Just in time for their biggest game of the season, against Texas, the Sooners came up with what appeared to be a successful formula. A few tweaks, including motion from tight end Trent Smith and several well-executed draws to senior tailback Quentin Griffin, were the difference in the 35-24 victory. At 5'7", Griffin can be difficult for opposing defenders to see, and he squeezed between and darted around the Longhorns for 248 yards and two touchdowns. But the tough little senior, who hails, aptly, from Humble, Texas, steadfastly refused to be drawn into a discussion of his heroics. "The only thing you'll hear from Q," said left guard Brad Davis, "is some heavy breathing in the huddle. In games like this, his play speaks for itself."
While Griffin shone, Oklahoma senior quarterback Nate Hybl revealed his potential to unravel under big-game pressure. Having averaged a respectable 256.4 passing yards per game through his team's first five wins, Hybl completed 12 of 29 passes for 131 yards on Saturday. The performance reminded fans of his dreadful play in last year's upset loss to Oklahoma State—and explained why he entered this season as a backup to junior Jason White (who's out for the season with a knee injury he suffered against Alabama on Sept. 7).
Going into the Red River Shootout, Hybl had thrown 148 passes without an interception. He had four picked off by Texas, including one that corner Rod Babers returned for a 73-yard touchdown. "My footwork and decision-making were totally off," Hybl said. "Kind of in spite of me, our guys excelled. It was a great game plan; I just didn't execute my part very well."
With a dominant defense, a newfound running game and the edgy play-calling of Stoops, the Sooners should be able to handle the lesser teams remaining on their schedule. But unless Hybl recovers what had been, to this point, his best quality—not making major mistakes—some team better than Texas (maybe even Iowa State this Saturday) will come along and make Oklahoma pay. "Hybl's a good thrower," said Texas defensive coordinator Carl Reese, "but since we never got him to the point where he had to win the game for them, it remains to be seen whether he can perform when he has to."
NO PAC-10 TEAM WILL PLAY IN THE FIESTA BOWL
What's not to love about the Pac-10? You've got the San Gabriel Mountains framing the Rose Bowl, with Keith Jackson calling the action. You've got the USC song girls in those white sweaters that don't quite cover their midriffs. You've got the best quarterbacks in the country putting on the most impressive aerial exhibitions.
What you don't have is a team with a hailstone's chance in hell of getting to the national championship game. Yes, that includes No. 7 Oregon, whose 31-30 win over UCLA last Saturday was a typical Ducks-Bruins offensive orgy: eight touchdowns and 860 yards of offense. In a nutshell, that's why the Pac-10 is so entertaining, and also why it has not had a team win an outright national title since Southern Cal in 1972. Tough defense is the exception in this conference ( Washington's Steve Emtman-led Purple Reign in 1991 was one of the last dominating units) but one of the requirements for winning it all.
It's not so much that Pac-10 teams beat each other up, although plenty of that goes on. It's that they knock each other off. In a conference fueled by high-octane offense, even its more talented members seldom make it through the league schedule unscathed. (Congratulations, Cal, on your recent 34-27 upset of Washington, your first win over the Huskies in 26 years.)
The 10 teams all recruit the same pool of West Coast, talent. None of them land enough blue-chippers to pull away from the pack and build a dynasty, as USC did in the late '60s and early '70s, before scholarship limitations were put in place by the NCAA. Lately Oregon has been the class of the league, as UCLA coach Bob Toledo graciously acknowledged not long ago. "It's a credit to them," he said, "and the best owner in college football, Phil Knight."
Still, despite having the Nike chairman as their chief benefactor, the Ducks have some flies on them. Their defense allowed 477 yards on Saturday. Think Miami might be able to move the ball on them?