All's Not O.K.
Preseason No. 1 Oklahoma suddenly has some major problems to fix
If second-ranked Oklahoma hopes to have any chance of winning its second national championship in three years, the rest of the team must catch up to the defense. The good news to come out of last Saturday's 37-27 victory over Alabama was that the Sooners' defense allowed the Crimson Tide only one drive longer than 39 yards. The bad news is that in other aspects of the game, Oklahoma looked average to poor. Among the major flaws Alabama exposed:
?A nonexistent running game. The Sooners finished with minus-23 rushing yards, the worst showing in school history. Oklahoma tried to rectify problems in its rushing game (119.4 yards per game last season) by hiring former Northwestern offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, who designed an attack to enable the team to run effectively out of the spread offense. After senior Quentin Griffin rushed for 237 yards against Tulsa in a 37-0 opening win on Aug. 30, it appeared that Wilson had done his job. On Saturday, however, the Crimson Tide defensive front dominated the line of scrimmage, sacking quarterbacks Jason White and Nate Hybl six times and limiting Griffin to three yards on nine carries. Wilson was particularly bothered by the Sooners' three three-and-out performances at the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth.
?Uncertainty at quarterback. Oklahoma was expecting big things out of White, a junior, who missed five games with a torn left ACL last season. But late in the first quarter on Saturday he went down with a torn right ACL and is expected to miss the rest of the season. Hybl, a senior, performed ably, especially with the game on the line. Trailing 27-23, he led the Sooners on their only sustained drive of the day, going 80 yards to give them the lead for good with 2:11 to play. Hybl is steady, but he has slow feet and an average arm, and it's questionable whether the Sooners can win the title with him under center. Backing him up are three freshmen, the best of whom, redshirt Brent Rawls, is out for a month with torn ligaments in his right thumb.
?Holes on special teams. Alabama special teams coach Mark Tommerdahl noticed last week that Oklahoma left itself open to an onside kick. At a team meeting on Friday, coach Dennis Franchione announced that if the Crimson Tide opened the game kicking off, it would deploy the Gomer Pyle ("Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!"). Sure enough, the Tide won the toss, recovered an onside kick and made a field goal for a 3-0 lead. Alabama also blocked two punts—returning one for a touchdown—and a field goal and recovered a Sooners fumble on a kickoff. As a capper, the Crimson Tide executed a textbook fake field goal when holder Lane Bearden scored on a three-yard run with 10:16 left that gave Alabama a 24-23 lead.
Oklahoma showed the resilience of a champion by coming back against the Crimson Tide, which entered the game unranked. But will the Sooners have what it takes against better teams?
McGahee Flies To the Rescue
This summer, while vacationing in Paris, Miami running backs coach Don Soldinger purchased a statue of Clark Kent tearing off his reporter's clothes to reveal the Superman S on his chest The statue is in Soldinger's office, and when sophomore tailback Willis McGahee walks in, he always pretends to start unbuttoning his shirt. Before the season that may have seemed cocky for a guy who had 314 rushing yards and one career start. But in gaining a career-high 204 yards on 24 carries in the Hurricanes' 41-16 victory over Florida at the Swamp last Saturday, the 6'2", 230-pound McGahee showed that he can indeed play the superhero role.
The Miami native spent most of last year backing up Clinton Portis before moving to fullback to replace the injured Najeh Davenport in the Rose Bowl. "In 20 practices we taught him how to play fullback, and he went the whole game," Soldinger says. "How many guys can you do that with?" After sophomore Frank Gore tore his right ACL midway through spring practice, McGahee moved into the starting tailback spot. With the Gators and a national television audience awaiting on Saturday, McGahee told his coach, "Don't take me out. This is a big-time game. I want to be the guy." Now he is.
UCLA Gets on Track
Bruins Put Focus Back on the Field