NORMAN, Okla. — It was a strange locker room following the Sooners 41-3 win over Baylor on Saturday. The Sooners had just won the Big 12 South, and yet their locker room was rather subdued. It was almost as if they were thinking off into a distant land or thinking of better things to come.
"We still have so much football to play and each game gets more important," said All-American linebacker Teddy Lehman immediately after the game. "James, you have been around here with us the entire way and you know that we are mission-driven. Today, we accomplished one of our missions and that was to win the Big 12 South, but all of us can't help but think about the bigger goals ahead. We will have a tough game at Texas Tech and then the Big 12 Championship game is going to be tough. Whoever we play in that game will be playing like they are a home team in Kansas City. And we are fortunate to win that game then the National Title game that will be incredibly tough. I am happy about this one, but already Texas Tech is on my mind."
And on a night when Mark Clayton became the greatest receiver in Sooner history, and on a night that Jason White became the best single season passing quarterback in the Sooner history, the Sooners seemed almost bored with what just happened in the Baylor game.
"I don't know what to say about my records or any records at this point," said Clayton immediate following the game. "I really can't believe that it is me setting those records. I promise I am not the greatest receiver in this history of this program. I don't know who is, but it is not me. I can pretty much guarantee you that. I can't really think about records or stats right now because I am just a small part of this team trying to win games. Winning is all I care about and if we can accomplish that then come talk to me after the season, or after my career is over about the records when I can actually look at them and see what they are all about."
"I don't even look at the stats at this time and I really don't care about them," said White before some 40 reporters after the game. "It goes without saying that we have to complete some passes to move the ball to win games, and from that standpoint I am all for stats. I am not even thinking about any awards or personal accomplishments until after our season is over. So, contact me then and I will be happy to talk about them."
That is two perfect examples of why the Sooners are the best team in the country and why year-in and-year-out the Sooners will be contenders for the national title. They are so focused on the ultimate goal at hand that they have no concerns about what they have accomplished individually.
"Winning the South Division title was one of our main goals. To qualify for the Big 12 Championship game is our first and primary goal," said OU Head Coach Bob Stoops following the Baylor game. "I appreciate our players again for working hard each week to put us in this position to play for the Big 12 Championship. It was another good solid win for us, but what is great is that we still have a major game coming up for us next weekend. I like the fact that in the locker room nobody is jumping up and down and nobody is to full of themselves at all or very impressed with themselves. Our players still realize that we still have a lot to play for and that we have to keep pushing for our ultimate goals."
"Even though we have earned that right, we still understand that we are still involved in a big game next week," Stoops continued. "We need to continue to play as well as we can to go down there and win. We need to remain focused on it."
Another reason for the melancholy attitude after the game had to do with the fact that 14 great seniors played their last game at Owen Field. As focused as each player is they couldn't help but think, especially in the fourth quarter, that they wouldn't be playing on that storied field again in front of the great Sooner fans.
"I am not going to lie to you and tell you what I wasn't thinking about it as the clock wound down," said senior defensive tackle Kory Klein. "I started talking to Teddy a little bit about it in the fourth quarter and neither one of us really wanted to come out of game. Pasha didn't either. I felt sorry for 'Book' (Brandon Everage) because he got hurt, but then 'Book' told me not to feel bad for him because it gave Matt (McCoy) a chance to play a bunch in the game. We all realize that we are participating in something that is so special that you wish it would never end, but we know that it is going to end soon."
"I normally just rush off the field at the end of the game, but when this one was over I made sure that I found my family after the game," said Klein. "This time I was one of the last players off the field, but I looked around and there was Teddy, Brandon, Michael (Thompson), 'Book' and Jason all kind of taking our time getting off the field. I hope somebody got a picture of us walking off the field, because I would like to have that."
One thing that Klein is most proud of is that this senior group was the first for Coach Stoops and his staff, and they have turned out to be much better than anybody thought that they would.
"It has been great playing with these guys, because there are a lot of great guys in this group," said Klein. "As coach talked about earlier in the week, we weren't the greatest recruiting class in the country according to all the experts, but we have won a lot of games, won some championships and we are trying to win some more. Those guys in the locker room just mean the world to me and we are going to be brothers for life. That is one of things that make this so special, in that we are all so tight and generally care about each other. I feel just blessed and fortunate to be apart of this football team."
White was saying similar things and talking about how his senior class had proved to be much better than anybody thought that they would.
"Once I was taken out of the game, I just started to think about how far we had come from those first workout sessions with Coach (Jerry) Schmidt," said White. "Man, we hated those morning workouts and we were all living in the 'Bud' House and that was all we talked about every day. We had to rely on each other to build courage to wake up in the morning for another go-round with off-season workouts. To be honest, as the clock wound down I just wanted to soak everything in. I wanted to look around at the crowd, wanted to watch my teammates and just enjoy the moment I guess."
And this from a guy that could come back for a sixth year.
Clayton's amazing success is shocking when you think about it. Maybe shocking isn't the best word, because everybody knew that he was good, but nobody knew that he was this good.
At the first of year it was Brandon Jones who was being touted as the rising star among the wide receiver corp. Clayton had been moved into the slot and Jones had a tremendous summer and looked ready for a breakout year. Well, Jones has become a major force for the Sooners. Against Baylor caught four passes for 79 yards and one touchdown and had another 50-plus touchdown called back on a holding call.
However, Clayton was again the star hauling in six passes for 112 passes and two touchdowns of 47 and 9 yards. The Sooner coaching staff is running out of ways to praise him.
"Shoot, he is the best receiver in the country in my opinion. I would argue that with anybody," says OU wide receiver coach Darrell Wyatt. "Mark is having a great year and he is coming up with so many big plays for us in each and every game that his performance is one of the best in the country in every game. Mark is so intelligent, so tough that actually his abilities go off the charts. You and I have talked about his speed with pads on and that is evident in every game, because his quickness and speed leaves people behind. I give out a test each week on our assignments and Mark knows what every position on the football team is supposed to do on each play. He can tell which way the quarterback is going to turn and what his progressions are going to be on each play. We don't have any other players that can tell you that and especially not other players with his kind of ability."
"Something that never gets talked about his Mark's toughness," said Offensive Coordinator Chuck Long. "Mark may be our best blocker on the team. He had some crack-back blocks on the safeties yesterday that were flat awesome, where he took their safety completely off his feet. Every game he leads our team in pancakes or knockdown blocks, and yet he is one of the smallest players on the team. Mark does everything well, and right now there isn't anything that he doesn't do well. We are doing a number of things to get Mark more opportunities (lining him up at RB), because he is so talented with a football in his hands and he always delivers for us."
Clayton is the most humble superstar the Sooners have had in years. You can never get him to talk about himself and that is what separates Clayton from your normal running of the mill collegiate superstar.
"Mark always has a smile on his face every day and he loves his teammates and never talks about himself," said Long. "What you see is what you get from Mark and everybody enjoys being around Mark. I know that Coach Wyatt enjoys coaching him. He comes to play everyday and he is not one of those guys that is getting the ball every down, but he never complains. Some guys will go to the coaching staff and ask how they are going to get him the ball, but Mark never does that. Mark is one of those guys that could finish the game with zero catches and Brandon Jones or Mark Bradley could come up with all the balls and Mark with perfectly happy with that and happy for them."
"He is an exceptional guy and an exceptional team guy," said Wyatt. "You know Mark could have the best wide receiver stats in the country if we didn't have so many other receivers who were quality players. You look at the stats of Brandon Jones, JeJuan Rankins, Travis Rankins, Will Peoples and Mark Bradley, and there are a lot of passes that are thrown to somebody else. Larry Fitzgerald of Pittsburgh is a great receiver and he is their primary receiver, who on every play is the main receiving target for his quarterback. Our offense is not designed to do that for one receiver. I like our concept better, but considering the stats that Mark has already accumulated, just think what he would have if we were trying to throw the ball to him on every down."
Look for the Sooners to try to come up with even more ways to get Clayton the football in the future.
Clayton doesn't want to talk about it, so I will. Clayton is now the career leader in receiving yards with 2,099 yards, passing his good friend Antwone Savage with 2,009. His season totals of 1,159 yards and 14 touchdowns are both single season marks as well. Clayton also went over the 100-yard receiving mark for the sixth time this season and ninth time in his career. The previous mark was four held by the great Eddie Hinton.
Also, make note at how well Darrell Wyatt is doing as the wide receiver coach. First he develops Rashaun Woods and that excellent corp at OSU that beat OU for two straight years, and now he has turned an average receiving corp at OU into maybe the best total group in the country. Without question, Clayton, Jones, Rankins, Wilson, Peoples and Bradley all are better receivers working under Wyatt than they were when they started out at OU.
The Sooners offense was tremendous in the first half scoring on their first four possessions to put the game away, but then slugged through the second half growing frustrated until the Sooners scored with 7:46 remaining on a KeJuan Jones one-yard run. Baylor was also able to sack Jason White five times and they constantly put pressure on the Heisman candidate in the second half and the Sooners appeared to never pick up the Baylor blitz.
Baylor also stuffed the box to shut down the Sooner rushing game, but in the end OU still racked up 364 yards of offense and 41 points on the board.
"I liked our performance a lot. I liked how we hung in there through some rough spots in the second half, but they came through with a touchdown in the fourth quarter and all those little things add up," said Long. "The first half was really good for us. We had about 200 yards in the first quarter and I don't know what the record is for us in the first quarter, but that was an excellent start for us. We had some guys make some great catches and Jason was really firing the ball into some tight spots in the first half."
"We got up on them pretty quick and we get into the second half and make some miscues, but after watching tape all of those are easily correctable," Long continued. "I like the way that our guys fought through some adversity and got that touchdown in the fourth quarter. We had some trouble adjusting to their blitzes and that is going to happen from time to time. Sometimes, if you don't guess right or if you don't execute your hot reads right, then they can get to you. Teams can overload your blocking every time if they want to because they can always send one more player than you can block, but if you execute correctly you can burn that defense. We will work hard on that this week and get it corrected, but to be honest it will just be a refresher course for us. What Baylor did wasn't anything that we have not seen before."
Hats off to senior Matt McCoy, who always is a solid team guy and who always seems to make the most of his opportunities. McCoy is a back-up safety on a team loaded with great safeties. He gets most of his playing time when senior Brandon Everage dings his shoulder, which unfortunately is quite often. And whenever he is in the game he just seems to make things happen. Everage is questionable for Saturday's game with Texas Tech, because of that shoulder, but the Sooner coaching staff knows that the free safety is still in good shape.
"We don't worry about anything when Matt is in the game," said Co-Defensive Coordinator and secondary coach Mike Stoops. "It is uncanny sometimes how many times Matt seems to find the ball or the ball comes to him and he makes a great play on it. Matt is not our best athlete back there, but he is a good athlete and his intelligence sets us apart from most players at that position. To play safety you have to play with some intelligence, especially in our defense, and Matt is always making the right play and he is always in the right spot. Matt has been a big part of our success over the last few years. I am glad he is on our side."
McCoy came up with an interception and a fumble in his last game at Owen Field. For his career he has nine takeaways and he made six tackles on Saturday. The fact he stumbled out of bounds on his way to a touchdown on his interception is not the way he wanted the home folks to remember him.
"Man, Teddy (Lehman) was laughing at me on the sideline and said to me that I couldn't have forgotten how to run the ball that quick," said the former offensive wide receiver at Jenks High. "Then D. Strait comes over to me and said if I would have slowed up a tad and waited for my blocking that he was all set to clear the way for me to get to the end zone, and he was laughing so hard that he was bending over. Man, I wasn't thinking about waiting for my blocking, I was just trying to get to the end zone and instead tripped myself up and had to fall out of bounds. I have never seen my teammates laugh so hard at me, but what could I say. I guess it was pretty funny."
"I know that I am not one of the greatest athletes on the team, so I have to prepare myself more so mentally than most guys," said McCoy about his knack for being around the ball. "I need to know where exactly a guy is going to be, so that I know where the ball is going and where it is going to wind up. The more you know about the offense you are playing, the more likely you will be around the ball. And when you around the ball you can make some things happen."
McCoy was another senior that couldn't get enough of the game on Saturday.
"All throughout the game I was making it point to go up to any senior and congratulate him on a great play and they were doing the same thing for me," said McCoy. "It was not only the seniors, but it was a lot of the underclassmen to that were letting the senior's know how much they appreciated us, and we appreciate them too. I think as a senior class we have set a good example of how to get ready to play every week and how to play in big games. The foundation is set and things are going to be good for those young guys."
The Sooners defense only gave up 183 yards on the day, and for the third straight game did not give up a touchdown. However, Baylor was able to put together two long drives, one an 18-play, 66-yard drive that consumed 8:28 off the clock in the second quarter. The drive actually reached the OU three-yard line, before the defense stiffened, but it was somewhat of a strange day for the Sooners defense.
"We didn't quite play the way we wanted to on Saturday," said Mike Stoops. "We were a little out of sync on Saturday, but still played pretty well. We held them under 200 yards, so expect for those two drives they didn't do much of anything against us. We tackled pretty well, but give them credit. Coach (Guy) Morris had a good gameplan against us and that freshman quarterback (Shaun Bell) was pretty good. He did a great job against us, but we still kept them out of the end zone. When you consider that we haven't given up a touchdown for three straight games that is an incredible accomplishment. For three games we have kept some pretty good offensive football teams from getting into the end zone, which is our goal every game. We don't want to give up any yardage, but I would rather give up yardage than touchdowns. If we can keep that streak going that would be just fine with us."
That would seem to be impossible against Mike Leach and his Texas Tech Red Raiders. Texas Tech has one of the most feared passing attacks in the country, and they seem to score points against everybody, but will they score against the Sooners?
"I think we always play Mike and Texas Tech pretty well, but it is almost impossible to keep them for scoring a touchdown," said Mike Stoops. "They throw the ball 60 times a game or more, and when you throw the ball that many times the chance for a big play is that much greater. They drag out the game because they throw at least 25 incompletions and that wears on a defense to a certain extent. However, we grew up with Mike and we know him really well. We will force him to do some things that he doesn't like to do and he will try to put us into some situations that aren't good for us as well. It is never easy to play Texas Tech, but we go against that kind of offense in many respects all the time with our offense, so our team is pretty sure what they are going to do. Plus, Mike is very confident in his offense, like we are with our defense, so he doesn't change much. He will do many things that we have seen before."
Defensive tackle coach Jackie Shipp spent most the game in the press box and took it easy for most the game after going through surgery for appendicitis on Thursday. Coach Shipp said he started feeling some intense pain Thursday morning and went to hospital to check it out. His appendix didn't burst and that was fortunate, and thus Saturday morning Coach Shipp tried to relax during the game, but found that hard to do. Coach Shipp didn't like how his defensive tackles were playing in the second half, so he went down and chewed them out a little before heading to the Sooner locker room. A tough guy is always a tough guy and a coach is always a coach.
Junior receiver Will Peoples is out for Texas Tech with a shoulder injury and Brandon Everage[.b] is questionable with a shoulder injury. Everybody else is expected to go, including Brandon Jones, who twisted his knee a little bit.
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