners. However, he hasn't played in a Texas game for two years, so you can bet that he is looking forward to the big game.
"I can't wait until Saturday," said White. "I have had to sit this one out the last couple of years and I want to get back in there and get going. This is the greatest game in college football and I have a taste of it, but I really lost that the last couple of years. The fact we have won the games has helped me handle my situation. Now, I am going to get another chance to play in the game and I really can't wait. It is the ultimate challenge to play in a game like that, because it totally tests your skills under the most intense pressure. This games means so much to both teams, so the emotions in the game are incredibly high and I can't wait to get into the game."
You have to love a guy like Mark Bradley. Bradley is a walk-on who is an incredible talent that can't seem to get onto the football field at OU. Every coach that talks to Bradley reminds him how talented he is, and that if he will continue to work hard that good things will eventually come to him. So, Bradley keeps working hard and when given the opportunity he makes big plays.
Remember the big plays against Alabama? Well Bradley was at it again against Iowa State as the Sooners threw one ball to him that went for a 39-yard touchdown, and then he came in for one kick-off return and took it 100-yards for a score. Bradley had two touches, two touchdowns, which makes you wonder what he has to do to get more opportunities.
"I am so blessed that his coaching staff is giving me opportunities to make big plays," said a humble Bradley after the game. "We have a lot of good receivers here at Oklahoma, and I am just one of them. When you can play six different wide receivers like we can you have to understand that you have to wait your turn. I lost a couple of games due to injury, and now that I am back I have to work my way back into the rotation. Coach (Darrell) Wyatt gave me an opportunity tonight and I was blessed in that things opened up for me and I was able to put the ball in the endzone. I am our backup kick-off returner to ‘Perk' (Antonio Perkins), and I got a chance to come in when he got banged up and the blockers in front of me just opened things up. That was an easy touchdown for me. I will take those every time I can get them. I just have to be patient and realize that the coaches know what they are doing and I will get playing time when they feel they can best take advantage of me."
Bradley handles his situation better than most of us could. Here you have an athlete that may be the best athlete on a team loaded with great athletes, yet he is trying to make a team as a walk-on. Bradley first gained notice on the scout team as an option quarterback, then it looked as if he was going to be the third cornerback during two-a-days. A knee injury moved him to the back of the line at wide receiver, and that is a tough crew to work your way up the depth chart. An early injury to Will Peoples gave him a chance to move up one notch and his tremendous talent gave him a chance to get on the field.
"Mark is a tremendous talent that is still learning how to play wide receiver," said the Sooners outstanding wide receiver coach Darrell Wyatt. "There are certain routes that he is better at right now, but he is getting better at all of them all the time. Mark has a great future with us, but we are deep at receiver. He will get more reps as we go along, but remember they will come at the expense of a pretty good receiver in his own right, whoever that might be. So, it is a juggling act as we try to get playing time for all these guys, but they can all make plays so it always seems to work out for us."
Bradley has been tremendous on special teams playing the outside and inside gunner on the punt coverage team and the outside blocker on the punt return squad.
"People need to realize that Mark is one of our best special team players as well," said Co-Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables. "I know that he makes big plays that the fans like at wide receiver and in his returns, but on special teams he makes great tackles, great blocks and just does his job so well that he is always an asset on whatever special team unit he is on. Special teams are where a great athlete can really show off his athletic ability. And right now this is where Mark his making his mark on this team, and believe me it doesn't go unnoticed with our football team."
Bradley grew up in Arkansas, but his dad Danny Bradley played in several OU/Texas game and his son grew up always wanting to play in one.
"Oh, my Lord I have always wanted to play in that game. I can't believe I am finally going to get that chance," said Bradley. "My dad has told me all the stories, and now I get a chance to develop my own stories and play in my own games and I can't wait."
Tommie Harris is playing better than he did when he as a fantastic freshman shocking the college football world right out of Ellison High School in Killeen, Texas. Harris is totally healthy and bigger and stronger than he was as a freshman. Now, if Tommie can just get a little help from the refs his world would be just about perfect.
"I was getting in their backfield all night, but they kept holding me and basically tackling me," said a smiling Harris after the game. "I mean, are refs blind are something? I am kidding about that, because they do a great job, but man they must have liberalized the holding rules or something because I have offensive linemen just grabbing me or dropping to my legs and hanging on. It is just crazy. I got free enough to make some things happen in the backfield and things are going pretty well for me right now."
So, Tommie are you looking forward to the Texas game?
"Am I," Harris said with a big smile and a long pause. "Am I ...yes, yes, yes. I can't wait. Let's play them twice."
Dusty Dvoracek is really ready to play the Longhorns as well.
You know, growing up in Dallas you have to learn to take a side," said Dvoracek while waiting to get on the Sooner bus. "Before I signed with OU I really didn't take a side, but when it came to recruiting OU recruited me so much harder that now I really hate Texas. I can't wait to get to practice. I can't wait to watch film. I can't wait to get into meetings this week. I can't wait to get into the Cotton Bowl so that we get after Texas."
OK, I guess you can say that Dusty is excited about the game.
The Sooner linebacker corp continues to get banged up. First Lance Mitchell is lost for the year, and then on Saturday his replacement Wayne Chambers went out with a leg injury in the second half. On top of that, starting strongside linebacker Pasha Jackson suffered a sprained MCL and is expected to miss the next two weeks.
Antonio Perkins also was banged up on a punt return and it looked serious at the time, but apparently only Jackson's injury is somewhat serious."
"Only Pasha will miss the game on Saturday and the rest are fine," said Coach Stoops. "Antonio could have come back into the game Saturday if we wanted to and Wayne did come back into the game. So, we came out of the game in pretty good shape. We will be fine at linebacker. We always play five DBs a lot anyway, so we may go with that a little more, which gets Donte Nicholson up in the Roy position and Brodney Pool back at strong safety. When we play our strongside backer either Russell Dennison or Zach Latimer will be in the game, and both are good players looking for an opportunity to play. They will give a good account of themselves. We are confident they can get the job done and will play well on Saturday."
The Sooners also took advantage of their trip to Iowa to see some recruits up in that part of the country. Brent Venables went to watch Chris Patterson in Chicago. Kevin Wilson went to watch Roland Martin in Chicago. Darrell Wyatt went to Fred Davis' game in Toledo, Ohio, and Bobby Jack Wright went up to watch Derrick Harvey in Maryland.
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