The Sooners' reputation, like USC's, was built on rock-solid defenses and strong legs in the running game. Just as the USC I required tailbacks like Mike Garrett, O.J. Simpson and Marcus Allen to make it surge, the Oklahoma wishbone demands the presence of a Billy Sims, a Joe Washington or a Greg Pruitt as the pitch man—especially if the surrounding talent is less experienced. Anthony Stafford, Eric Mitchel and Mike Gaddis are not of that ilk, but these were the cards that Oklahoma quarterbacks Jamelle Holieway and Charles Thompson had to play. Know when to fold 'em, Sooners. With two weeks to prepare—the Trojans had the previous Saturday off after opening with victories over Boston College and Stanford—a defense of USC's caliber will stop a Sims-less wishbone, no matter how skillfully the quarterback can play.
"We just didn't execute as a team," said Holieway after the Trojans crashed his options, blocked his sightlines, sacked him, intercepted him and left him limp on the sidelines. This was a homecoming of sorts for Holieway, who had played high school football in nearby Wilmington and was recruited by USC as a defensive back, and whose best friend is Holt, the Trojan fullback.
"I played my game," said Holieway, who did direct a most un-Sooner-like drive at the start of the second half—80 yards in 73 seconds, with 48 of those yards coming on a bomb to split end Eric Bross, who was tackled on the Trojan two-yard line. Fullback Leon Perry scored from there to avoid what otherwise would have been the first Sooner shutout since 1983. On the long pass to Bross, Holieway's play-fake to Stafford was a thing of beauty, fooling everybody on the field and nearly everyone in the stands. "For the most part, they attacked," said Holieway. "They came up like they were supposed to. They played their game and we played ours. And they were better."
Thompson had his opportunity to face the Trojan bonebreakers in the fourth quarter. He was intercepted three times, operating out of Oklahoma's drop-back offense—or as close as Oklahoma can come to one. No wonder that Mitchel—certainly as good an athlete as Holieway or Thompson—uttered no complaints when Switzer switched him from quarterback to halfback last season. "It was for the best," said Mitchel's mom, Erma. "There aren't too many Oklahoma wishbone quarterbacks in the NFL."
The USC defense could make any quarterback look bad, but its pressure and pursuit revealed Holieway and Thompson as vulnerable and painfully one-dimensional. "We stopped the option from inside out, starting with the dive, then Jamelle with a man-and-a-half, then the pitch," said Trojan defensive coordinator Chris Allen. "Don Gibson [the nose guard] made them double-team him. It all started from there. And it was all downhill from there."
Allen had instituted something called the "Psycho" defense as an occasional tactic in his strong option defensive scheme, and he had enough hellions playing linebacker to make the sobriquet seem appropriate. The Psycho calls not for reading keys but for blasting through them, "We tried to attack and not wait on them," said Smith. Holieway was picking Trojan linebackers Scott Ross, Junior Seau, Michael Williams, Delmar Chesley and Craig Hartsuyker out of his teeth all day. The Sooners, who had rushed for 656 yards in their first two games, netted but 89 yards on the ground against the Trojans. "We didn't expect to dominate the way we did, but we did," said Ross.
"Our defense stayed on the field too long," sighed a Sooner defensive lineman Darrell Kirby. "That doggone Peete took the whole third quarter. It was a dogfight, but they were up in Jamelle's face all day, so he couldn't do anything but eat it."
The problem with the wishbone is that the defense can bring one more man to the ball than you can block or one more man than you can option. Having a Billy Sims evens things out a bit, but in the absence of a Sims, disaster can strike. Saturday it came in the form of Trojan defensive backs. Smith had fretted before the game about the physical condition of safeties Mark (Aircraft) Carrier and Cleveland (Cadillac) Colter. "They play so hard, they're always banged up," said Smith. The coach need not have worried. His safeties hit Sooners from pillar to post, taking the pitch man out or stopping up Holieway's running lanes and doing it emphatically. "Once I even got scared," said Switzer. "It looked like they were coming at me. I thought I was going to catch another knee." ( Switzer was decked on the sidelines last year against Missouri.)
The Southern Cal defensive backs sat together after the game, holding three of the five game balls given out. Peete got one, of course, and linebacker Williams took one as the scariest of the Psychos. But cornerback Chris Hale received two, one for each of the passes he picked off, and Colter got one for his fourth-quarter interception. The secondary made 21 tackles overall.
"The only way they were going to score on us was with trick plays," said Colter. "We sent five men on the dive, two men on the pitch and two on the corner on every play. We matched them talent for talent and then some."