Sooners grade well in title-clinching win

Sooners Illustrated Editor Jay C. Upchurch grades Oklahoma's 30-3 win over Nebraska. Pictured above: Sooner receiver Mark Bradley stiff-arms Nebraska safety Daniel Bullocks in the third quarter. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

NORMAN — Oklahoma's 2004 to-do list got a little bit shorter Saturday night and it did so at the expense of an old and respected rival. Sparked by a hot hand from quarterback Jason White and a stingy defensive effort, the second-ranked Sooners captured the Big 12 South crown for the fourth time in five seasons with a 30-3 triumph over Nebraska.

Despite No. 3 Auburn's 24-6 win over Georgia and growing speculation that the Tigers might leap past them in the BCS rankings, the Sooners' title-clinching performance should be more than enough to keep them in position for a trip to the Orange Bowl.

"It was our primary goal and it is important to our players and staff," said Bob Stoops, whose team improved to 10-0 overall and 7-0 in Big 12 action. "To be in this position is pleasing. I feel great about the team and the way we are playing right now."

OU, which now owns the NCAA record for 10-win seasons with 28, will finish off the regular season next weekend at Baylor and then rest up before finding out which North Division team it will meet in Kansas City. Iowa State still has the inside track if it can beat Kansas State and Missouri to close the regular season.

Beyond that, it gets crazy.

One thing is for certain, Nebraska's NCAA-record 35-year bowl streak is in jeopardy. The Huskers (5-5) must beat Colorado (Nov. 26) to become bowl eligible and to avoid a losing record for the first time in 43 seasons.

None of that mattered to White or the other 22 OU seniors who were making their final appearance at Memorial Stadium Saturday. Their focus was strictly on the task at hand and they took care of business in front of a record crowd of 84,916.

White shook off the effects of cold, rainy conditions to complete 29 of 35 passes for 383 yards and three touchdowns. The sixth-year senior completed a school-record 18 straight during one stretch and further solidified his defense of the Heisman Trophy.

"You always want to go out with a bang," said White, who finishes is career 15-0 in games started at Owen Field. "Any time it's going to be your last game at home, the last time you're going to run out on the field, you want to go out with a bang. I thought for all of the seniors, it was a great night."

Just how great? Well, let's check it out from top to bottom with our weekly report card:

RUNNING GAME — (B)
It's hard to penalize a team when its opponent is specifically geared to stopping one portion of its overall attack. And that was the case again Saturday as Nebraska made Adrian Peterson and Kejuan Jones the focal point of its defensive game plan.

Jones got the start in place Peterson, who missed parts of practice during the week due mainly to a shoulder injury. Jones accounted for 33 yards in the Sooners' opening drive, which resulted in a Trey DiCarlo field goal, and he scored on a 1-yard run to help extend the lead midway through the second quarter.

"Adrian was kind of banged up tonight, so I just tried to go in and do my part whether its pass protection or getting a chance to run the ball," said Jones, who finished with 14 carries for 48 yards and three catches for another 40 yards.

And while it was pretty much a blah evening for the OU ground attack, Peterson did come off the bench to run for 58 yards on 15 carries. That gave the hosts 98 yards on a soggy track. The Sooners, who entered the contest averaging 45 carries and 216 yards a game, were more than happy to let White's arm do most of the damage as Nebraska continually crowded the box.

Meanwhile, Peterson saw his NCAA record streak for consecutive 100-yard rushing games end at nine. The freshman phenom managed only two yards on three first-half carries before taking over the second-half load.

"If I run for 40 yards and Jason throws for 500 and we win, I'm happy," said Peterson, when asked if he was disappointed in his numbers. "They put a lot (of defenders) in the box to stop the run and Jason gets on fire. He was amazing and we're a step closer to our ultimate goal — that's what really matters."

PASSING GAME — (A)
White completed his first four passes and then misfired on three of his next four, before settling into a groove that most quarterbacks can only dream about. The Tuttle, Okla., product opened the second quarter by marching the Sooners 70 yards in 11 plays, completing six straight passes along the way.

His 13-yard toss to backup tight end Willie Roberts pushed the lead to 9-0 and set the stage for a 20-point quarter and a 23-0 halftime lead.

White capped the opening half with consecutive completions of 36 and 23 yards to Travis Wilson and a 22-yard screen to Kejuan Jones, before connecting with Brandon Jones on a 4-yard TD strike.

"As far as taking care of the ball and making good decisions, this is the best stretch that I've had," White admitted. "I've grown up and matured in this system knowing that you shouldn't force something if it's not there."

That was never a problem against the Nebraska defense which challenged White's arm much of the night, and paid for it dearly.

"You can tell when (Jason) is feeling good and in a zone, and that means it's up to us to do our job," said senior Mark Clayton, who had five catches for 61 yards. "Jason was Jason. If they are going to challenge him like that, he's going to beat you every time."

The passing was not limited strictly to White, as receiver Mark Bradley got into the fun with a reverse pass that he completed to Clayton for 30 yards, setting up Jones' 1-yard scoring run. Bradley also caught three balls for 92 yards, including a 23-yarder he turned into a touchdown less than four minutes into the second half.

"They tried to get the ball to me and I tried to make plays of them. Being around a lot of great athletes makes my job easier," smiled Bradley, who has six TD catches in the last three games.

Wilson also produced his share of big plays. The junior continued to emerge as the "next" Mark Clayton by hauling in nine passes for 135 yards.

"We watched film all week and coaches did a great job preparing a game plan to get the receivers open," noted Wilson.

With open receivers running all over the field and the offensive line doing it's best job of the season, according to offensive coordinator Chuck Long, the rest was up to White.

"Jason was unbelievable again tonight," added Stoops. "The guy just continues to amaze us with all he can do. It was a special way for him to finish up his home career here at Oklahoma."

White has thrown for 19 TDs over the last five games. During that same span, he has been intercepted just once.

SPECIAL TEAMS — (C+)
There was a missed field goal by Trey DiCarlo from 34 yards out. Oh, and a missed extra point, too. And while those things might have gone otherwise unnoticed in a 30-3 blowout, they are mistakes that have haunted the Sooners the last few weeks and could come back to haunt them in a close game.

While Stoops preferred to focus on the positives of the victory, he has to be concerned with the continued string of special teams blunders.

DiCarlo, who began the season on the Lou Groza Award watch list, has become somewhat of a question mark with his inconsistency.

Blake Ferguson was solid enough on his only two punt attempts, and the OU coverage teams were good. Russell Dennison set the tone there with a crushing tackle on the game's opening kickoff.

Return-wise, Clayton was limited to fair catches on the Huskers' six punts.

RUN DEFENSE — (B)
A 48-yard run by Steve Kriewald in the final minute — which helped set up David Dyches' 39-yard field goal — put the visitors over the 200-yard mark in the rushing department. But that number was far less damaging than it appears.

In fact, Nebraska's entire game plan of sticking to its ground attack did little more than help eat up the clock. The Huskers pushed into OU territory just once in the opening half when the Sooners were flying out to a 23-0 lead.

After that, it didn't really matter.

Behind the legs of Cory Ross, who ran for 76 of his 130 yards after the intermission, NU crossed midfield just three more times. But it still took a field goal with no time remaining to avoid being shut out for the first time since 1996.

"It was a little surprising that they ran the ball most of the game. They were very conservative, but that's OK with us," said Brodney Pool, who led the Sooners with nine tackles. "It definitely made the game go by faster."

In fact, it took the Sooners less than three hours to improve their all-time series advantage over Nebraska to 41-37-3.

"Our defense had an excellent game plan and executed very well. We gave up a few creases, but overall they played very well," said Stoops.

Senior linebacker Gayron Allen saved his best performance for his final home game. Not only did he record eight tackles, he came up with his first career interception that helped set up the Sooners' second touchdown of the contest.

Also, Lynn McGruder and Remi Ayodele combined to help clog up the middle with five stops. Lance Mitchell added eight tackles to the effort, including six of the solo variety.

PASS DEFENSE — (A)
It was a mostly quiet evening for the OU secondary as far as protecting the airwaves was concerned. The visitors attempted just 13 passes and managed to produce only 73 yards through the air.

A major positive for OU was the return of Antonio Perkins who missed several weeks with a knee injury. The senior cornerback was never really tested, but said his knee was strong and his ability to cut and move had improved dramatically.

"It was real hard watching. I tried to laugh my way through it, but it hurt to stand on the sidelines and not be able to play," said Perkins. "It was good to get back out there and get my feet wet again."

Freshman Marcus Walker got the start at the other cornerback spot for Jo-Kay Onyenegecha, and he was solid both against the pass and with his run support. Walker finished with five tackles.

"Marcus is going to be a great player for this program. He's real smart — the most advanced corner to come through here that I know," added Perkins.

Safeties Donté Nicholson and Pool were all over the field. They helped shut Nebraska QB Joe Dailey down the few times he did look for passing lanes.

"It helps having that experience back in there (in Perkins). The whole secondary played well," said co-defensive coordinator Bo Pelini. "They weren't tested a lot because there weren't a lot of throws. But they did a good job."

Did losing the shutout in the final seconds take away from the victory?

"No. We shut them out until the last second of the game. It was a dominating effort on the defensive side of the ball and I felt good about it," added Pelini.


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