Known for his D, Stoops has turned OU into an offensive dynamo (cont.)
When Leach left after the season to become the head coach at Texas Tech, Stoops promoted offensive line coach Mark Mangino -- the two had worked together at Kansas State -- and the Sooners began their transformation to a more balanced offensive approach. While Heupel became the offensive face of OU's 2000 national-title team, throwing for 3,392 yards and 20 touchdowns, tailback Quentin Griffin took on a bigger role late in the season. Griffin rushed for 3,471 yards over a three-year period (2000-02).
"As the years went by, we got better and better linemen, better tight ends and more physical running backs," Stoops said. "This comes back to my defensive mentality and belief in being physical -- I felt we could run the football while still passing the ball well."
Another important recruit during that time was Wilson, who became the "run-game coordinator" alongside offensive coordinator Chuck Long following Mangino's departure to Kansas in 2002. Wilson came from Northwestern, where he and coach Randy Walker were among the first to install a shotgun-spread offense centered around the running game (the Rich Rodriguez variety).
Wilson added a shotgun-running component to OU's spread, but in the second game of the year, when White suffered his second-straight season-ending knee injury, the staff mostly scrapped the shotgun for a more traditional power-running attack. Griffin rushed for 1,884 yards as the Sooners earned a Rose Bowl berth. Largely unheralded two-year starter Hybl was named Rose Bowl MVP in a win over Washington State.
White returned as starter in 2003 having lost most of his mobility following two reconstructive surgeries, so OU re-instituted the shotgun. With the help of a stout offensive line anchored by future Outland winner Jammal Brown and a deep receiving corps led by future first-rounder Mark Clayton, the previously unsung White exploded for 3,846 yards and 40 touchdowns, leading the Sooners to a 12-0 start and becoming OU's first Heisman winner since 1978.
However, the lack of a running game eventually caught up to the Sooners. Coupled with a finger injury to White, OU lost both the Big 12 championship game against Kansas State and the BCS championship game against LSU.
The answer to the Sooners' running woes arrived the next year in the form of all-everything recruit and future NFL Pro Bowler Peterson, and once again, OU's coaches adjusted accordingly. White moved back under center in '04 and passed for 3,205 yards while the freshman Peterson ran for 1,925.
"[The offensive coaches] do a great job of figuring out what our strengths are and playing to them," Stoops said. "The quarterbacks have all been very accurate, all tough, good players. We've played to their strengths as well as running the football."
The Sooners once again started 12-0 that 2004 season before suffering a humbling 55-19 national-title loss to USC. What followed were the two most challenging seasons for Stoops' offense.
With an inconsistent redshirt freshman quarterback, Rhett Bomar, an entirely new offensive line and young receivers, OU lost three of its first five games en route to an 8-4 season. Then, on the eve of 2006 fall camp, Bomar was dismissed for accepting extra benefits from a local car dealership. Paul Thompson, a fifth-year senior who had spent the past year at receiver, was moved back to quarterback. Making matters worse, Peterson wound up missing seven games with a collarbone injury.
In spite of all that, the Sooners won 11 games and another Big 12 championship in what many called the best coaching job of Stoops' career. Heading into 2007, however, pundits wondered how OU would handle an apparent void at quarterback following Bomar's dismissal and Thompson's graduation.
Even Stoops didn't realize a potential star was waiting in the wings.
It is hard to comprehend now, but just 14 months ago, Bradford was one of three unheralded competitors for Oklahoma's starting quarterback job, along with juco transfer Joey Halzle and true freshman Keith Nichol (who's since transferred to Michigan State).
Bradford, an Oklahoma City native, largely flew under the radar as a recruit. Rivals.com and Scout.com both listed him as a three-star prospect. Long, now the coach at San Diego State, had become a fan of Bradford's when he participated in OU's summer camps, and Stoops and Wilson were impressed with his athleticism. In high school, the 6-foot-4 Bradford excelled in both basketball and golf as well.
"He's a lot more athletic than people realize," Wilson said. "[Former OU basketball coach Kelvin] Sampson thought he could play here. A year ago, he shot 63 at a municipal course."