Sooners make opening grade with win over Falcons

A position-by-position grade card after the Sooners' 40-24 win over Bowling Green Saturday in Norman. Junior Kejuan Jones (pictured left) helped OU's running backs get high marks with his career-high 148-yard rushing performance. (AP Photo/Jerry Laizure)

NORMAN — This was no ordinary doormat served up for second-ranked Oklahoma to wipe its feet on during the 2004 season opener. It wasn't a powerhouse, either. What Bowling Green proved to be Saturday was a solid team capable of offering up a worthy challenge.

That's just what the pesky Falcons did in front a record crowd of 84,319 at Memorial Stadium, parlaying a ball-control offense and a couple of opportune defensive plays into a respectable performance. That was enough to keep the Sooners on their collective toes much of the afternoon, but it still added up to a 40-24 loss.

In the end, Bob Stoops' crew had too much offensive firepower for the Falcons to handle, especially through the opening three quarters when OU marched out to a 37-10 advantage. The Sooners eventually rolled up 27 first downs and churned out 496 total yards, as they improved to 16-0 under Stoops during the month of September.

Kejuan Jones led the way for Oklahoma (1-0) with a career-high 148 yards on 32 carries. His 11-yard touchdown run gave the Sooners the lead for good (14-7) and helped spark a ground attack that punished the visitors for 258 yards. Adrian Peterson joined in the fun by collecting 100 yards on 16 carries in his OU debut. The freshman sensation electrified the crowd with a 35-yard TD run late in the third quarter.

Jason White began defense of his Heisman Trophy with a solid effort that included a pair of beautiful scoring strikes to favorite target Mark Clayton and a third to Will Peoples. He finished 21 of 31 for 238 yards and one interception.

The OU defense did the rest, limiting a Bowling Green offense that averaged almost 500 yards a game last season to just 269.

The first game is done. A win tucked neatly in their belts. So, how exactly did the Sooners rate from position to position? We've mentioned a few of Saturday's heroes, but who else stepped up in a big way?

Let's check it out via our weekly report card:

We've already talked about the success Jones and Peterson experienced as OU's new 1-2 running punch. Both players showed good vision and toughness while carrying much of the load against Bowling Green.

As good as Jones and Peterson looked picking out holes and avoiding defenders, the Sooner offensive line looked even better, at least at times. Wes Sims and Jammal Brown helped the O-line dominate during stretches, and fullback J.D. Runnels resembled a battering ram in the role of lead blocker.

Another key element proved to be OU's tight end tandem of Bubba Moses and Joe Jon Finley, who were instrumental in helping create some running room.

"Our backs really ran hard today. Our tight ends were really good. We tried to capture the edge and get some speed outside. Kejuan ran well and it was just a good solid start for us," said running game coordinator Kevin Wilson. "We played OK up front, but putting J.D. and our tight ends at the point of attack really made a difference."

Stoops was also impressed.

"The offensive line gave us some room and Kejuan was outstanding. Also, Adrian made his mark, stepping in and making some plays," he added.

What, not an A? Almost, but not quite. A couple of drops, a fumble and an interception kept the air attack from receiving top marks. But that doesn't mean White and Company didn't enjoy a very productive afternoon.

By most accounts, White was as solid as he could be. His throws were crisp and on target, and his decision-making was right on. The one main blemish on an otherwise good day was an interception that BG's Keon Newsom returned 28 yards for a fourth-quarter score.

"Jason did a nice job," said Stoops. "We put him in a bad situation on the play he threw the interception. Otherwise, he again showed himself to be a leader for this team."

Meanwhile, Clayton picked right up where he left off during an All-American junior campaign last fall. The gifted pass catcher hauled in seven of White's throws for 74 yards and a pair of TDs. Brandon Jones added three catches for 45 stripes and Peoples had two catches, including a 24-yarder for a score.

In all, nine different Sooners caught passes, including tight ends Moses and Finley who combined for three receptions and 27 yards.

"Mark Clayton was spectacular and all of our receivers did a nice job. The entire offense was very productive," added Stoops.

White, who ran twice for eight yards, liked what he saw from his offensive mates.

"Our running game was consistent and that helped open up things in the secondary. If the running game is working, why change it?" asked White, who moved within four TD passes of Josh Heupel's OU career record (53). "I thought the offensive line did a great job today and the backs ran hard. It was fun to watch."

Forget the missed extra point, even though that could prove costly in a closer game. Trey DiCarlo was 2-for-2 on field goals and nailed the other four point-after kicks he attempted. His kickoffs were good for the most part, but a little more consistency wouldn't hurt.

The Sooners got good production from return specialist Antonio Perkins, who thrilled the crowd with a 44-yard punt return that helped set up the White-to-Peoples third-quarter TD hookup. That was his only real big moment of the day, as the Falcons tried to kick away from him, for the most part.

"Just OK," said Stoops, describing the special teams play. "There were no major breakdowns, but I think Trey is capable of doing more. Our return and coverage teams we good."

Bowling Green tried briefly to establish a running game, but quickly found the going rough. OU's front swarming front seven was relentless in its pursuit and the Falcons wound up with only 51 rushing yards and a 2.7 per carry average.

Senior linebacker Lance Mitchell was especially effective when the visitors tried to find some running room. Making his first start since suffering a season-ending knee injury early in 2003, Mitchell finished with a team-best nine tackles.

Larry Birdine, Jonathan Jackson, Dan Cody, Dusty Dvoracek and Carl Pendleton took turns anchoring a front line that spent much of the game containing BG quarterback Omar Jacobs.

One of the brightest stars from Saturday's battle was OU linebacker Rufus Alexander, who played more like a veteran than a sophomore whose career was threatened by a severe knee injury 16 months ago. Alexander actually found himself at the middle backer spot much of the game and he did an excellent job of shadowing Bowling Green's backfield.

"Rufus did a good job. He always plays with a great deal of intensity and emotion, and I think he got the crowd into it a few times," said OU co-defensive coordinator Brent Venables. "He's athletic and he's always understood our scheme. We were very happy with his play."

Sure, the Sooners surrendered 218 yards and a couple of touchdowns through the air, but that is only a fraction of what the Falcons normally collect via their passing attack. Last season, they averaged almost 400 yards a game over the top and Jacobs has the talent to put up similar numbers in 2004.

Jacobs gave OU some trouble with his mobility and he showed off a good arm when the situation called for it. Saturday's numbers were more about what Jacobs and his mates did right rather than what OU did wrong.

That doesn't mean the Sooners were anywhere near perfect. They weren't. A few missed coverages and a handful of missed tackles proved costly on a pair of lengthy scoring drives. And certainly, Jacobs took advantage of BG's system.

"It's hard for a front four in general to get to the ball in that situation. They move the pocket around and throw a lot of quick, high percentage type passes," said Venables, when asked about OU's failure to record even a single sack of Jacobs. "It can be frustrating, so you have to preach patience and make sure your kids know where they are supposed to be. I thought for the most part we did a good job with that."

Jacobs connected with Charles Sharon on a 16-yard TD pass that capped a 9-play, 80-yard scoring march to start the fourth quarter. After an interception cut the OU lead to 37-24 moments later, the Sooners settled in on both sides of the ball to put the game on ice.

"We've put a lot of emphasis on finishing (games) this year and we didn't finish in the fourth quarter against Bowling Green like we needed to," said Cody. "We played OK, but definitely not up to our standards."

Dvoracek echoed those sentiments.

"We were rusty in a few areas, but that's to be expected. I'd give us a B for the first game," he noted.

"They gave us a few problems with their mobile quarterback, but we held our own out there most of the day," added cornerback Eric Bassey.

Brodney Pool added a career-high eight tackles for the hosts, while Donté Nicholson and Brandon Shelby combined for 11 stops. Much bally-hooed cornerback Chijioke Onyenegecha saw his first action as a Sooner and received solid marks for his effort.

Next week, the Sooners will host Houston in a 6 p.m. kickoff at Memorial Stadium.

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