TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- There is gutsy, and there is Bob Stoops gutsy. Gutsy is that first leap off the high dive, or stepping forward to take the blame, or playing a $20 nassau with $10 in the wallet.
There is gutsy, and there is Bob Stoops gutsy. It is finding that line that divides courage and stupidity, and putting your toenails right on it. It is driving the lane on Ben Wallace, digging in against Pedro Martinez, taking the first swing at Mike Tyson.
Bob Stoops gutsy is calling a fake punt on your 31-yard line. On the road. With the momentum rolling downhill away from you. Stoops must have stolen away during the spring and had his nerves removed. Or maybe it's just that Bob Stoops gutsy is the reason that Stoops is the best college football coach on the planet.
No. 1 Oklahoma beat Alabama, 20-13, in a game so good it shouldn't have been played on Sept. 6. The calendar usually doesn't allow this kind of intensity this early in the season. The game turned midway through the third quarter, right after Tide quarterback Brodie Croyle threw a 20-yard touchdown pass over the middle to Triandos Luke to get the Tide within 13-10.
The Bryant-Denny Stadium crowd of 83,818, which had turned the volume dial up to 10 all night, tossed in another 10 decibels. From its 31-yard-line, Oklahoma netted no yards in three snaps. The punt teams trotted onto the field. Alabama inserted its all-purpose scatback, Shaud Williams, as return man. If momentum is ever palpable, this was the moment.
"Away from home, you need to make something happen," Stoops said. "You need to make a play and you've got to have guts enough to call it. . .We were ready to run it on our 10-yard-line if we had to."
Brent Venables, the Sooners assistant coach in charge of the punt team, had seen the flaw in Alabama's punt-block team early in the week. The ends took off at the punter. It had worked on the first possession of the third quarter, when the Tide's Chris James came inside of Michael Thompson and got a piece of Blake Ferguson's punt.
Stoops kicked himself for not calling the fake. The second time around, he didn't hesitate.
"If they were going to be that reckless in ignoring our eligible receivers," Stoops said, "we ought to take advantage of it and not allow them to do it."
Before Saturday night, Bob Stoops gutsy had been defined at Missouri a year ago. Trailing 24-23 midway through the fourth quarter, Oklahoma lined up for a 31-yard field goal. Holder Matt McCoy took the snap and threw a pass to backup tight end Chris Chester for a 14-yard touchdown. The Sooners won, 31-24.
After Saturday, that call is good only for the silver medal. Junior punter Blake Ferguson, who last threw a pass as a freshman in high school, soft-tossed it to senior Michael Thompson, a defensive back who last caught a pass as a senior in high school. "That's a lot different than Division I when the game is on the line," Ferguson said.
If you want another example of Bob Stoops gutsy, watch Thompson play football. A couple of months after Oklahoma won the national championship, Thompson ran off the road in a one-car accident and nearly died.
"It was as bad as you can imagine," Stoops said. "I saw him within a half-hour or an hour of the accident. I didn't care if he ever played football again. I just wanted him to live. There are things you don't care about. You want to see him smile, and be with his family."
Thompson suffered internal injuries, the most serious of which was a crushed right ankle. He said it took him a year to recover. "There are days still that I don't feel like myself," he said, although the smile on his face arrested any pity that may have existed.
Thompson, once a starter at corner, now plays special teams and makes spot appearances in the secondary. He caught Ferguson's pass in his left arm, ran about 10 yards, and then tried to shift it to his right. He bobbled it, and decided the ball could stay just where it was. Thompson gained 22 yards, to the Alabama 47.
After such a radical call, Stoops returned to the coaching textbook. When the game shifts in your favor, push in all your chips. On first down, Jason White threw a strike right down the middle of the field to Brandon Jones for a touchdown. In the space of two plays, Oklahoma had regained control of the game.
White completed 21-of-35 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns, yet he knew who the passer of the game should be. "I think Blake is going to help me. He threw the ball better than I did," White said with a grin.
On a day when so many ranked teams struggled, Oklahoma beat a tough opponent in its own stadium. "That team is the most underrated in the country," Sooners co-defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said about Alabama on the field after the game. "And what an environment to play in."
For his next trick, Stoops should try something easier, like lion-taming. One thing's for sure, he won't be nervous. Said Oklahoma assistant Bobby Jack Wright, a triumphant grin on his face, "They don't call him Riverboat Bob for nothing."
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.