KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Call it absolute, complete, take-no-prisoners domination.
Oklahoma was looking to remove any lingering doubts about its legitimacy in the national rankings Saturday night and the second-ranked Sooners did so emphatically via a 42-3 throttling of Colorado in the Big 12 title game.
Heisman Trophy front-runners Jason White and Adrian Peterson led OU's seven-touchdown onslaught with a pair of sparking performances. The senior quarterback threw for 254 yards and three scores while the freshman running back ripped through the defenseless Buffs for 172 yards and three TDs.
The Sooners' oft-criticized defense completed the masterful effort by surrendering only three first downs and 46 total yards to Colorado, which did not "earn" its initial first down until almost six minutes were gone in the third quarter.
"We hadn't really put it all together all year, but we felt we were close the last couple of games. But this was special," said coach Bob Stoops, whose Sooners improved to 12-0 with their third Big 12 Conference crown since 2000. "Very proud of our players, the way they prepared and executed every part of our game plan."
It is the 39th conference championship in OU's storied history and sets up an Orange Bowl matchup against top-ranked Southern Cal on Jan. 4, 2005.
Knowing the No. 1 Trojan's had already won Saturday and that No. 3 Auburn was a prohibitive favorite in the Southeast Conference title game, Oklahoma was no doubt on a mission when it took to the Arrowhead Stadium turf. On the game's opening possession, the Sooners romped 80 yards in 11 plays with White capping the drive on a 5-yard pass to Will Peoples.
OU eventually scored on three of its next four series, as White connected twice with Mark Clayton for scores and made the plunge from a yard out to make it 28-0 at the half.
The rest was up to the OU defense which lammed the door on the Buffs' every opportunity.
"It feels great, but one more game and it will truly go with the statement we've been living by this whole year, which is ‘Finish,'" said defensive lineman Lynn McGruder, as the chant, "Orange Bowl, Orange Bowl, Orange Bowl," rang deep into the chilly Missouri night.
The Sooners' stifling defense included big efforts from McGruder, Rufus Alexander, Antonio Perkins, Mo Dampeer and Gayron Allen, to name a few.
Colorado (7-5) was frustrated at every turn as it could neither establish a run game or passing attack. By the intermission, the Buffs had managed just one first down (thanks to an OU penalty) and 13 total yards.
In other words, it was no contest. Start to finish, utter annihilation. Any bad memories remaining from OU's 35-7 upset loss to K-State in last year's Big 12 title game were washed away.
"Last year's game was already left in the past, but this definitely takes away any leftover pain," added McGruder, wearing a grin that stretched across his face.
We've established the fact the Sooners were good against the Buffs. But just how good were they? Let's check it out in our weekly report card:
RUNNING GAME (A+)
It just keeps getting better and better. And that's no small accomplishment considering some of the performances the offensive line and OU's running backs have produced all season.
As for Peterson, he was his usual spectacular self — juking and jiving through the smallest holes and turning on full jets at the first sign of daylight. The Palestine, Texas, rookie topped the 100-yard mark in the first half and then coasted to a ho-hum evening of 172 yards on 28 carries.
That's 6.1 yards a carry for those of you counting at home. Just another day at the office for Peterson, it would seem.
"This whole season, we played hard, finished games," said Peterson, who established a new NCAA record for freshmen with his 11th 100-yard rushing effort. "I'm not saying we made a statement today, but we went out and busted our butts for four quarters."
Leading the way for Peterson and backfield mate Kejuan Jones, who chipped in with seven carries for 16 yards and three catches, was usual battering ram J.D. Runnels and the OU offensive line.
"That's the way those guys have been playing all season. Just incredible," said offensive coordinator Chuck Long. "They have been creating space and getting the job done week in and week out."
Jammal Brown and Davin Joseph were especially dominant up front, as was center Vince Carter. Rarely did a Colorado defender ever penetrate the line of scrimmage. Instead, they remained on their collective heels almost the entire contest.
"We knew what we had to do coming into the game — just run the ball and keep pounding them and open up the passing game. That's pretty much what we did," added Peterson.
The Sooners finished with 236 yards on the ground, as backup Donta Hickson went for 33 yards on eight carries late.
"It just seems right that we're going back to the Orange Bowl. It's our home away from home," said J.D. Runnels.
PASSING GAME (A-)
If not for a pair of White interceptions — one his fault, one not — this might have rated as one of the sixth-year senior's best games all season. After all, he led the Sooners to scores on each of their first three possessions, capping each march with TD passes.
White's fast start put the Buffs squarely behind the 8-ball and gave the OU offense the ability to open up things a bit.
"We were very sharp. We had a good plan going in and our guys executed very well," understated Stoops, whose offensive unit rolled up 498 total yards and 26 first downs.
Working in White's favor was the fact Peterson was loosening things up with his running skills and the O-line was providing extraordinary protection.
"Again, the offensive line deserves a lot of credit. They did a great job of protecting Jason, giving him time and helping set up some big plays," noted Long, who watched as White become OU's all-time leading passer with a modest 12-yard pass to Mark Bradley in the opening quarter.
"Jason guy has played well all season long. He's been such a terrific leader for us. He's more poised and more mature and it's showed," added Long.
White completed 22 of 29 passes, including the three that went for scores. He now has 33 TDs and just six interceptions. Eight of those scores have gone to Clayton, who continued to show why he is one of the premier pass catchers at the collegiate level. The senior from Arlington finished the night with eight receptions for 106 yards and two scores.
SPECIAL TEAMS (A)
It probably wasn't a banner day for the special teams, but it was solid from almost every aspect. No mistakes or busts.
The kickoff coverage teams were especially "special," forcing the Buffs to start deep inside their own territory almost every possession of the first half. Tony Cade led the way there with two tackles and a forced fumble that was whistled dead.
Freshman kicker Garrett Hartley kept it fairly deep and Trey DiCarlo came on late to finish the job.
"You have to give our defense and special teams credit. They pinned them down in there on the kickoff coverage and they couldn't get out," said Long.
Punt coverage, what little there was of it, was good, and the Sooners rang up a first down on a fake field goal that turned into an 8-yard run by holder Mark Bradley.
On the other side, OU's punt team sniffed out a Colorado fake punt attempt and stopped it to force the ball over on downs early in the third quarter.
RUN DEFENSE (A+)
OU's front seven clogged the middle and covered the edges, allowing nothing or nobody to pass without paying a price. That was evident in the way Colorado tailback Bobby Purify began the night and finished the night — running hard and then tip-toeing.
The hitting was fierce and the trench work was physical. And to no one's surprise, the Sooners ruled from both aspects.
"We did a lot of good things tonight. We established ourselves at the beginning of the game and we made the edge," said McGruder, who teamed with Carl Pendleton, Dampeer, Larry Birdine, Dan Cody, Remi Ayodele and Jonathan Jackson to continually stuff the Buffs.
"Hey, we just went out there and did what we had to do," said Dampeer, holding an orange as if was a cherished prize. "We played hard. Sooner Magic, man, you saw it tonight."
In reality, the Sooners didn't need any magic to stop Colorado. Just good old fashioned elbow grease and want to.
"The way our guys came out, you knew it was going to be one of those nights — it was going to be our night. Not a better time to hit our stride, to peak, considering the stage and the situation we were in," said co-defensive coordinator Brent Venables. "We knew it was going to be a physical game where they tried to establish the run, and our D-line was so disruptive to the flow of Colorado's offense. Our pressure package was just outstanding with great coverage. Great communication all around and finally we played like we are capable of playing."
Alexander, Allen, Clint Ingram and Lance Mitchell were also key bricks in OU's run-stopping wall.
The Buffs finished with minus-4 yards rushing, which is the fourth lowest total in CU history. Without the three sacks OU recorded, Colorado still managed only 10 yards on the ground.
PASS DEFENSE (A+)
Joel Klatt is probably still seeing flying objects out of the corner of his eye. That was definitely the case in Kansas City, as the Sooners pressured the CU signal caller at every opportunity.
Alexander, Brandon Shelby and Zach Latimer each recorded sacks, but that was just for starters. Perkins picked off his first pass of the season and Dampeer knocked down three Klatt pass attempts to further the QB's frustrations.
It was all a welcome sight for co-defensive coordinator Bo Pelini, whose secondary has been criticized at times as the "possible" weak link to OU's national title plans.
"We played pretty good defense all season. You're not going to shut everybody out, somebody is going to make a few plays against you," said Pelini. "The kids on our defense and up and down our roster have such character. They never lost confidence in each other and they believe.
"We set out to win them all and that's what we're looking to do."
OU's safety tandem of Donté Nicholson and Brodney Pool was outstanding against the run and pass, while Perkins looked back to his normal self and freshman Marcus Walker was solid.
"We practice well all week, had a great game plan and put it all together out there on the field tonight. We did what we had to do," added Perkins.
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