Sooners' swagger gone after knockout loss to Bruins

For the first time in Bob Stoops' seven years at Oklahoma, the Sooners are out of the national title hunt before October -- and it could get worse, writes Pat Forde.

Updated: September 19, 2005, 12:46 PM ET
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

PASADENA, Calif. -- As the Oklahoma Sooners did the low-belly crawl out of the Rose Bowl Saturday, UCLA fans standing above their tunnel rained the ugly truth down on their bowed heads:

"One and two! One and two! One and two!"

One and two and it's over for you, Sooners. For the first time in Bob Stoops' seven years at Oklahoma, his team is out of the national championship race before September is done.

Bob Stoops
Bob Stoops has led OU to back-to-back title games, but a slow start and a loss to Texas could make fans forget that.

After this 41-24 loss to the Bruins, we know for a fact that the Sooners will not be back on the Rose Bowl turf in January. What remains to be seen -- and this is a stunningly legitimate question heading into Big 12 play -- is whether the most consistent program of the 21st century will play in any bowl game this season.

It's not a huge stretch to foresee 1-2 devolving into 5-6. That would be a John Blake flashback nobody in Norman thought they'd see under Stoops. After five straight January bowl games -- four of them BCS bowls -- this would be a startling comeuppance.

Fact is, Oklahoma has not been the same program since being humiliated in the Orange Bowl last year by USC. A major part of that is personnel losses, starting with 2003 Heisman Trophy winner Jason White. But the Sooners also appear to have had the swagger knocked out of them.

When Texas Christian walks into Norman and wins the season opener, it's a pretty clear indication that the intimidation factor is missing. That was magnified when perennial shrinking violet UCLA scored the most points on a Stoops-coached team in a regular-season game.

(In the past two meetings, the city of Los Angeles has now hung 96 points on the Sooners. The City of Angels has been hellish on OU.)

There seems to be a leadership vacuum with this team, and the much-hyped young players have showed signs of irresponsibility. Redshirt freshman quarterback Rhett Bomar was cited for underage alcohol possession. Fellow 2004 signee Adrian Peterson -- the Heisman runnerup last year -- did not start against UCLA and missed practices because he'd skipped classes.

It might be a lot to ask those guys to take on leadership roles as youngsters, but there isn't much choice.

Meanwhile, after the first two September losses of his career, Stoops' job is circling the Sooner schooners and salvaging the season.

"We're not done," he said. "I know what all will be written. We're a work-in-progress and we're going to keep pushing and getting better and better."

That seems likely, given Oklahoma's youth at key positions. The progress from Bomar in the passing game was obvious Saturday. But you get no mulligans in college football. These two losses go on the Sooners' permanent record.

Question to fullback J.D. Runnells: is it a shock to be 1-2?

"Being around here, it is," Runnells said. "But the way we've played? No, it's not."

The way they've played? They're fortunate not to be 0-3.

In losing to TCU and wheezing by Tulsa, Oklahoma was an abysmal passing team. Saturday they finally made some headway throwing the ball, but Bomar and his teammates were too busy dropping the ball and committing key penalties to see the improved offense pay dividends.

"I'm not at all pleased with our discipline," Stoops said. "… To me, that's the whole game. That is beating yourself."

And that is something Stoops teams have never done.

"It has been unlike us," he said. "Unfortunately, it's like us now."

We're not done. I know what all will be written. We're a work in progress and we're going to keep pushing and getting better and better.
Bob Stoops
The Sooners put the ball on the ground six times against UCLA, losing three. The play that pretty well epitomized the day came on a fourth-and-3 early in the fourth quarter, with Oklahoma down 27-17 but not yet out.

Bomar commenced an option run right out of the shotgun, but his pitch to Adrian Peterson (you remember him, right?) was low and wide. Peterson stooped to pick up the ball, juggled it steadily up his body until it was loose over his head. With the UCLA defense closing in, Peterson finally leaped and swatted the ball out of bounds for a seven-yard loss.

That was just the last in a string of sins against football.

A dropped shotgun snap by Bomar nearly resulted in an early safety. Down 7-0, UCLA's first touchdown was gift-wrapped when Lendy Holmes muffed a punt, botching it almost as badly as Mark Bradley's fumbled punt return against USC that opened the floodgates last year. The Bruins took the lead for good on a field goal at the end of the first quarter after a Peterson fumble was recovered at the Oklahoma 34.

And they scored a defensive touchdown early in the third quarter when Bomar was crushed by blitzing safety Dennis Keyes and fumbled. Linebacker Spencer Havner picked up the loose ball and trotted in from 13 yards out.

"Regardless what happens, I've got to hold onto the ball," said Bomar, who threw for 241 yards one week after Oklahoma elected not to throw a single pass in the second half against Tulsa.

Last week the Sooners rode Peterson to victory. This week they rode him almost nowhere. He finished with just 58 yards on 23 carries, and in 27 touches his long gain of the day was 11 yards.

Although Peterson doesn't look like the same tackle-breaker he was last year, his meager stats probably say more about the Oklahoma offensive line.

"There are times we're going to him and we've got to be better up front," Stoops said.

While Stoops spoke to the media, red-blazered reps of the Holiday Bowl circled. It's a swell postseason game in lovely San Diego -- but let's face it, those aren't the bowl officials Oklahoma is accustomed to hanging out with.

Pat Forde is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.

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