Commentary

Harrell, Red Raiders foil Sooners' title hopes

Originally Published: November 17, 2007
By Tim Griffin | Special to ESPN.com

LUBBOCK, Texas -- Mike Leach ended up with a cowboy hat after wading through a sea of Tech fans. And he didn't remember where he picked it up.

"I think it was an accident," the Texas Tech coach said. "I don't know. Somebody stepped on my head, but I kept walking and got a really nice hat. If anybody wants it back, it will be in the football office."

Leach could be magnanimous about his new acquisition -- especially after his team's stunning 34-27 victory over Oklahoma.

While Leach ended up with a hat, OU coach Bob Stoops lamented the opportunities his team couldn't convert as it saw its national title hopes foiled.

"In the end, we just played some bad football," Stoops said. "If you can't make handoffs and you get personal fouls, you don't deserve to win. It's just bad football."

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesThe Sooners had a hard time getting on track with Sam Bradford on the bench.

The Sooners' hopes effectively ended when redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Bradford, the nation's passing efficiency leader, received a mild concussion while attempting to make a tackle on OU's first play from scrimmage.

"Tech really outplayed us in the first half in a lot of ways," Stoops said. "You can't play these guys one-handed. Our quarterback got knocked out of the game. That and all of the personal fouls … we just didn't play smart enough in the first half to give ourselves a chance."

OU became the second national title contender in three days to see its national title hopes evaporate after its starting quarterback was injured. Oregon lost at Arizona on Thursday after Heisman Trophy contender Dennis Dixon was injured.

The game changed when Bradford tried to tackle Tech linebacker Marlon Williams on OU's first play from scrimmage. Bradford suffered a mild concussion on the play, although he returned to the game for one more series.

The Sooners' defense couldn't withstand an aerial onslaught by Tech quarterback Graham Harrell, who blistered them for 420 passing yards and two touchdowns and added a touchdown run for good measure. It was his 10th 400-yard game of the season -- an NCAA record -- as he threw another wrench into the Bowl Championship Series.

"The last time we beat OU, it was a pretty big win," said Harrell, who had a career-high 72 passing attempts but was not sacked. "This is probably the biggest win I've ever played in. It's a game we can build on, and hopefully we'll do that."

Tech's defense did the rest, withstanding a frantic comeback effort directed by backup OU quarterback Joey Halzle. The Red Raiders twice turned away OU inside their own 15 late in the fourth quarter, deflecting fourth-down passes in the end zone to kill scoring drives.

OU pulled within 34-27 on a 9-yard strike from Halzle to Manuel Johnson with 31 seconds left. But Tech salted away the triumph when Darcel McBath recovered the resulting onside kick and the Red Raiders ran out the clock.

"We knew we had to keep fighting, but they just kept playing," Harrell said. "We were just hoping to get that last onsider."

The loss means OU (9-2, 5-2) will have to beat Oklahoma State next week in Norman, Okla., to claim the South title and a berth in the Big 12 championship game Dec. 1 at San Antonio's Alamodome.

If the Sooners lose and Texas beats Texas A&M on Friday in College Station, the Longhorns would qualify for a berth in the title game. The South winner will meet the winner of the Kansas-Missouri game, which will be played in Kansas City, Mo., on Saturday (ABC, 8 p.m. ET).

Tech (8-4, 4-4) likely is headed for the Gator Bowl or the Alamo Bowl after winning its final regular-season game.

[+] EnlargeGraham Harrell
T Stadium on November 17, 2007 in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by Graham Harrell passed for 420 yards and two touchdowns.

"We can build on this for years to come because it was a big one for the whole program," Harrell said.

The loss was costly for the Sooners in more ways than one. Along with Bradford, defensive end Alan Davis (leg), tight end Adron Tennell (concussion) and running back DeMarco Murray (kneecap) also went down with injuries.

"All of them are significant," Stoops said. "We'll see when we get into the week how they all come out."

But the injury to Bradford had the biggest impact on the Sooners. When the redshirt freshman returned to the sideline on the series after suffering the hit, two OU trainers were waiting for him.

"We realized it because he didn't say anything," Stoops said. "I'm not sure whether it was a trainer or one of the players who said, 'Wait a second, he's not where he needs to be.' That's when we grabbed him and looked at him."

Bradford spent most of the first quarter on the bench as the trainers administered to him. Bradford was sent to the OU locker room with about 10 minutes left in the first half before returning for the second half wearing a sweatsuit.

Halzle misfired his first four passes and never got into a groove as the Red Raiders blew the game open by scoring on five straight possessions en route to a 27-10 halftime lead.

Despite running a limited offense with Halzle, the Sooners started clicking late in the third quarter. Halzle hooked up with Manuel Johnson on a 65-yard TD pass that pulled them within 34-20 with 7:51 left.

"You never know when you'll be called on," said Halzle, who passed for 291 yards and two touchdowns. "Unfortunately, Sam had to go down. He's a good player, and we all know that. I just tried to come in and help the team as much as I could."

But in the end, it wasn't enough.

Tim Griffin covers the Big 12 for the San Antonio Express-News.

ALSO SEE