Oklahoma's Holiday Bowl win over Oregon wasn't for the National Championship and the victory didn't earn the Sooners a conference championship either. However, it was easy to see following the 17-14 win over Oregon that this victory meant a great deal to the Sooners.
"We just went through so much this year," said a gleeful senior [b]Dusty Dvoracek[/b] on the field following the game. "All the injuries and tough losses were tough on us during the year. It just seemed like this team was unlucky or something. You don't have to look any further than the Texas Tech to see that.
"I think this has been my most enjoyable year playing at OU because this team never quit. This team fought in every game and in every day at practice. The seniors never gave up on the season and we never lost the fact that we needed to leave the program in good shape."
"Our coaches coached their guts out and never gave up on us, and we went into the game wanting to play Oregon to prove we could beat a good team. Oregon was a good team and my hat is off to them, because they played hard the whole game. But finally, during our last game of the year, we caught a break and played with a little luck."
One reporter called it Sooner Magic when senior linebacker [b]Clint Ingram[/b] drifted into coverage off a busted assignment and did what he does best, and that was get his hands on the football thrown by Ducks quarterback [b]Brady Leaf[/b] in the closing minute of the Sooners win.
"I was looking over at Coach Venables and he had made a call," said Ingram in the post game press conference.
"I thought he said jam number two, but he told me after the play that he had called for me to go on a blitz. I didn't see or hear that so I jammed number two (receiver). I saw the quarterback looking out that way the whole time. I tried to sink out that way as much as I could so that I could come back and make the play."
"I have to give credit to all my teammates," Ingram continued. "The whole game everybody made plays. The offense made plays as they ran, threw the ball well, blocked and protected well. Everybody on defense made tackles and everybody was in a position to make plays. We had a great week of preparation once we got here. It was me that made the last play, but it was them boys that made plays all night. It was just the Sooners night tonight."
The celebration started after the Ingram interception. Ingram couldn't help it, but his emotions got the best of him as he threw the game-winning intercepted football into the stands among a bunch of Sooner fans.
"I know I kind of lost my composure, but I was so happy," said Ingram on the field celebrating among his teammates. "Heck James, if I would have seen you I would have hugged you to and lifted you into the stands like at a rock concert. I knew our offense could take care of the ball, I wasn't worried about it."
Ingram would later go into the stands to celebrate with Sooner fans.
Of course, [b]Rhett Bomar[/b] let his emotions get the best of him as well spiking the ball after taking a knee, stopping the clock as the Sooners were penalized half the distance to the goal. A stunned Bomar took another knee and the celebration was on.
After the game, the Oklahoma players and coaches didn't want to leave the field. Coaches hugged one another and their wives, as they pretty ladies made it onto the field to join the celebration. The players were hugging each other and jumping up and down with glee.
The smiles were so bright on their faces that lights were no longer needed. They players made it over to the corner of the end zone where most of the Sooner fans were celebrating in the stands. It seemed like the players stayed there forever saluting the fans.
This group of players has never hesitated to show their love for the Sooner fans, and it was no different after the game as Bomar was named the Offensive Player of the Game after completing 17 for 30 passes for 229 yards and one touchdown against one interception.
"I want to thank all of our seniors for their great leadership and effort not only in this game, but throughout the season," Bomar said to the crowd following the game. "Your leadership has been our strength all season. I also want to thank Coach Wilson and our offensive staff for a great gameplan for this game. Finally, I want to thank our fans because Sooner fans are the greatest fans in the world. Thank you all!"
I was standing by the Oklahoma locker room as they walked, ran and strutted into it. The Sooners were smiling, singing and hooting and hollering all the way into the locker room. And once all the players were in, you could hear the celebration continue as the Sooners were finally all together, just by themselves, with Coach Stoops addressing them.
Without question, it was the most joyful locker room this season, which makes sense when you consider the importance that the Sooners placed on this game. OU wanted to play Oregon to prove to the college football world that they were still one of the nation's elite programs, and a win would signal to college football and that Oklahoma was still a college football power to behold.
"This game typifies our whole year. We have been fighting, scratching and clawing through it all," said OU Head Football Coach [b]Bob Stoops[/b] following the game. "I appreciate the guys for that, because that is not always easy. Hey, we were playing the No. 5 or 6 team in the country, so you know they are good. I am proud of our guys for the way they did compete and come back and win the football game."
"At the end, they made some plays," Stoops continued. "We had some fourth down stops were we were close to getting off the field, and they are running around and he (Leaf) shuffles the ball. He (Leaf) kept finding ways to keep their drives alive. I kept staying positive, as you had that feeling of, "Geez, not again" you know. We needed a break or just needed to make one play, and I kept feeling that. Then, of course, our ball magnet, Clint comes up with another interception at the best time. He is an exceptional player that way. I watch him in practice and I am amazed as he gets three or four interceptions every day in practice. I don't know how he does it, but he found the football again and made a great catch to finish the game off. It was exciting and fun."
Stoops was especially happy because he knew that the Sooners had just beaten a very good football team.
"My compliments to Oregon," said Stoops. "I really respect them, they way they play and the way they coach. They are a class group to compete against and we kind of have a good rivalry going between two good teams here for a few years, being that we are going to see them next year in the second game of the year."
Defensively, the Sooners played a super game and came up with the big play when they needed it at the end. Oklahoma held a good Oregon offense to 324 yards total offense and just 14 points.
"For the first time all year we had our best overall effort," said OU Defensive Coordinator [b]Brent Venables[/b] by the team bus following the game. "We didn't always played smart, but we played hard. In the end, we made enough plays to win. We could have made it easy on ourselves, but it would not have been par for the course though."
"We can make it easier on ourselves, but I really love and appreciate those guys. The way they have hung in there this year and stayed together, I have a tremendous amount of respect for them, especially our seniors. [b]Dusty, Clint, Remi (Ayodele), Eric Bassey[/b] those guys in particular. And even [b]Chijioke (Onyenegecha)[/b], who wasn't with us in this game, really displayed a lot of leadership here for us. That is what carried us through and that is what made us better from the beginning of the year to the end."
Ingram said that he wasn't in the set that Venables called on the last play, but considering the defense that he was in he executed it perfectly.
"For the defense that he thought we were in, he was right where he should be. As it turns out, that is probably the defense we should have been in," said Venables. "My wife called him Superman. I don't know if he was Superman, because the last guy we had who was Superman was [b]Roy Williams[/b], and I don't know if he was Roy Williams. But Clint made the big plays for us tonight and many times this year.
"They made the big play against the best team overall offensively that we have seen all year. That is no slack on anybody else, but at the same time it was really a difficult match-up for us and the guys were excited and focus. They were resilient and tough-minded at the end. When it looked like we weren't going to have quite enough, we did."
"We were due a break. And a good job by Clint for staying with his coverage," Venables continued. "He didn't break his assignment there at the end. It is amazing that I tell him all the time what great things will happen on the football field if you do what you are supposed to do. Just do what the defense is designed for you to do. He came through today."
"Clint is a magnet. Bob (Stoops) calls him that all the time. He is a magnet for the football. Some people wonder why I have a 6-foot-2, 240-pound linebacker out there in pass coverage as apposed to a DB, but you have to look at how he makes plays. Clint gave us a lot of flexibility all year. We did have some packages today that we did insert a DB for him, but Clint was just making too many plays, so we started to leave him on the field.
"I really do have a great appreciation and respect for him. If people only knew all he has been through, and how much he has grown in our program the last five years. He epitomizes what you want all you players to do. You want them to not only improve as football players, but to improve as young men as well. You want them to mature and become great people as well, and that is exactly what Clint has become."
What is ironic about Ingram's game-saving play off of what turns out to be a busted play, is that he busted again two plays earlier when he missed a blitz call laying back in coverage instead. As it turns out, if Ingram had blitzed what the Sooners had the called ,he might have stopped the Oregon drive right there."
"Yeah, that played opened up for us and he would have nailed it," said a chuckling Venables. "He would have nailed it, but that is football with Clint a little bit. He plays so hard and is so explosive that many times he can make a mistake and make up for it with sheer athletic ability. He missed the blitz, but got the interception at the end. He just has a knack for making plays."
Ingram finished with five interceptions and two forced fumbles on the year.
Coming into the game, the Oklahoma coaching staff respected the Oregon offense a great deal, claming that the Ducks personnel was as good as any team they played this year except for Texas. Thus to hold the Ducks to just 14 points, seven coming late in the fourth quarter, the Sooners put together a tremendous effort.
"I thought Brent (Venables) and all the defensive coaches did a great job of setting up our game plan, and our players were working it," said Stoops. "Early on, they made some nice plays Again, they are a good football team so you are not going to hold them down the entire time. They had their shot to make plays. Fortunately, we made a good number of plays through the entire game. I felt going in that we would play pretty well against these spread offensive teams. We have good team speed, the ability to close and the ability to play in space. We get good pressure and I felt we would hold up in a good way."
On offense, Oklahoma finished with 361 total yards —throwing for 229 and rushing for 132 more. It wasn't an exceptional game, but one that showed some great promise for the future.
In the second half, the Sooners put the ball into the hands of sophomore running back [b]Adrian Peterson[/b], and despite finishing with only 84 yards rushing, his intensity and effort sparked the Sooners 14-point third quarter surge.
"He is always a factor. And that was our game plan," said Stoops following the game. "I felt [b]Kevin Wilson[/b] did a great job. Even though, in the first half when we felt we were close to getting more points, I like the fact that he got their defense running with a lot of boot passes, misdirection and play-actions. We felt we would work Adrian and our running game more in the second half, and it worked. We started to establish it in the second half. I am not going to say if they were fatigued or not, but that was our plan.
"In the second half, we started to run it more. Of course, I was disappointed that we fumbled inside the one. We have to do better than that. It is not very often that you lose the turnover battle that you win. That was a big factor and I felt that would have given us some big momentum to finish them off, and that didn't happen. That is kind of where we have been. We just need to be better than that and take care of the football and make a few more plays."
Still, the Sooners only had three points on the board at halftime and only had 122 total yards of offense. Fortunately, the OU defense had given up only seven points and 107 yards of total offense. In fact, the Sooners and Ducks set a first half record for futility in what is normally a wide open offensive Holiday Bowl.
Many of my media partners in the press box thought the Sooners were very fortunate that Duck head coach [b]Mike Bellotti[/b] had stuck with his plan of alternating quarterbacks [b]Dennis Dixon[/b] and [b]Brady Leaf[/b]. Dixon looked very good in engineering the Ducks lone first half score and erasing a 3-0 Sooner lead.
Dixon dissected the Sooner defense on a 12-play, and 79-yard drive with super wide receiver [b]Demetrius Williams[/b] scoring on a five-yard end around. However, Leaf was under center for the next two series and the Ducks offense lost all momentum, and Dixon grew stiff on the sideline.
With Dixon on the bench and Leaf struggling in the passing game the Sooner defense was able to stabilize the game, and heading into the halftime locker room the Sooners were a confident football team. And the adjustments Oklahoma would make at halftime would lead to the Sooner victory.
"Our offensive coaches got together and went over the formations and plays that they felt best about after seeing how Oregon was lining up in the first half," said Stoops. "I thought Coach Wilson did a great job of mixing the run and the pass keeping them off balance and keeping them running. I don't think we gave up any sacks, maybe one short-yardage sack, and we kept them running and kept them moving on defense. We established the running game in the second half, and it was effective. It was just a matter of us getting into our best formations and what we liked at halftime, and then going out and executing that game plan."
In the first half, Bomar was solid completing 10 of 18 passes for 122 yards and one very bad interception into triple coverage. The Sooners came out and tried to establish the passing game early and that led to a more balanced attack in the second half.
"In the first half, we really came out firing. We really wanted to attack their defense as they are really aggressive," said Bomar. "We wanted to take advantage of that and we came out and threw the ball pretty good. We wanted to take advantage of our running game and we made some adjustments at half time. We saw some things in their defense, little holes that we could run through, and I thought our coaches did a good job game-planning and calling plays the whole game. When we started to run the ball in the fourth quarter that opened things up for our passing game as well."
Coach Stoops was proud of his signal caller.
"I thought he was great and he has progressed in a great and positive way," Stoops said of Bomar. "We felt he would play well, especially with the number of practices leading up to the game. He did a great job for us, just like we thought that he would."
Bomar, who played with an injured finger on his passing hand during the game once again showing his toughness, said the offense could've scored more points.
"I thought we did well going against a good defense, but we should have had more points on the board," said Bomar moments away from boarding the bus to start his travels back to Norman. "We should have had a touchdown at the one-yard line, and we should have had a touchdown on that first drive (FG). We were moving it well, but we just weren't able to finish some of our drives. But we were moving the ball on them all night. We were playing pretty well and we really picked it up in the third quarter, and then did what we had to do at the end."
The Oklahoma offense, who came along way under Bomar from their opening loss to TCU and their lackluster performance against Tulsa, finish the season a confident unit and believe they can move the ball on anybody.
"We have improved a great deal. At this point, we are not even the same offense when you compare us to the first of the year," said Bomar. "We started off slow on offense the first of the year and we weren't doing much. We were playing pretty good defense, but we didn't help them out much. The second half of the year we starting to come around, as our young guys matured and started to make plays. We were so much better every time that AD was healthy compared to when he wasn't. If you took our offense against TCU and Tulsa and compared it the offense that we have now, there would be no comparison."
One interesting note out of the Oregon locker room came comments from their defensive backs. They went into the game thinking they could intimidate the Sooners' young wide receiver corp. It was noticeable during the game that the Ducks secondary were trying to hit the OU wide receivers as hard as they could, but it was also evident that OU's receivers never buckled.
"I am real proud of how well the receivers played today and how much they improved all year," said wide receiver coach and pass game coordinator [b]Darrell Wyatt[/b]. "Oregon had a good and experienced secondary, and they got after us pretty good. They were very physical, but I thought as the game went on we become the more physical unit. [b]Lendy Holmes, Quentin Chaney, Malcolm Kelly[/b] and [b]Paul Thompson[/b] all had great blocks in the second half. This was a game where you had to be physically tough, because it was a challenge to just run a short out route, and I felt our receivers had a great game. Malcolm came up with big catch after big catch and [b]Juaquin[/b] did a great job."
Kelly led the Sooner receivers with seven catches for 79 yards, followed by [b]Juaquin Iglesias[/b], who made five catches for a team-leading 85 yards.
"They are not going to intimidate our receivers. Those guys have a lot of confidence right now," said Bomar. "Lets face it, they can play and they are talented. Our freshman receivers stepped it up against Oregon and they are going to be great in the future."
It took new OU offensive coordinator [b]Kevin Wilson[/b] about two plays to get back into the groove of calling plays, and as always Coach Wilson was fun to talk after the game.
"We thought we needed to throw the ball in the first half to soften them up," Wilson said. "We really thought we could have made a couple of big plays in the first half, but we didn't. It would have been really nice to have made them. We came close to hitting a double-move, a post and a go-route. We came close to hitting a number of big plays.
"We played well. We didn't make the big play, but we did kind of softened them up a little. We had a pretty good third quarter and had a great drive in the fourth quarter. We kind of lost the momentum after that, but we tried to stay on the attack and tried to keep the clock moving a little. It would have nice for us to finish a little stronger than we did."
The Sooner offense showed great poise in the game, because nothing came easy for them.
"That is a credit to their defense. They are all loaded up to stop the run," said Wilson. "They challenge you on the perimeter, but they were talented, were rated real high and they won a bunch of games for a reason. For this team to come this far and get a good win at the end of the year, is a credit to the seniors, and a credit to that open week when we made a re-commitment to be the best that we could. We played pretty well down the stretch and I am happy for the seniors.
"This is the best bowl win for us since maybe that 2000 National Championship win. We have had a lot of great teams and a lot of great wins, and it is nice to finish up with a good bowl win, which will help these young guys next year. If we can get the fullback tight end and O-line positions solidified and being competitive, then we have a chance to have a strong team again next year."
[b]Adrian Peterson's[/b] emotional effort spearheaded the Sooners' assault in the second half. Many times, AD couldn't find running room where the play was designed so he would bounce to the other side of the line or reverse field.
"I know that on many of my runs tonight that I didn't run them as they were drawn up," said a smiling AD after the game. "They were playing so many guys in the box that I just had to find an area where we at least had equal numbers. I just tried to keep running until we got the advantage. They had a good defense and they were tough, but I had a blast tonight. We played so hard. We deserved to win this game."
Peterson's helter-skelter style of running was fun to watch and looked good to the fans, but that style of running can wear coaches out.
"He made a couple of plays, but we talked to him about not trying to create and not to run sideways," said Wilson. "He got lucky on a couple of them. However, he did play with a lot of attitude, passion and as he kept running to the line. [b]KeJuan Jones[/b] came in and did pretty well complimenting AD. We were moving the pocket with some our play-action and things, and were trying to get a rhythm with our formations, especially in our spread formations.
"To be honest, it was just me calling plays today so I knew what run plays I wanted to run to compliment the pass. Before, when Chuck and I were doing it together, when I was thinking run he was maybe thinking in the other direction. I think I knew that these where throws that I wanted to run and what runs I wanted to compliment them with, or what runs that I wanted to do. I think in that regard we had a little more rhythm out there."
One thing is for sure, AD is already thinking about next year.
"We had some young players make big plays to help us in the game tonight," said AD following the game. "Our young players grew up tonight and played like veterans. What everybody saw was a bunch of young, talented players on that field, and a many of them will be back next year. You watched a talented team grow up tonight, which can only be great for us next year."
Junior defensive [b]C. J. Ah You[/b] was named the Defensive Player of the Game after finishing with double digit tackles.
"I am so tired right now, but I could keep playing forever," said Ah You said on the field while celebrating. "We left our heart out on that field. I am so happy we got this win against a great football team. They battled so hard and we had to match their effort. I am happy I played well, but our entire defense played well. We had a number of heroes tonight."
For the first game this year, junior [b]Larry Birdine[/b] played for the Sooners bringing a very talented player off of the bench.
"C.J. played a great game for us and he was fresher in the fourth quarter, and so was [b]Calvin (Thibodeaux[/b]) because we had Larry to spell them quite a bit this game," said OU defensive end coach [b]Chris Wilson[/b].
"We played Larry about 20 plays tonight. It gave us another starting defensive end to rotate into the game, and when C.J. or Calvin got tired we didn't hesitate to bring 'Bird' in the game."
Birdine loves to play and sitting out this year has been very tough on him, thus even as the team was boarding the bus the next day to head home he still had a big smile on his face.
"The injury was really tearing me up,because I knew I could contribute this year," said Birdine. "I felt before the season I was one of the leaders on the team, so I know I could have made a difference. We were able to turn this season around in the middle of the season and it turned out pretty good for us.
"I was pretty rusty the whole game, but I felt good being out there. I felt pretty healthy with my rehab and fresh legs. I am glad my coaches gave me a chance to go out there and play. I know before they game they talked about playing me just on passing downs, but coach Wilson told me if I could play he was just going to play me, so I played a lot more than I expected to. Coach Wilson believed in me and I just tried to go out there and make plays."
Senior defensive tackle [b]Dusty Dvoracek[/b] played his heart out in his final game for the Sooners. If anybody loves to wear that Sooner uniform it is Dvoracek, who had a hard time giving up on his career after the game was over.
"This game was kind of up and down like our season," said Dvoracek Friday after the game. "In the end, we fought through and kept on scratching and clawing. The big thing, as seniors, that we wanted to do was to win this game for ourselves so that we could leave on a high note, but just as important for all those freshman and underclassmen who have worked so hard with us, and to our coaches so that they can have something great to build on for next year."
"When you win a bowl game it is kind of the springboard for the next season. I want to see the guys next year win the National Championship. That is what we are all about. They are still my teammates, so last night was big-time for the future, for the seniors and for everybody involved. This game just brought this whole season together from where we started to where we are now, and right now we are a darn good football team."
For the players coming back, they know the seniors have left quite a legacy to follow.
"It has been a great honor for me to line up and play with our seniors," said an exhausted [b]Zach Latimer[/b] following the game. "All of them have shown great leadership this year and I have enjoyed playing with them. They wouldn't let us give in tonight, and that is something that I will hang onto next year each time I take the field."
There is no question the Holiday Bowl win will give the Sooners momentum going into spring football and next season, but it is no guarantee that they will have success next year.
"The win does give us some momentum going into next year, but we have to build on it and come through the winter and spring to be hungrier and push ourselves more," said Stoops following the game. "I think it shows, with the youth that we have and the way a number of guys have grown through the year fighting through injuries and everything else that we had, we have a great group of young guys who are capable of being awfully good. I think we will just keep getting better and better.
"We have a great number of players back, and when we get all those defensive ends back along with the maturity that we have gained defensively in the front and secondary, they have a chance to be awfully good. Offensively, the experience we have gained across the board, even though we will be a little bit thin in numbers in the o-line, I think the ability, size, strength and athletic ability there will be better for us. I feel great about our future. When you can take this young team and beat the No. 5 team in the country that says a lot."
You can count Ingram in as another who is already optimistic about next season.
"They are going to be great," said Ingram. "We haven't won a bowl game in the last two years, and by us coming out and winning this game it will be a great factor for us. The young guys will be able to build on it and take it into the off-season. And we, as seniors, can leave on a good note and that is a good feeling."
With so much talk about next year already on the minds of all Sooner players, coaches and fans, here is an early depth chart for spring football.
Rhett Bomar, So.
Joey Halzle, So.
Hays McEachern, So.
Adrian Peterson, Jr.
Allen Patrick, Jr.
Jacob Gutierrez (injury), Jr.
Jermaine Snell, Jr.
Dane Zaslaw, Jr.
Matt Clapp, So.
Juaquin Iglesias, So.
Manuel Johnson, So.
Lendy Holmes, So.
Eric Huggins, RS-Fr.
Malcolm Kelly, So.
Paul Thompson, Sr.
Quentin Chaney, So.
Fred Strong, So.
Manuel Johnson, So.
Juaquin Iglesias, So.
Lendy Holmes, So.
Joe Jon Finley, Jr.
Aaron Cummings (Injury), RS-Fr.
Brody Eldridge, RS-Fr.
Chris Messner, Sr.
Duke Robinson, So.
Duke Robinson, So.
Sherrone Moore, Jr.
Jon Cooper (injury), So.
Jesse White, RS-Fr
Chad Roark, Fr.
J.D. Quinn, So.
Ben Barresi, RS-Fr.
Branndon Braxton, So.
Cameron Schacht, So.
C.J. Ah You, Sr.
Calvin Thibodeaux, Sr.
Alonzo Dotson, Jr.
Laenar Nixon, Sr.
Larry Birdine, Sr.
John Williams, Jr.
Alan Davis, So.
Auston English, So.
Carl Pendleton, Jr.
DeMarcus Granger, RS-Fr.
Billy Blackard (injury), RS-Fr.
Cory Bennett, So.
Steven Coleman, Jr.
Brian Simmons, RS-Fr.
Cordero Moore, RS-Fr.
Zach Latimer, Sr.
Curtis Lofton, So.
Demarrio Pleasant, Jr.
Rufus Alexander, Sr.
Ryan Reynolds, So.
Lewis Baker, Jr.
Demarrio Pleasant, Jr.
Ryan Reynolds, So.
Lamont Robinson, RS-Fr.
D.J. Wolfe, Jr.
Dan Dixon, Sr.
Darien Williams, Jr.
Marcus Walker (injury), Jr.
Brian Jackson, RS-Fr.
Reggie Smith, So.
Darien Williams, Jr.
Nic Harris, So.
Lewis Baker, Jr.
Reggie Smith, So.
Jason Carter, Sr.
Keenan Clayton, RS-Fr.
Lewis Baker, Jr.
When Ingram was asked in the postgame press conference if he had ever heard of Sooner Magic, he was so excited he couldn't find the words to describe it.
"I don't know what to call it," Ingram said. "I can't put it into words, but it is something that just feels so good. I can't explain how good this feels to us. This feels so good. You just have to be in our place to get a feeling of how good we feel right now and what is going through our bodies. It is just like a rush. For us go out there and win that game was incredible."
Note: Rhett Bomar's injured finger was much better the next day and didn't need any further medical treatment.
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