Work in Sports
What We Learned
Heupel, Stoops make name for themselves
Updated: Saturday October 28, 2000 9:14 PM
By Tim Griffin, Special to CNNSI.com
NORMAN, Okla. -- The last month might have been a surprise to many.
Even Oklahoma players joked about pinching themselves after streaking through their "Red October" with consecutive victories over Texas, Kansas State and Nebraska. Their 31-14 victory over the No. 1 Cornhuskers might have been the sweetest victory in history for the Oklahoma program, which has won six national championships.
"All we heard about was winning October and winning those three games," Oklahoma linebacker Rocky Calmus said. "Nobody thought we would get one of them, much less all of them. It doesn't stop there and that's what people don't realize."
The Sooners became the first team in college football history to upset the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams in successive games after their triumphs over Kansas State and Nebraska.
In the process, this is what we learned about the Sooners:
1. Josh Heupel is a legitimate Heisman candidate, even if he got a mouthful of pepper spray leaving the field.
Despite his lack of publicity earlier in the season, Heupel established himself as a strong contender with his scintillating performance, leading the Sooners to the comeback with four straight scoring drives in the second quarter.
Heupel strafed Nebraska's secondary with a combination of short and long passes, blistering the Cornhuskers for 149 of his 300 yards in the second period.
"I don't think there's any question that something is wrong if he's not up there," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said about Heupel's Heisman chances. "The whole country saw what he did in this game and how he led us to victory in a big way. It isn't the system. He is the system."
In the bedlam under the goal posts after the victory, Heupel looked out for several of his old friends. Security officers shot pepper spray into the scrum and hit the Oklahoma quarterback.
"It got it my eyes and a little in my mouth," Heupel said. "But it wasn't too bad after I left."
Heupel added 46 yards rushing, including a career-best 21-yard scamper that might have proven something about his athleticism.
"I don't know if this was my best game," Heupel said. "That would be debatable. But it was good enough to get a win. That's all I'm concerned about. I'm not worried about the individual stuff."
Even if he professes otherwise, Saturday's big performance on a national stage gave Heupel's Heisman bid a big boost. His 346 yards of total offense were the most ever by an Oklahoma quarterback against Nebraska.
"I knew he was a big-time player coming into the game," Nebraska rush end Kyle Vanden Bosch said. "Josh came out today and showed he could make big plays. We sent a lot of people against them. He did a good job recognizing the blitz and making the necessary adjustments."
2. Bob Stoops might be the nation's top young coach.
Stoops continued his rapid transformation of the Oklahoma program, pushing his record against Top 15 opponents since coming to the Sooners to 4-0. Oklahoma's average margin of victory in those games has been 31 points.
"A lot of people have asked me if it's a surprise to be where we are," Stoops said. "It's a surprise to everyone but our team. We entered today's game feeling great about our chances."
Even after falling behind 14-0, Stoops and his coaching staff kept their cool along the sidelines.
"The mark of a good football team is how you respond when they have their backs against the wall," Nebraska coach Frank Solich said. "Oklahoma did that today."
The comeback victory prompted a barrage of oranges as Oklahoma fans salivated about their chances for a seventh national championship at the Orange Bowl. Stoops could joke about the joyous celebration after Oklahoma fans charged the field after the victory.
"You don't have to convince me," Stoops said. "There were a lot of people running around here with their fingers in the air. And it was even the right finger."
3. Oklahoma's defense might be its most underrated strength.
It's not hard to get overlooked when your offense is leading the nation in scoring, but the Sooners' defense shut the Cornhuskers down cold after two scoring drives to start Saturday's game.
Oklahoma allowed 167 yards on the first 11 Nebraska snaps, including a 39-yard touchdown pass from Eric Crouch to Matt Davison and Crouch's 37-yard touchdown run.
Over the rest of the game, the Sooners blanked Nebraska, limiting the Huskers to 136 yards over that span.
"We didn't change anything," Stoops said. "It didn't look good, but we just got out of positioning by overrunning. We needed to get used to their speed and the plays they were running."
It wasn't anything complicated. The Sooners took advantage of superior closing speed to limit Crouch's cutback runs and hold him in check.
"It didn't look good early," Stoops said. "The defense was excellent. I've got as much respect for Nebraska as you'll see because their speed is excellent. To slow them down and stop them for three quarters was amazing."
Calmus (16 tackles) and linebacker Torrance Marshall (12 tackles, including three for losses and two sacks) roamed the field with abandon to clamp down on Nebraska's offense.
"Our defense is an assignment defense," Calmus said. "The option can really hurt you if you don't stick with your assignment. There in the first half, it showed.
"A couple of people were out of place and they scored twice really quick. We got our points back and everybody started fitting right and we shut them out."
CNNSI.com insider Tim Griffin covers the Big 12 for the San Antonio Express-News.