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Three days later, in front of 81,000 fans in Texas A&M's Kyle Field, on an afternoon custom-made for an upset, White did not lose it. Twice the Aggies scored on fake kicks. Three times the Sooners trailed by 14 points. Each time White brought them back. "When we were down, he never panicked," says Peterson. "I looked at him, and it made me more relaxed."
"It was weird down on the field," White recalls. "It was like the offense didn't feel worried." In the moments before Oklahoma's most crucial possession of the season, "Jason's voice was strong, his demeanor was very steady," says Sooners offensive coordinator Chuck Long. "You could just tell this was his moment." White threw five touchdown passes that day. The final one, a 39-yard strike on a broken play to receiver Mark Bradley with 6:43 left in the game, provided the 42-35 margin of victory.
Those two heart-palpitating road wins and White's performance in both--eight touchdowns, no picks--would have revived his hopes of winning another Heisman if he spent any time actually thinking about doing so. Instead, he is entirely focused on this Saturday's Big 12 championship against Colorado, and the game after that.
So who'll win the Heisman? Leinart may have pulled into the lead with his huge night against Notre Dame, a school that has lately been doomed to boosting the candidacies of opponents (see: Palmer, Carson). Peterson tied an NCAA freshman record by rushing for more than 100 yards 10 times this year, including three 200-plus-yard games. With a monster game against the Buffaloes in the national spotlight this Saturday, Peterson could pull ahead of the quarterbacks in the Heisman race.
White has 30 touchdown passes to Leinart's 28. White's total is 10 fewer than he had in '03, but he's been more efficient this year, completing 64.3% of his passes, up from 61.6%. Most important, he's poised to finish what he started.
For White it started 6 1/2 years ago. A day after returning from senior week in Canc�n after high school graduation, the 18-year-old passer paid a visit to his new coaches at Oklahoma. "I wasn't expecting to work out," he says. But after a bit of cheerful banter he was directed to the equipment room, outfitted with workout gear and directed to a sand pit where Schmidt was putting some grim-faced Sooners through a series of cruel drills.
White was soon one hurting pup. "I'm sweating out a solid week of fun out there," he recalls. Two hours later he stood in a shower stall trembling with fatigue and covered with sand. At home that afternoon he had misgivings about signing with Oklahoma, lamenting at one point, "This could be the worst thing I've ever done."
"Well, boy," said Ron, who pours concrete for a living. "I've always got a shovel out there with your name on it."
White didn't quit then, just as he didn't give up after his surgeries, just as he ignored those who wanted him to hang it up after last season. If there were a trophy for resilience, he'd have sewn it up by Halloween.
"I don't even care about the 11 games we just played," he says. "It's these next two that I want." His smile takes only a little of the edge off what comes out of his mouth next: "I want to shut people up."