Commentary

Sooners survive turnovers, Tigers in conference win

Originally Published: October 13, 2007
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

NORMAN, Okla. -- Bob Stoops doesn't deal in artifice. He says what he thinks, and those who don't like it are fortunate if they get a shrug in response. After his No. 5 Oklahoma Sooners beat No. 11, previously unbeaten Missouri 41-31 on Saturday night, Stoops said the obligatory niceties, and he probably meant them.

Sam Bradford
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesSam Bradford played like a veteran against Missouri.

"To win against a good team here is good," Stoops said. "All wins are good, and I appreciate that part of it."

Oklahoma won because it dominated the line of scrimmage late in the game. The Sooners rushed for 81 yards in the fourth quarter after gaining only 40 on the ground in the first three quarters. Sophomore Chris Brown rushed for 50 yards and two touchdowns in the final quarter alone.

Oklahoma won because the defense forced four turnovers, turning one into its fourth touchdown of the season. Junior linebacker Curtis Lofton broke the game open in the fourth quarter, two plays after Brown's first score regained the lead for the Sooners, at 29-24. Lofton scooped up a muffed exchange between Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and returned the ball 12 yards for a touchdown.

Lofton, who scored 12 touchdowns as a fullback in his senior season at Kingfisher (Okla.) High, carried not only the ball but, for the last 4 yards, he carried Daniel on his back as well.

Oklahoma won because redshirt freshman Sam Bradford continues to play as if he's a senior, completing 24 of 34 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns. Bradford also converted 10 of 14 third downs.

But Stoops couldn't help himself. This team, his team, is 6-1 because it gave away a game in the fourth quarter at Colorado two weeks ago. The Sooners, in winning the first game of the second half of the season, still made the kind of mistakes that kept the Tigers in the game well into the fourth quarter.

"I didn't feel it was a very clean game," Stoops said, groping for words. "I just feel there are some things we can do a lot better that we're not doing."

Here's what had Stoops' acid in full reflux:

Curtis Lofton
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireCurtis Lofton converted a Missouri fumble into an Oklahoma touchdown.

After losing only one fumble in the past three games, Oklahoma lost two against the Tigers. Both came out of the usually sure hands of junior wide receiver Juaquin Iglesias, and Missouri turned both into touchdowns.

The usually sure hands of holder Hays McEachern mishandled a snap on an extra point in the third quarter, which eventually became the reason Oklahoma began the fourth quarter behind 24-23. The reason the Sooners scored only 18 points in that last quarter and not 21 is that Stoops chased after the point with two unsuccessful two-point tries.

When Stoops gave that up and tried for one point after the Sooners' final touchdown, Missouri blocked it.

Punt returner Reggie Smith fielded a punt on the 2-yard-line. Nothing bad came of that -- the Sooners drove the ball to their 41 and punted -- but that's the kind of decision that had Stoops sputtering after the game.

"I still feel we ought to be better than we are," Stoops said. "We've got to do a better job of coaching. I think players have got to do a better job of listening, too. I think sometimes they're listening to too many people telling them how good they are. We're really not where we should be."

Iglesias, who redeemed himself somewhat with a key third-down reception on the Sooners' go-ahead drive, nodded when apprised of his coach's frustration.

"That's the truth," he said. "We haven't really played a complete game. … If we just put one complete game together, [there's] no telling what we could do."

The Sooners did their thing better than the Tigers, which is what mattered in front of 85,041 fans at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel has done a savvy job of using his many offensive weapons: Daniel's smarts, Maclin's speed, the dependability of tight ends Chase Coffman and Martin Rucker. Missouri has specialized in trick plays and fourth-down conversions.

Chris Brown
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesChris Brown came up with a monster, three-touchdown performance.

The Tigers didn't have starting tailback Tony Temple, who didn't make the trip because of a right ankle injury, and they rushed for a season-low 57 yards.

But Pinkel got too cute at a critical time Saturday night. Maclin, a redshirt freshman and the nation's leader in all-purpose yardage, is the fastest man in college football. Asking Maclin to throw a pass is like asking Red Sox ace Josh Beckett to bat cleanup. But with the Tigers driving early in the third quarter, Maclin took a shotgun snap, ran to his right and, as Beckett might do with a bat in his hands, produced a weak fly to right field. Smith intercepted the 14-yard pass at the Oklahoma 29 and returned it to near midfield. Oklahoma converted that gift into a touchdown, the first of Brown's three, and took a 23-10 lead.

Maclin came into the game averaging 214 all-purpose yards per game. If it's possible to gain a quiet 189 yards, he did that Saturday.

"It was kind of an evening of mistakes," Pinkel said after the game.

In most seasons, Oklahoma and its stumbles wouldn't make it beyond the fringe of the national championship discussion. In a season such as this one, when every member of the preseason top 10 already has lost a game, make room for the Sooners. The first of these teams to get out of its own way will lap the field.

Thanks to losses Saturday by No. 1 LSU and No. 2 California, Oklahoma likely will be in the top three when the new polls are released Sunday. That's only two weeks after blowing a 14-point fourth-quarter lead at Colorado. It might be difficult to convince the coach, but Oklahoma is one of the best teams in the country.

What's the old saying about damning with faint praise?

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

ALSO SEE