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3. Oklahoma
John Garrity
September 04, 1985
Was it St. Augustine who said, "Mistakes'll kill ya"? Probably not. Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer probably said it, just after the 1983 season. "We were 8-4 that year," Switzer says. "But we didn't look even that good. We had people jumping offside, dropping the ball, busted coverages.... We looked very undisciplined."
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September 04, 1985

3. Oklahoma

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Was it St. Augustine who said, "Mistakes'll kill ya"? Probably not. Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer probably said it, just after the 1983 season. "We were 8-4 that year," Switzer says. "But we didn't look even that good. We had people jumping offside, dropping the ball, busted coverages.... We looked very undisciplined."

Most fans remember the fumbles—39 of them, an average of more than three per game, with 29 recovered by opponents. But the penalties were just as damaging—five yards here, five yards there; football's equivalent of death by a thousand cuts. Oklahoma was penalized a Big Eight-record 95 times (for 803 yards).

Last year the Sooners cleaned up their act—57 penalties for just 400 yards—and the reward was a 9-2-1 record, a share of the conference crown, the No. 6 spot in SI's final poll and an Orange Bowl berth. All this despite an anemic ground attack that averaged just 219 yards per game, the worst for an Oklahoma team since 1966. "We eliminated all the mistakes and penalties," Switzer says. "We stopped beating ourselves."

That's not what you expect to hear from the coach of a team whose runners used to slash and pound for 400-plus yards a game while fumbling two or three times a half. "In the '70s we were freewheeling, and we could get away with those mistakes," says offensive line coach Merv Johnson. "But we're not that dominant anymore. No team is."

This fall Oklahoma will even resort to defense to win. In 1984 the Sooners were first nationally against the rush and second overall. The three "truly great" players on this year's team, says Switzer, are all on defense: senior noseguard Tony Casillas, "The most dominant defensive lineman in the country," says Switzer; sophomore linebacker Brian Bosworth, last season's Big Eight Defensive Newcomer of the Year; and end Kevin Murphy, a second-team All-America in 1983 who missed most of '84 with a foot injury. The only questionable area is the secondary, which could be manned by too many freshmen.

The offense should be more potent than in '84, even without quarterback Danny Bradley, the Big Eight's Offensive Player of the Year. Bradley's replacement, 6'3" sophomore Troy Aikman, has the speed and strength to run the wishbone, and when things bog down he can even throw the football. "He's the best passer we've ever had at Oklahoma," says Switzer. At halfback, junior Spencer Tillman, who rushed for 1,047 yards as a freshman in 1983, returns 15 pounds lighter, a little quicker and without the hamstring injury that hobbled him last year. Fullback Lydell Carr, the Sooners' leading rusher in 1984 (630 yards), also returns, but he will be crowded by junior Earl Johnson, a 945-yard back in '83 who has recovered from a broken kneecap.

Oklahoma has legs again. And, as Switzer says, "We're a smarter, more disciplined football team." That should worry the rest of the Big Eight. Who's going to beat Oklahoma if Oklahoma doesn't beat itself?

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