It could have been worse

Posted: Tuesday, November 11, 2003

If all you've seen of the Oklahoma Sooners this season are the final scores, know this: It's been harder most Saturdays for Bob Stoops to keep the score down than run it up.

The most recent was 77-0 over Texas A&M, and it could have been worse. The Oklahoma coach wasn't kidding when he said afterward, ''I believe in being decent to people.''

Some people will argue they saw this coming, anyway. The Sooners lost twice last season, once to A&M while also top-ranked and unbeaten, and to Oklahoma State. Since the Sooners paid back the Cowboys with a 52-9 beating a weekend ago, another one seemed to be in the cards.

But pulverizing opponents doesn't pay the same dividends it did, even as recently as the 2001 season. At the end of that one, embarrassed at how Nebraska slipped into the national title game against Miami, the suits who run the Bowl Championship Series ordered their computer geeks to remove margin of victory from their calculations.

Besides, Stoops is running out of options.

His quarterback, Jason White, completed his first 14 passes against A&M and was 16-of-18 for 263 yards and five touchdowns and got benched. The Heisman Trophy candidate spent the second half riding the pine, where the only stat he could pad was the number of minutes of game-action he's missed 88 minutes and 12 seconds in six routs, nearly a game and a half.

The Sooners scored on seven of their first eight possessions. They had four touchdowns called back because of penalties, twice on the same drive in one instance, yet went on to score each time, anyway.

Installed as 31-point favorites, they covered by the second quarter. By the third, they had more points than the Aggies offense had total yards (just 54 by game's end). Reserve quarterback Paul Thompson summarized the coaches' second-half instructions this way: ''just get what you can and go down,'' but the backups still outscored A&M 28-0.

And it would have been 35-0, except that midway through the final quarter, Stoops canceled the first part of the directive. With a first-and-goal from the 3, he called four straight runs up the middle, where his running backs plowed into their own offensive linemen, who, still heeding the second half of the directive, had already gone down.

What followed was the only sustained booing inside Memorial Stadium all afternoon; not because Oklahoma failed to score, but because several A&M defenders actually had the chutzpah to celebrate on the field after stuffing Oklahoma running back Donta Hickson on fourth down.

''We didn't want to get to 80,'' offensive coordinator Chuck Long said. ''That's not what we wanted to do.''

And the last thing any non-Oklahoma fan wants is more numbers, but a few more are necessary to provide some measure of what Stoops is up against.

Oklahoma has the nation's No. 1 offense (48.3 points per game) and leads the land in total defense, too. The Sooners have nine candidates still in the running for the top dozen individual awards, including the Heisman, Walter Camp (best overall), Lombardi (lineman of the year) and even Groza (top placekicker).

On the one hand, that puts the coach in the position of lobbying the voters for those awards not to punish his players for all the time they spend on the bench. On the other, he has to keep reminding those same players, ''There's nothing to be in awe of yet. We still haven't accomplished anything. They haven't handed out any trophies yet.''

Stoops was referring to the Big 12 Conference and national championship hardware, two trophies he's already hoisted. Keeping the Sooners aggressive enough to put away credible opponents in the first half and interested enough to show some mercy in the second is tough and next weekend, the balancing act gets even tougher. The Sooners are home against Baylor, which hasn't beaten them in 12 meetings and lost 73-10 to Texas A&M a month ago.

Several calls Sunday to Baylor coach Guy Morriss were not returned. Reached at the school's sports information office at 8:15 p.m., spokesman Heath Nielsen said the coach was ''done working for the day.''

Though he'd be loath to admit it, Morriss and his team are already done for the week. The only question is by how much.

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke@ap.org



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