NORMAN — Run first, pass second. Oklahoma's game plan Saturday came as a bit of a surprise considering its offense is built around defending Heisman Trophy quarterback Jason White.
But White didn't seem to mind being a spectator to another outstanding performance turned in by the team's newest star — running back Adrian Peterson — who rushed for 146 yards and a touchdown in the second-ranked Sooners' 28-13 triumph over Texas Tech.
"I think (today) was a stepping stone for our offense," he said afterward. "We really emphasized the run game throughout summer and throughout fall and the first four games — and it says something for our offense knowing we can run the ball like we did with that many people in the box."
In the end, White more than did his part to secure victory in OU's Big 12 Conference opener. The sixth-year senior completed 63 percent of his throws, including three that went for touchdowns which helped him break Josh Heupel's career record for TD passes.
Still, he was singing the praises of his offensive line and the guys lining up behind him.
"The O-line was excellent all day, both run-blocking and when we threw the ball," said White. "(Adrian and Tashard) are both young backs and they both played great today. Adrian was great when he was in there and T-Choice stepped up when he was in there."
Other than that, it was business as usual for the Sooners who beat Mike Leach and the Red Raiders for the fifth straight season, despite being outgained 425-372 on the day.
"(Tech) moved the ball pretty good at times, but we kept them out of the end zone, for the most part," said OU coach Bob Stoops, whose team improves to 4-0 on the season. "We still can play better (defensively), but to hold Texas Tech to 13 points is a solid day against their offense."
The Sooners' bend-but-don't-break approach, while mostly effective in the red zone, yielded season highs in total yards, passing yardage and first downs.
It wasn't the same kind of whipping OU has put on Tech the last two seasons, but it got the job done. That was the main objective with the annual Red River Showdown looming.
Let's see what kind of grades the Sooners earned inside our weekly report card:
RUNNING GAME — (A+)
What can you say besides "Adrian Peterson is the real deal." No doubt about it, the slippery freshman from Palestine, Texas, is fast becoming — with all due respect to Mr. White — the Sooners' No. 1 offensive threat.
Peterson electrified the Memorial Stadium crowd of 84,580 with a 61-yard run on his first carry of the day. Three plays later, he capped the march with a 1-yard scoring run that gave OU the lead for good with 7:33 left in the first quarter.
With regular starter Kejuan Jones out nursing an injury, Peterson shouldered much of the running load the first three quarters, when he racked up 137 of his 146 yards. Choice, making his OU debut, got most of his 16 carries down the stretch and he made the most of them with 71 yards.
"The offensive line was good and our backs did a nice job of finding the holes and making people miss," said Stoops. "Adrian is playing in a strong, mature way. He's pretty determined about where he's going and he made some big plays today. Plus, we liked what we saw from Tashard — he came in and did a nice job."
The offensive line did a superb job of creating lanes, although a holding call on Jammal Brown nullified a 57-yard Peterson TD run in the third quarter. Even so, Peterson became the first player in OU's 110-year history to run for 100-plus yards in each of his first four games.
"Hey, I'm just trying to do my best out there," offered a modest Peterson. "I got a lot of good blocks and that was the key to what we were doing."
Peterson pointed out one block that created a major buzz in the crowd — Mark Clayton laid out a Tech defender on the 61-yard first-quarter run. Later in the game, Wilson duplicated the bone-crunching block.
"We left some points out there, but I thought we did a lot of good things with both parts of our offense," said Brown. "We've got a few things to work on before we head down to play Texas, but we'll be ready."
PASSING GAME — (A)
OK, so the numbers aren't what OU fans have become accustomed to with Jason White under center. But don't forget he threw for three touchdowns and made several key connections to keep drives going.
In what may have been the least productive quarter of his career, White managed just eight passing yards during the opening stanza Saturday. By halftime, he had but 55 yards through the air, although his 10-yard scoring toss to Wilson helped stake OU to a 14-3 advantage.
"We saw an opportunity to establish a good ground game and if that's what it takes to get the job done then that's what we'll do," explained All-American Mark Clayton, who was held to season lows in catches (4) and yards (33). "We're all about winning. I think we're all glad that we've got an offense that can go to its running game or the pass and have good success."
Again, the offensive line was stout in protecting White from Tech's defense, which failed to record a sack or turnover. Runnells picked off several key blitzers and White was elusive enough to keep himself out of harm's way — like he did on his 9-yard TD toss to Wilson in the fourth quarter.
On the play, White sidestepped a defender and fired a perfect strike with Tech linebacker Mike Smith draped all over him.
"That was a great play by Jason," said Stoops. "He eluded a guy, bought himself another second and made a fine throw."
Runnells also found himself on the receiving end of a White TD pass — a 13-yarder set up by the third-quarter running of Peterson and Choice.
A bright spot again was OU's ability to covert on third downs (10 of 16).
SPECIAL TEAMS — (B+)
Trey DiCarlo exhibited a strong leg much of the day, sailing most of his kickoffs through the end zone. But he lost a few points when he misfired terribly on a very makeable 36 yarder.
Part of the problem on that play was the late arrival of long snapper Jacob Rice, who somehow failed to take the field with the rest of the field goal unit prior to the play. He did make it in time, but DiCarlo's focus might have been hindered.
There was nothing too ground-breaking as far as OU's return teams were concerned. Antonio Perkins returned only one punt.
RUN DEFENSE — (A-)
Believe it or not, Tech ran the ball 24 times Saturday and experienced limited success in the process. Taurean Henderson was effective at times, as he ran for 65 yards on 17 carries.
But even without big yardage, the Raiders ran enough to kept OU's defense honest.
"They tried to keep us off-balance with what they were doing, and it worked to some degree," said co-defensive coordinator Brent Venables. "We gave up some cheap yardage because we didn't execute like we are capable of at times."
Tech scored a late TD on a Johnnie Mack 8-yard run, but most of the offensive damage came via the arm of QB Sonny Cumbie.
"Tech gives you a lot to think about. It can be frustrating because you hold them and hold them and they come up with a play that hurts you," said linebacker Lance Mitchell. "In the end, you just have to do whatever it takes to hold your ground, not let them in the end zone."
PASS DEFENSE — (C)
There were all kinds of positives to fall back on — three sacks, several batted passes and three interceptions — just to mention a few. But OU's defense looked vulnerable at times against the pass.
Tech threw for 369 yards and averaged over 10 yards a completion — numbers the Sooners are used to seeing their offense put up, not give up.
Cumbie was poised most of the day despite constant pressure from OU's front four and numerous blitzers. Brandon Shelby, Antonio Perkins and Jonathan Jackson all recorded sacks, but Cumbie still threw for 20 first downs and continually completed passes in key third-down situations.
"Against an offense like this, if you bust an assignment it's a big gain. A lot of crazy things can happen and you saw that a few times," said Venables. "It can be frustrating because we're giving up cheap yardage at times by not executing like we are capable."
Jackson turned in a solid day with six tackles, including two that went for losses, and Larry Birdine was also clutch on the end. In fact, OU's entire front rotation played fairly well, applying pressure and forcing some key mistakes.
The interceptions proved to be one of the biggest differences in the outcome, as Brodney Pool picked off two Cumbie throws and Brandon Shelby had the other.
"You have to be patient because it can be frustrating," said Pool, who also led OU with 13 tackles. "But as long as you hold them out of the end zone, that's the main thing."
Shelby added a career-high nine stops, while safety Donté Nicholson had seven tackles.
The Sooners were especially tough in the red zone, surrendering two field goals and one late touchdown — but their work between the 20s left much to be desired.
"We did a good job at times, but we've still got some players making some mistakes and busts — we've got to get some of those guys playing in a more efficient way," said Stoops.
And they need to do it by next Saturday.
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