NORMAN — Kansas threw up an uninvited road block in the trenches of Memorial Stadium on Saturday, forcing Oklahoma to revert to Plan B. Fortunately for the second-ranked Sooners, Plan B is every bit as lethal as Plan A, considering it involves a large dose of Jason White's right arm.
The 2003 Heisman Trophy winner demonstrated by throwing for 389 yards and four touchdowns to help Oklahoma record a 41-10 homecoming triumph over the pesky Jayhawks.
"Jason has a great knack for throwing the deep ball, and he showed that again today," said coach Bob Stoops, whose team improved to 7-0 overall and 4-0 in Big 12 action. "Kansas was determined early to take the running game away, but he made some great throws."
Entering the contest, White had not thrown a TD pass longer than 41 yards all season, but that changed on the fourth play of the second quarter when he connected with Mark Clayton on a 61-yard bomb to break a scoreless tie. The sixth-year senior went on to add extended scoring tosses of 41 and 69 yards to Travis Wilson and Brandon Jones, respectively.
OU's defense did the rest by limiting the visitors to 256 total yards, 78 of which came on KU's only TD of the day — a Adam Barmann-to-Brandon Rideau pass. The Sooners forced three second-half turnovers that helped break open a surprisingly-close 14-10 game.
"As a whole, we didn't play up to our potential in the first half, so we wanted to make sure that didn't happen in the third and fourth quarters," said defensive end Larry Birdine. "We squeezed (Kansas) a little tighter in the second half and it was just a matter of time before our offense took off."
That was especially true of the Sooners' ground attack, which was stuck in neutral much of the contest thanks to KU's defensive scheme that often put eight defenders in the box. But White's passing slowly forced coach Mark Mangino's squad to loosen its grip on the running lanes, and that allowed freshman Adrian Peterson to run for over 100 yards in the final quarter.
"Our defense played good, tough football," said Mangino, OU's former offensive coordinator. "I thought we did a good job in the first half. But Oklahoma has so many weapons and we gave up some big plays that hurt us after the half."
Let's see what kind of grades the Sooners earned inside our weekly report card:
RUNNING GAME — (C+)
In a lot of ways, this grade could be higher — not because of execution, but because Kansas' entire focus was stopping OU's ground attack, and that opened up the rest of the offense for some big plays.
If OU's ground attack is reputable enough to force an opponent into selling out to stop the run, then Kevin Wilson and Company must be doing something right.
"Kansas came in with a good defensive game plan as far as stopping our run game, but for the second week in a row, it helped open up the passing game," said Wilson, OU's run game coordinator.
For three quarters, the Jayhawks were a complete success as far as holding Mr. Peterson and Kejuan Jones in check. But it was only a matter of time before the dam broke.
"We knew we had to be patient and continue to try to run the ball and eventually it would be there," added offensive coordinator Chuck Long. "We thought after the Texas game that teams would start trying to stop the run game, and that's been the case. But we've got too many weapons on the field and we showed that today."
Peterson needed 99 yards to join Emmitt Smith and Marshall Faulk as the quickest freshmen to gain 1,000 yards (doing so in seven games). But after rushing for 100-plus yards in each of his first six games as a Sooner, he was held to 21 first-half yards and had only 23 heading into the final quarter.
By that time, however, OU's offensive line was gaining control up front thanks to a little loosening up over the top. The Palestine, Texas, product took full advantage of a KU defense on its heels by carrying 11 times for 99 yards during the final 15 minutes.
Peterson capped a brief 4-play drive with an 11-yard scoring run just over five minutes into the final stanza, and then thrilled the 36th straight sellout crowd by dancing and slashing his way into the record books.
"That's a remarkable feat," said Long of Peterson joining Marcus Dupree as only the fourth OU freshman to ever run for 1,000.
As usual, Peterson took it all in stride.
"I knew they weren't going to be able to stop the run and the pass, so we were going to be successful one way or the other," he added. "It didn't bother me none that they were putting so many in the box because I knew it would open it up for Jason. Hey, if teams want to give up 400 yards passing, that's cool with me — as long as we keep winning."
PASSING GAME — (B+)
The numbers might say this was a near perfect game, and there is no doubt it was an extremely productive performance. White returned to Heisman form with a clinic on how to throw the long ball and OU's receiving corps were more than up for their part in an aerial show that had taken a backseat lately.
But it didn't exactly start out like a memorable day. The Sooners dropped two passes in the opening series and White seemed to lock onto his primary receiver too often in the early going.
Things looked a bit out of synch, and as a result, the score was 0-0 headed to the second quarter. But with KU focused on stopping Peterson, those frustrations didn't figure to last.
White finally found some rhythm on OU's fourth possession when he connected with Clayton for a 61-yard scoring strike. The play capped a 4-play, 91-yard drive that made it 7-0.
A 41-yard pass from White to Wilson eventually staked OU to a 14-10 lead at the break, but several other scoring opportunities went awry. And the Sooners looked ragged at times.
"We had a bunch of yards in the first half, but we didn't turn them into points," said Stoops. "We came out in the second half a little more zeroed in."
It took just one series for White to find a groove in the second half, as the long TD pass to Brandon Jones gave the Sooners some breathing room.
"It wasn't perfect at times, but I thought Jason played very well. He made a lot of good decisions and I love the fact our guys are taking those shots and Jason is going for it," said Long.
White finished off the scoring with an 8-yard pass to Mark Bradley in the closing minute.
"It's such an advantage for us to have so many great receivers to choose from, and they are all out there working together," added White. "In a game like this, you have to take advantage of what they are giving you and that happened to be the pass."
SPECIAL TEAMS — (C-)
For the second straight week, OU's special teams were not so special, at least at times. Trey DiCarlo missed an extra point and a field goal and had another one blocked, while punter Blake Ferguson narrowly avoided disaster.
It was a mostly forgettable day for DiCarlo, who tried to counter things with touchbacks on five of his seven kickoffs.
Just when you think Ferguson is having a good day kicking the ball, he comes up with an inexcusable blunder — dropping a perfectly snapped ball that allowed KU's Brandon Rideau to block his punt and set up a field goal that made it 14-10 at the half.
The Sooners still miss Antonio Perkins' elusiveness on punt returns, while their coverage teams were solid as usual behind Bradley and Russell Dennison.
RUN DEFENSE — (A+)
It was another dominating day for OU's front seven. The Sooners surrendered only 72 yards on the ground, forcing the visitors to try their luck through the airwaves.
Besides one big play, that really didn't work either.
"One play and one drive — other than that I thought we played very well defensively," said co-defensive coordinator Brent Venables.
Linebacker Lance Mitchell continued to show few signs of a knee injury that ended his season early in 2003. The senior led the way with 11 tackles and a fumble recovery he returned 28 yards to give OU a 28-10 lead midway through the third quarter.
"I picked up the ball, got a great block from Donté (Nicholson) and tried to make a move or two to get it in the end zone," said Mitchell.
Defensive ends Dan Cody, Larry Birdine and Jonathan Jackson were brilliant against both the run and pass, as they combined for 12 stops, including three quarterback sacks. And when they weren't getting to the QB, they were forcing errant throws.
Linebacker Clint Ingram added a sack, while Rufus Alexander shook off a knee injury he suffered last weekend at K-State to play another outstanding effort.
"It was another step for us to gel together, getting turnovers and everyone going after the ball," said Alexander.
John Randle led KU with 35 yards on 11 carries, 15 of which came on one run. The Jayhawks managed just 2.1 yards per carry.
PASS DEFENSE — (B+)
One bad play might have cost the Sooners an "A" but there was plenty to praise when reviewing how they defended overall against KU's passing attack.
While the defensive front provided plenty of pressure, the group of Brodney Pool, Eric Bassey, Jo-Kay Onyenegecha, Brandon Shelby and Nicholson was very stingy once the ball was in the air. They helped limit the visitors to 184 passing yards, including the 78-yard play that resulted in KU's lone TD.
Shelby was especially active in the early portion of the second half when OU further established itself defensively. He almost had an interception and then came on a blitz that forced a bad throw from Barmann.
"We played well today. We feel we are getting better every week," said Venables. "We were good on third down again and that makes a big difference. We call those money downs where you've got to find a way to get off the field and not give your opponent more opportunities. And we've done a good job of that."
Kansas converted on just seven of 18 so-called "money downs," and eventually finished with only 11 first downs, three of which came via the pass. The one major blemish occurred when Rideau took a short pass from Barmann and ran untouched 78 yards.
"It wasn't a busted assignment. We just tried to make a play on the ball and misjudged it," said Venables.
The Sooners produced a pair of interceptions — one by Alexander and the other by defensive tackle Mo Dampeer, who continued to make strides at earning more playing time.
"Other than one play, I thought the defense did a great job all day long. We knew it was a matter of time before our offense started to roll," said Alexander.
Oklahoma will be in for an even bigger test this coming weekend when it travels to Stillwater for the annual Bedlam battle.
Plan B: Sooners go up top to burn KU
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