Second-half dominance balances Sooners' effort

Sooners Illustrated Editor Jay C. Upchurch breaks down Oklahoma's 35-0 win over Baylor. Sooner running back Adrian Peterson's 240-yard effort against Baylor moved him into the No. 4 spot on OU's single-season rushing list with 1,671 yards. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

WACO, Texas — For a time Saturday, Oklahoma played like a team with the weight of the world on its shoulders. The weight of the BCS world, that is.

With all eyes focused on the happenings inside modest Floyd Casey Stadium, the second-ranked Sooners seemed void of the emotion and intensity required to produce the razor-sharp performance needed to impressed national pollsters. Heisman front-runner Jason White completed just one of his first eight pass attempts and the OU offense scored on only one of its first five possessions.

If not for the defense and a fortuitous fumble recovery on a muffed punt, Oklahoma might have been scrambling just to get into the halftime locker room with any kind of lead. As it turned out, White and Company figured out the blitzing Bears on a 14-play scoring drive that culminated with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Travis Wilson 21 seconds before the intermission.

"It's good to put together a 2-minute drive like that when we needed to. That drive gave us a little momentum," said White, who finished the day 19 of 32 for 194 yards and two TDs. "And we were able to keep that going in the second half."

In fact, Adrian Peterson scored on the Sooners' first three second-half possessions en route to a 35-0 triumph, which may or may not prove to be BCS friendly. One thing for certain, it assured Oklahoma of a second straight undefeated regular season and its 19th overall.

"We just know all we can do is go out and win games," added White, who led OU to an 11-0 overall mark and 8-0 in Big 12. "The rest, we can't do anything about. We know if we go out and win games and stay undefeated, that's all we can do."

But with third-ranked Auburn's win over Alabama, will remaining undefeated be enough to keep the Sooners positioned to play for the national title?

"It is difficult to enjoy being 11-0 the way the structure is right now," said OU coach Bob Stoops. "We've accomplished what we set out to do to this point, but there is plenty of work left and that will be our focus from here on out. We can't control any of that other stuff."

Meanwhile, Baylor (3-8, 1-7) had no idea how to control Peterson, who rushed for 240 yards on 32 carries in a little over three quarters of action. The freshman sensation had 157 of those after the break when he averaged 9.23 yards per carry.

Peterson capped off scoring drives of 5-, 8- and 17 plays with short TD runs, giving him a dozen for the season. The Sooners topped the 300-yard mark on the ground for the second time thanks to a dominating effort by the offensive line.

"They kept making big holes for me. That's all you can ask for," said Peterson, whose final carry was a 2-yard TD run with 11:29 remaining.

Peterson obviously did his part — what about everyone else? Let's check it out in our weekly report card:

Did we mention Peterson did his part? Oh, OK. Well, let's go over it again in a little more detail.

Much of the credit goes to the O-line for its dominating performance, led by center Vince Carter and All-American candidate Jammal Brown. The Sooners were blowing holes in the Baylor defense all day, especially during the second half.

"I got lots of great blocks," Peterson said when asked about his success. "It wasn't hard to find the holes."

But even when he didn't find a hole, Peterson usually managed to turn the play into a positive by juking and dragging would-be tacklers. In the end, it all added up to his third 200-plus rushing game of the season, one shy of the NCAA record for a freshman.

The 240-yard effort was the second-best of the season — he had 249 against Oklahoma State — and allowed him to move into the No. 4 spot on OU's single-season rushing list with 1,671 yards. Peterson is also now tied for the most 100-yard rushing games by a freshman in NCAA history, with 10.

"A.D. again, just special. He had a great day, strong and explosive," said Stoops. "Anytime you rush for over 300 yards you've played well."

Adding to the Sooners' backfield production was backup Kejuan Jones who accounted for 76 yards of offense, including 30 rushing yards on seven carries. The Jenks junior was especially productive during OU's final drive of the opening half when he caught five passes for 46 yards.

"Kejuan has been a team guy, so unselfish," added Stoops. "He had another great game today and he's done that all season."

Tashard Choice and D.J. Wolfe finished off the job late in the game, with Choice going for 29 yards on six carries.

After struggling with Baylor's blitz in the early going, the Sooners made the adjustments needed to neutralize that pressure and allow White to enjoy another solid game throwing the football.

The defending Heisman winner misfired on seven of his first eight passes thanks mainly to a Baylor defense that was focused almost solely on getting to the QB. Once offensive coordinator Chuck Long tweaked his protection and play calling, it was open season on Bears.

"That's football. It's not going to be perfect all the time. You just have to make adjustments and go on," said All-America receiver Mark Clayton, who finished with three catches for 35 yards. "We were close on some plays early, but we weren't quite clicking. We went in at halftime, settled down and came back out and played Sooner football."

Clayton helped get OU off on the right foot after a Larry Birdine sack caused a fumble that teammate Jonathan Jackson recovered at the Baylor 17. Three plays later, White found his favorite target for a 19-yard TD.

But other than Peterson, the Sooners had little to cheer about during the opening 15 minutes. It really wasn't until OU took over at its own 13 with 2:46 left in the half that White found any kind of rhythm. But on that drive the sixth-year senior completed 9 of 12 passes, including the capper to Wilson to make it 14-0 at the half.

"They were beating us with blitzes and we had to adjust to it and get more physical," explained Brown. "The second half, we kept running the ball. Adrian got going and everything worked out."

Peterson ripped off a 48-yard run to start the third quarter and that play seemed to loosen the Bears up a bit. White followed with a 12-yard toss to Clayton two plays later and in just over two minutes, the Sooners had extended their lead to 21-0.

"Give Baylor credit. They did a good job of mixing their blitzes up and getting us in third-and-long a few times. But we made some adjustments at halftime and came back and really took advantage of their blitz," said White.

White pointed to the efforts of Peterson and his offensive line, and he was no doubt pleased with the work of his secondary receivers like Kejuan Jones, J.D. Runnels and tight ends Bubba Moses and Joe Jon Finley, who combined for 12 catches and 126 yards.

In fact, Moses had two nice grabs during the Sooners' 17-play, 93-yard marathon march that began with 3:52 left in the third quarter and finished over seven minutes later.

"We weren't that far off in the first half, but once our offensive assistants made some adjustments, we really took off," said Stoops, whose team rolled up 29 first downs and over 500 yards of total offense. "Jason stood in there and never got rattled, and was big for us again."

Backup Tommy Grady was 2 for 2 in a late-inning relief appearance.

There was good news and bad news from the special teams department. Good if your name is Garrett Hartley, bad if it's Trey DiCarlo.

DiCarlo, who began the season on the Lou Groza Award list (which goes to the nation's best kicker), continued his struggles by missing a 42-yard field late in the opening quarter. At that point, he had misfired on five of his last seven field goal attempts and the OU coaching staff decided it was time to make a change.

Hartley got the call on OU's second point-after attempt and he finished 3 of 3 on the day. The true freshman, who was slated to redshirt, will more than likely finish the season as OU's top kicker.

"Points matter too much with two championship games in front of you," said Stoops, pointing to DiCarlo's season of inconsistency. "We felt we needed to make a change."

Stoops had approached Hartley with the possible idea earlier in the week and asked him to talk it over with his family.

"Coach Stoops asked me about coming out of redshirt this late in the season, and that's the biggest factor. But there was never a doubt in my mind or my parents' minds," said Hartley, a product of Southlake, Texas. "This is what it's all about."

Hartley was also solid on kickoffs and he looked comfortable during each of his trips onto the field.

Meanwhile, disaster almost struck again in the form of a muffed punt by return man Mark Clayton. Fortunately, Jo-Kay Onyenegecha recovered the ball at the OU 12. Later, Antonio Perkins got the call to return punts again, but only fielded one kick.

Coverage teams were solid and Blake Ferguson averaged almost 41 yards a punt. Two of his four boots pinned Baylor inside its own 20.

Except for a handful of plays, the OU defense shut down the Bears' ground attack. It limited leading rusher Paul Mosley to 57 yards and kept the hosts from establishing any kind of serious threat.

Linebackers Clint Ingram, Rufus Alexander and Gayron Allen combined for 15 tackles, picking up some of the slack left by Lance Mitchell who departed with an injury and did not play in the second half.

The Sooners also got solid run support from safeties Brodney Pool and Donté Nicholson, as well as front-line mainstays Lynn McGruder, Mo Dampeer and Remi Ayodele.

"It was a case of 11 guys playing together, playing with consistency. We played the kind of defense you have to collectively," said co-defensive coordinator Brent Venables. "Everybody has to stay on edge and our guys recognize that, and you could see it in their effort today."

After allowing just four rushing yards during the opening two quarters, the OU defense continued to put the hammer down in the second half. The Bears had only three rushing first downs the entire contest and that forced quarterback Terrance Parks into some tough passing situations.

That's where OU's defensive ends took over.

Any good pass defense starts with pressuring the QB, and the Sooners demonstrated that in textbook fashion against Baylor. OU's hard-charging defensive ends spent much of the game successfully chasing down Parks.

In fact, they recorded seven sacks — three by Larry Birdine — and had six other QB hurries that kept the Bears from ever getting on track offensively.

"We came in with a game plan to try to beat them with speed," said Birdine, who now has seven sacks on the season. "We felt like we could put a lot of pressure on them and that's what we tried to do the whole game."

Besides Birdine's productive day, the Sooners also got two sacks from Jonathan Jackson and one each from Dan Cody and Alexander.

"Our defensive ends have played outstanding all year. Their performance was certainly a key to this game," said Venables. "To disrupt the flow of offense, whether it's the opposing run game or passing attack. That was indicative of today, the sack total and lack of big plays."

Complementing the high-pressure rush was a solid day of work from the OU secondary. Pool was especially active, leading the way with 10 tackles. The junior now has a team-high 84 for the season.

Nicholson had a big day on the other side, while Perkins looked a little shaky on his recovering knee, especially when it came to tackling. But freshman Marcus Walker was good again at corner, as was dime back Brandon Shelby.

"Marcus has played with the consistency we hoped he would. He hasn't given up any cheap scores, he's contested the ball when it's in the air," said Venables. "That's all you can ask for at this point."

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