While Snyder, who took over at Kansas State in 1989, is rightly lauded for bringing a dreadful program to life, he's now 1-19 against Top 10 opponents. Stoops and his staff now also must be given credit for pulling off a rebuilding job. They inherited a program that had lost 27 of its previous 44 games and was populated by players lacking fitness and cohesion. "There was no leadership," says Venables. "There were a million factions. It was us versus them, me versus everyone else, everyone for himself."
In fewer than two seasons Stoops has restored a level of glory Oklahoma hasn't enjoyed since it was coached by the lantern-jawed gent hanging out on the sideline during the game and by the visitors' dressing room afterward. "I can't believe we only rushed for 11 f—-ing yards!" said Barry Switzer, grinning. "If we ever rushed for 11 yards when I was here, we'd have got our asses kicked!"
Oklahoma rushed for 11 yards because senior quarterback Josh Heupel took what the Kansas State defense-ranked No. 1 in the country coming into the game—gave him. The Wildcats often put nine men on the line of scrimmage and blitzed on almost every down. It seemed like a sound plan. Here's why it didn't work: Heupel has been blitzed ceaselessly by every team the Sooners have faced since he became the starter at the beginning of last season, fresh out of Snow Junior College in Ephraim, Utah. His father, Ken, has coached at Northern State, a Division II school in Aberdeen, S.Dak., for 14 years, so Josh was breaking down film before he began breaking out. The guy reads blitzes in his sleep, but teams keep coming at him, because that's how you're supposed to play defense against a guy who wants to pass on almost every down.
"It's kind of a race," says Heupel. "Can you get rid of the ball before you get hit?" He could on all but four occasions last Saturday. Shuffling laterally or stepping forward, he bought time in the pocket. He threw dump-offs, he found his safety valve, he subjected Kansas State, in Snyder's words, to "slow death." Time and again he shushed the Wildcats' notoriously boisterous crowd, chipping and chiseling his way to 29 completions on 37 attempts for 374 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Beasley was less patient, preferring to throw bombs, and why not? It had worked in Kansas State's first six games, which it won by an average score of 51-10. Of course, the opponents in those games, which included Iowa, Louisiana Tech, Ball State and North Texas, are a combined 10-28. As Venables and Mike Stoops told their players all week, " Kansas State hasn't seen a defense like ours all year." The first of the six keys on Oklahoma's defensive scouting report read: "We must stop and contain No. 18 Beasley. Every part of their offense goes through him."
Beasley is most effective when he can scramble and freelance. By keeping him in the pocket, for the most part, the Sooners forced him into his worst outing of the season: 14 for 36 with two interceptions. His best play of the day was a ho-hum four-yard completion to senior wideout Quincy Morgan at the right sideline with 12:39 left. But Strait was caught in a corner blitz, and Morgan broke a tackle and outran Sooners defenders for a 69-yard touchdown that brought the Wildcats to within 14 points. Two minutes later Kansas State blocked an Oklahoma punt and ran it into the end zone, whittling the lead to seven. Like the dark clouds overhead, the Wildcats were threatening. The crowd was deafening.
Kansas State intercepted a halfback pass on the Sooners' ensuing drive but was forced to punt after three plays. Heupel then methodically drove the Sooners 47 yards to set up the 24-yard field goal that put the game out of reach with 3:27 left. Heupel has now thrown for more than 300 yards in 11 of his 18 starts at Oklahoma. With his superb play for the last two weeks—he threw for 275 yards in a 63-14 rout of then No. 11 Texas on Oct. 7—Heupel has inserted himself into the Heisman race. More important, he has helped vault the 6-0 Sooners to No. 3, their highest ranking since 1988, which makes their Oct. 28 game against top-ranked Nebraska a much bigger showdown than it figured to be before the season started.
All week Oklahoma's coaches with Kansas State ties had insisted that they bore no grudges against the Wildcats. The scene on the field after the game affirmed that. Venables embraced a half dozen of his old players. Mangino kibitzed with one of his favorite Wildcats, linebacker Warren Lott, whispering to him. "There's still a lot of football to be played. We might see you guys again in December" in the Big 12 title game. The Stoops brothers sought out and embraced Snyder.
It turned out that Venables, Mangino and the Stoopses didn't really need the security escorts who had been assigned by Oklahoma. "These are classy fans," Bob Stoops said. "I didn't hear an insult all day." He presumably didn't see the signs disparaging him, the wittiest being STOOPID IS AS STOOPID DOES.
Then he was off on a rescue mission. Darkness had fallen, but Heupel was still on the field being passed from one television crew to the next. Stoops walked down and issued an order: "Interviews are over. He needs to be with his family."