Woolfolk, Sooners have score to settle with 'Buffs

Denver native Andre Woolfolk and the Sooners want to prove things have changed since the Buffoloes win in Boulder in 1999 (AP Photo)

When Colorado takes the field Saturday at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium they will have a wide-eyed Oklahoma football team waiting for them. The Sooners won't admit it publicly, but it's no secret for those of us who cover the football team closely that the Sooner coaching staff really wants a little Buffalo hide. We all know when this Sooner coaching staff wants something, the players always jump right in the middle of it.

The coaching staff still smarts from the Sooners 38 to 24 loss to the Buffaloes in Boulder back in 1999. The loss came during Bob Stoops' first year and the Sooners were ranked 24th in the country. The new Sooner coaching staff was doing a wonderful job of restoring Sooner pride and mystic. Heading into the game everything within the program was going so well.

The Sooners were confident and their fire was stoked when word got back to the Sooner coaching office that Colorado Head Coach Gary Barnett has flamed the Sooner offense. Barnett said at the time that the Sooners' spread offense was nothing new and that it was nothing more than the West Coast Offense, which had been used for many years in the NFL. Barnett went further to say that he didn't know why then Offensive Coordinator Mike Leach was making such a big deal about the offense and that his team would stop the Sooners that Saturday.

Barnett's talk turned out to be true as the Buffaloes forced Sooner quarterback Josh Heupel into four interceptions and totally confused the Sooners all day. The Sooner defense didn't fare much better as Colorado controlled the football all day and finished with 537 yards total offense. Oklahoma never found the answer for Colorado quarterback Mike Moschetti, who completed 22 of 31 yards for 382 yards and two touchdowns.

For the Sooners who played or coached in the game it is a contest that still sticks in the throat of the Sooners.

"All I remember about that game is that they dogged us from beginning to end," said then wide receiver Andre Woolfolk. "We led briefly in that game, but for the most part they beat us from beginning to end. We never really got going in that game and that game is the only game since I have been here that looking back on I felt that we didn't match up with a team. I realize that shouldn't have been the case, but by the way that game turned out they were a better football team than us."

"We are a totally different team now then we were back in 1999," Woolfolk continued. "We have had some great success, much more than Colorado has had. But they did win the Big 12 Championship last year, one year after we won the National Championship. We know they are a very good football team, but so are we and we have been waiting for this opportunity for some time."

The game was not a fond memory for the Sooner coaching staff either.

"That game in 1999 probably doesn't carry a lot of weight in this game because we are both drastically different teams," said Co-Defensive Coordinator Mike Stoops. "We obviously embarrassed ourselves as a defense, because we didn't play very well in any aspect and we didn't coach them very well. However, that game is past us and I don't think it carries any real meaning. It was certainly one of the worst games, if not the worst game, we have played since we have been at Oklahoma. We just have to go out and execute and play well. It is important for us to play well in this game and show the great way that we play defense at Oklahoma, because of the embarrassing performance we put on the field back in 1999."

Colorado will bring the nations' leading rusher to Norman in senior tailback Chris Brown. Brown is averaging 162.1 yards per game and picks up 6.9 yards every time he carries the ball. The Sooners ranked number two in the Big 12 and 12th in the country in rushing defense giving up only 99 yards per game. Colorado is third in the Big 12 in rushing and 14th in the country at 231.2 yards per game.

The Sooners will throw the Big 12 Conference's best defense at the Buffs and Colorado will see if they can move the ball against the nation's second best defense as the Sooners only give up 252.3 yards per game.

Something has to give and Oklahoma doesn't plan for it to be their defense.

"To stop their running game, it is important that we play sound, fundamental defense and play within the structure and confines of our defense," said Mike Stoops. "Once we get there that is only part of the equation. You have to bring a hat and put it on them and wrap up and be great tacklers. When you play a guy like Chris Brown you have to tackle well and that is going to be the basic emphasis for us. He is going to try to run threw those tackles and that is where you see that he gets his big plays, because people are missing tackles."

As Mike Stoops was talking his face contorted, he gritted his teeth and you could see the veins on the side of head pulsate as he was certainly getting into what it would take to stop Brown. Remember, Stoops was an All-American safety at Iowa and his specialty was stomping out big time tailbacks in the run game.

"Well, it is a safety type of game and our safeties are going to have to play well in run support," said Stoops. "We are going to have to be physical, because they are going to try to run it at us and we just have to make sure we match their force with our force and just do a good job of tackling."

"Brown is a very patient runner who finds his creases in the offensive line and explodes through them," Mike Stoops continued. "For a big, rangy guy he makes people miss in the hole and he has the speed to take it the distance. He also has great vision at the point of attack and finds holes and explodes through those holes. The Colorado offensive line does a great job of creating seems for him. They find ways to run the zone play and they find ways to find the creases in a defense."

In stopping the run the Sooners must get some great play out of its front even, and All-American defensive tackle Tommie Harris says he is as ready as he has been all season.

"I think I am as close to being healthy as I have been all year," said Harris. "Even in the preseason I wasn't healthy, but I feel pretty good right now. I want to be healthy for this game, because this is the kind of game all players want to play well in. Colorado is a good running football team and they are trying to run it right down my throat. That is great and I am ready for that challenge."

The Sooners feel if they stop Brown that quarterback Robert Hodge can't beat them. Hodge stepped into the starting role when starter Craig Ochs walked out of the Colorado camp. A former junior college All-American, Hodge is just now shaking off the rust. He has looked better over his last two games completing 53 percent of his passes.

"Hodge has really improved as the season has gone along," said Co-Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables. "He throws the ball much better than people think and he has enough mobility to make it tough to contain him. What we have to do is make sure he doesn't continue to get better against us. We want to make sure he beats us and not Brown. If we can shut down their tailback run game then we lock out our secondary on his receivers, we will see if he can beat us in the passing game."

Where the Sooners have a decided advantage is when they are on offense. The Buffs are eighth in total defense and fifth in scoring defense in the Big 12 giving up 20 points per game. The Sooners are second in scoring offense at 41.1 points per game and fifth in the country in scoring offense.

"Colorado will try to change things up on us and we have to be alert to that," said senior quarterback Nate Hybl. "They run well on defense and I think they are trying to get as much speed on defense as possible. We are in a pretty good groove right now and our run game certainly gives us an added dimension. I think we had hit some big passes on them, because they try to bring outside pressure. If we pick our spots right we can have a big game against them."

Special teams will be interesting because both teams have tremendous strengths. Colorado sports the nation's top punter in Mark Mariscal, who is averaging 49.6 yards per punt. However, he often out punts his coverage and the Sooners' Antonio Perkins will be looking to exploit that opportunity. The Sooners have excellent coverage units and they will certainly need them as Buff freshman Jeremy Bloom is to the Buffs what Perkins is to the Sooners.

The bottom line is that OU is the best football team on the field on Saturday. Colorado is good, but they are not as good as OU. The fact that the Sooners haven't beaten the Buffs since 1989 doesn't mean much in 2002. Secretly. the Sooners want to show Colorado that 1999 was a fluke and that their program has grown by leaps and bounds. OU has a number one BCS ranking to protect and they have much more on the line.

It all adds up to a 31-17 Sooner win.

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