Commentary

BYU sends OU, Bradford down and out

Originally Published: September 5, 2009
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Let the record show that Coleby Clawson's 234 pounds are responsible for tilting the 2009 college football season in a different direction here Saturday night.

With one awkward fall beneath a clean hit from the onrushing Brigham Young linebacker, Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford went down. And out.

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
Jackson Laizure/US PresswireA shoulder injury sidelined Sam Bradford.
The No. 3-ranked Sooners' national title aspirations went down and almost assuredly out with Bradford's injured right shoulder, less than two full quarters into the season. Meanwhile, the comeback Cougars could be this year's Utah, jumping up to join Boise State as the leading contenders to crash the BCS bowl party.

The Heisman Trophy race was altered, as well, as the reigning winner was reduced to a solemn spectator for the second half of Oklahoma's disastrous loss to tough-minded BYU 14-13. The power triumvirate of Bradford, Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy is a duo for now -- and possibly for quite a while.

Oklahoma said it won't have a full diagnosis of the damage to Bradford's right shoulder until Sunday at the earliest. But from coach Bob Stoops' wordless hugs to his children to the grim faces of others in crimson, you suspect that they fear the worst.

Clawson and gravity did their damage in the final seconds of the first half, after Bradford unloaded just his 14th pass of the year. The junior QB's distress was evident right away, without the aid of the comically gigantic video board in Jerry Jones' new billion-dollar baby, Cowboys Stadium.

The injury officially has been labeled a "sprained AC joint." The unofficial concern is a more significant problem that could drastically limit, or even end, the junior's season. Within Sooners camp, there were whispers of a possible rotator cuff tear.

The whispers weren't much better for star Oklahoma tight end Jermaine Gresham, who missed the game with a knee injury suffered last week in practice. Stoops mentioned that Gresham has to "decide what his method of recovery will be," but wouldn't specify those methods. One source close to the program said Gresham is weighing options ranging from playing through the cartilage injury, to an arthroscopic procedure that could put him on the shelf for a couple of weeks, to a more invasive surgery that could end his season.

That's a potentially brutal double whammy for two players who bypassed the NFL draft last spring for another run at a national title.

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesBob Stoops and the Sooners leave Arlington looking for answers.
"It's a blow," Stoops allowed. "Can't deny that."

And this was a crushing flashback to 2005 for the Sooners. Four years ago, they were coming off a loss in the BCS Championship Game with high hopes, only to be shocked in their season opener by a Mountain West Conference team (TCU) while losing Heisman hopeful Adrian Peterson to an ankle injury.

Oklahoma's 13 points were the second fewest they've scored since putting 10 on the board in that loss to the Horned Frogs. That season also was the last time the Sooners didn't play in a BCS bowl.

"We've still got our whole season to play," said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who certainly did his part with four tackles for loss.

That they do. But the prospect of playing some, most or all of it with redshirt freshman backup QB Landry Jones is not going to thrill Sooners fans. Jones didn't play badly, but he was only able to lead Oklahoma to three points, six first downs and 51 passing yards in the second half.

And if the rebuilt offensive line doesn't improve drastically, it will be a borderline unwatchable season.

Even if Bradford's shoulder is largely to blame for this loss, the OU blockers must also shoulder the blame. They were largely awful -- most notably luckless right tackle Cory Brandon.

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesSam Bradford and OU walked off the field with a loss and a bunch of questions.
You've heard of Six Flags over Texas? This was Five Flags over Brandon, a one-man unamusement park Saturday.

The 6-foot-7, 310-pound junior is suddenly famous for all the wrong reasons. He was flagged twice for holding and thrice for false starts among Oklahoma's 12 penalties. (Three more Sooners infractions were declined).

The last of Brandon's false starts helped turn a long game-winning field goal attempt into a really long game-winning field goal attempt with 88 seconds left.

Instead of a third-and-9 play from the BYU 32, the penalty left Oklahoma facing a third-and-14 from the 37. And when Jones' pass fell incomplete, Stoops had to send in distance kicker Tress Way to try a 54-yard bomb for the lead.

It fell way short, ending the game for all intents and purposes.

"I thought our guys played hard," Stoops said. "I didn't think they played very smart."

Say this much about the Sooners: they're not Michigan. This performance was compelling evidence that they're not violating the 20-hour weekly practice rule in Norman. At times it looked like they'd barely practiced 20 hours all August.

BYU made a bunch of its own mistakes, being penalized 10 times, committing four turnovers and struggling on special teams. But the Cougars made their statement at crunch time, driving 78 steely yards amid the noise of a vastly pro-Oklahoma crowd to score the winning touchdown with 3:03 to play. "We overcame the chaos," BYU quarterback Max Hall said. "Whereas in games past, we folded in the chaos."

Hall said the Cougars didn't handle early adversity well last year in losses to TCU, Utah and Arizona. Saturday, playing with several injuries of their own -- including the absence of 1,100-yard rusher Harvey Unga -- BYU never flinched.

[+] EnlargeMax Hall
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesMax Hall passed for 329 yards and two TDs.
Not when they were down 7-0 in the first quarter or 10-7 at halftime. And not when they trailed 13-7 in the final minutes.

Twice Hall converted third downs on the winning drive by hitting tight end Dennis Pitta. Once he converted a fourth down by hitting Pitta for 23 huge yards to the Oklahoma 6. And finally Hall converted a third-and-goal from the 3 with a strike to receiver McKay Jacobson for the touchdown.

That play was a piece of quarterbacking art from Hall. He rolled to his right and locked his vision on Pitta, hoping it would suck the Sooners' secondary to the big tight end at the goal line. The ploy worked perfectly, freeing Jacobson in the back of the end zone.

After watching Hall complete 26 of 38 passes for 329 yards while being battered by an ultra-talented Oklahoma front seven, it's time to add his name to the Heisman conversation. The senior did a year at Arizona State as a redshirt, did a year in Iowa on a Mormon mission and is now in his third year as the starting QB at BYU. He's been around enough to handle the enormity of this challenge.

"I've been through this before," he said. "I know how to react."

When BYU went to the two-minute offense for its final drive, Hall was in his element. He was calling the plays, and the Cougars clicked.

"We're very good at our two-minute offense," Pitta said. "I think we're at our best doing that."

Now we'll see whether the Cougars can continue to play at their best as the hype converges on them. Last year BYU was 6-0 and had risen as high as No. 8 in the AP Top 25 when its focus wavered.

"There's going to be more attention," Pitta said. "I think we saw a lot of that at the beginning of last season and I don't know whether we handled it as well as we could have. We've got to take it one game at a time. I think we got away from that and started looking ahead and thinking we were better than we were."

Thanks to the falling weight of Coleby Clawson, BYU leaves Dallas trying to keep from flying too high. Wounded Oklahoma leaves Dallas trying to scrape itself off the ground, and wondering whether worse news lies ahead.

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

ALSO SEE