Oklahoma turns Big 12 South into a riddle (cont.)
Whether Bradford (14-of-19 for 304 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions) did enough to jump ahead of Texas counterpart Colt McCoy in the Heisman race is as vexing a question as their teams' poll positions. Oklahoma's fans and cheerleaders made their case, loudly chanting "Heisman" while he conducted a postgame interview on the field. So, too, did his coach.
"Sam's name has to be up there, if not at the top, in the Heisman race," said Stoops.
In a rare role reversal for the Sooners, the success of Murray (18 carries, 125 yards, two TDs) and Chris Brown (21 carries, 108 yards, three TDs) opened things up for Bradford, who hit wide-open tight end Jermaine Gresham for a 19-yard touchdown to go up 21-0. His receivers were equally dazzling. Juaquin Iglesias juked three Tech defenders out of their shoes in dashing to a 28-yard score to go up 28-0, while Manuel Johnson made a running, one-handed grab en route to a 66-yard touchdown that made the score 58-14.
And everything started with the dominance of OU's offensive line, which paved the way for 625 total yards against a Tech defense that, in its past two games, had held both Texas (374 yards) and Oklahoma State (368) well below their season averages.
"Those guys up front played amazing tonight," said Bradford. "Our offensive line has played great all year, but they are the reason we played like we did tonight."
As impressive as Oklahoma's offense looked, the Sooners have been piling up points all season. Their defense, on the other hand, has been the subject of frequent criticism due both to their big-game meltdowns of the past (four straight BCS bowl losses, this year's Texas game) and the fact that, at least statistically, they'd continued to struggle at times since the Texas game.
While pointing out that many of those yards and points in previous games came largely after the Sooners had put away their opponents, defensive coordinator Brent Venables conceded that Saturday's performance - considering the quality of the opponent - was particularly redeeming.
"We have taken a great deal of criticism and I'm glad our guys responded," he said. "When the game was still in question, our guys made all the plays. ... Our eyes were in the right place 95 percent of the game."
Venables' unit has had to deal with a rash of injuries, most notably the season-ending knee injury suffered by middle linebacker Ryan Reynolds during the Texas loss. His replacement, redshirt freshman Austin Box, was forced to learn on the fly, as has redshirt freshman defensive end Frank Alexander, pressed into action due to all-conference starter Auston English's recent sprained knee.
Saturday night against the nation's No. 2 offense, Box had nine tackles (three for loss) while Alexander teamed with sophomore ends Jeremy Beal (two sacks) and Adrian Taylor (one sack) and veteran tackle Gerald McCoy to stifle both Harrell and Texas Tech's running backs. The Sooners finished with 10.5 tackles for loss.
"We're still growing up," said Venables. "There were six guys out there that have never played against Texas Tech, and you never would have known it."
So what does this latest twist in the Big 12's series of cannibalism mean? The assumption for some time has been that whichever South Division team eventually emerges on top will get a crack at the BCS Championship, most likely against the SEC's champion.
While the Sooners certainly made a rousing case Saturday night, many will understandably remain skeptical. After all, they've teased us like this before. For instance, remember how last year's team throttled then-No. 1 Missouri in the Big 12 title game, only to get scorched by West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl?
But last year's Sooners showed chinks in the armor long before they got to Glendale, losing on the road both to mediocre Colorado and to then-7-4 Texas Tech. This year's team has been dominant in all but one game, and even in that one, the Texas loss, they led the then fourth-ranked Longhorns until midway through the fourth quarter.
Here's a suggestion: Perhaps the voters should wait until next week's Bedlam game in Stillwater before ultimately rendering their judgment.
While each of the Big 12's Big Three can spout off any number of accomplishments, one thing none of them has yet done is beat an elite opponent on the road. If the Sooners manage to do just that against 9-2 Oklahoma State -- a team that beat Missouri on the road and took Texas to the wire on its home field -- they deserve to play in Kansas City.
In the meantime, Texas gets its own national showcase Thanksgiving night against Texas A&M. It may be a holiday week, but the lobbyists will be hard at work.