Sooners hit the campaign trail

Originally Published: November 6, 2004
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- The No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners would like the poll voters out there to understand just how difficult a task they accomplished Saturday. They came into No. 22 Texas A&M's home, gave up a touchdown on each of the Aggies' first four possessions, and then slowly, methodically fought back to win, 42-35.

The Sooners (9-0, 6-0) allowed the Aggies (6-3, 4-2) to score a touchdown in the second quarter on a fake punt, and allowed them to score another in the fourth quarter on a fake field goal, and still won the game.

For one quarter, A&M quarterback Reggie McNeal picked apart the Sooners like they were his personal scout team. By the third quarter, he was on the bench with ice on his injured right shoulder and done for the day.

Jason White
Oklahoma doesn't put on Heisman campaign for Jason White because it feels the Heisman is won the field.
Before 81,125 fans at Kyle Field, the most raucous venue in the Big 12 Conference, Jason White and a veteran offense committed no turnovers. White, who this week took the team's Heisman Trophy candidacy away from tailback Adrian Peterson, threw for 292 yards and five touchdowns.

Peterson, the freshman who rushed for more 200 yards in the Sooners' two previous games against ranked teams, fought his way to 101 yards on the toughest 29 carries he has had this season.

All in all, these Aggies looked like the team that started 6-1. Oklahoma has plenty of explanations after an exhausting victory. The Sooners must convince the voters not to drop them out of the top two, the only two teams that will get into the national championship game.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops is a voter, and his explanation of why he won't drop his team sounded a lot like a campaign speech.

"Heck, no. We're still No. 1 in my eyes," the coach said. "That's an easy question."

He's Bob Stoops, and he approved this message.

The Sooners had better hope that the voters paid attention, and don't just look at the scores and see that Oklahoma beat Texas A&M by seven one week after Baylor beat A&M by one.

Or that the voters don't do this comparison of the records:

Utah 41, Texas A&M 21.

Oklahoma 42, Texas A&M 35.

The Sooners' explanations are sounding suspiciously like a candidate caught in a trap he set for himself.

"I would just tell them that we won," offensive tackle Jammal Brown said. "That's what it comes down to. It doesn't matter how you won."

It does in today's college football, when six unbeaten teams are trying to squeeze onto two national championship sidelines. The Sooners fell behind 14-0, 21-7, and worst of all, 28-14, on a beautifully executed 71-yard fake punt. Unlike the old golf cliché, in the world of the BCS Standings, "how" counts for as much as "how many."

The Sooners lost on "how" -- and how.

They will be compared with Auburn, and the Tigers didn't play Saturday. Oklahoma will be compared with an Auburn team that has been nothing but consistent over the first eight weeks of the season.

The Sooners will have to hope that the voters don't see the several hundred replays of wide receiver Chad Schroeder, a high school quarterback, catching a touchdown pass of 45 yards and throwing a 4-yard TD pass as the holder in field goal formation.

Oklahoma has been consistently spotty on defense since the 12-0 shutout of Texas four weeks ago. That was the last game in which cornerback Antonio Perkins played. He came out of that game with a knee injury, and since then, the defense hasn't been the same.

On Saturday, Stoops felt the situation was dire enough that he pulled corner Eric Bassey in favor freshman Marcus Walker, who had not set foot on the field all year.

Walker lost his redshirt, but he may have saved Oklahoma's season. He came into the game early in the second quarter, with the Aggies ahead, 21-14. McNeal had completed 8-of-13 passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns, and rushed for a third. He had converted five-of-five third downs.

The Sooners were in disarray, or several steps past it.

"On the first touchdown, we came off our man to try to get the quarterback," Oklahoma cornerback Chijioke Onyenegecha said. "On the other one, we had our eyes in the backfield too long. Coach (Bo Pelini, the co-defensive coordinator) tells us if you're supposed to play cover three, play your third of the field. We were just doing what coach tells us not to do."

There's more to it than one cornerback, of course. But once Walker came in, the secondary straightened itself out, and the line started closing in on McNeal. He failed to convert another third down before he went out late in the third quarter. After his 8-of-13 start, he completed 3-of-11.

"Don't ride the roller coaster," said defensive end Dan Cody, who put the hit on McNeal that ended his game. "There will be ups and downs. Just stay even. ... We've been in close games. Each close game we've been in, we get stronger. There was some complaining, but we weren't panicking."

Cody and his teammates may need that attitude Monday, when the BCS Standings are released. They came back swiftly in the third quarter, capitalizing on a goofy opening kickoff. The Sooners trailed at the half, 28-21. Trey DiCarlo's second-half kickoff stopped on the 10-yard-line like a Tiger Woods wedge. The Aggies' Terrence Murphy couldn't get to it fast enough, and the Sooners Tony Cade fell on the ball. Two plays later, they tied the game.

Oklahoma went ahead later in the third quarter, when Onyenegecha forced Murphy to fumble at the Aggies' 11. White flipped a two-yard pass to James Moses, and the Sooners took their first lead, 35-28, with 8:41 left in the third quarter.

After Schroeder's second touchdown tied the game early in the fourth quarter, White answered with an eight-play, 80-yard drive. That's what champions do.

They answer.

"You've got to give them credit," White said. "They are a great team. ... We played a tough opponent today and we played at their place."

The Sooners, on the road, showed that they can come back. They had better hope that the voters take that into account. Some teams can let their play speak for itself. On Saturday, Oklahoma had to speak for its play. That is the problem.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your question/comments to Ivan at ivan.maisel@espn3.com. Your e-mail could be answered in a future Maisel E-mails.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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