Friday, December 13, 2002
Notebook: Oklahoma can play D, too
By Marc Connolly
KANSAS CITY -- Though the Oklahoma Sooners may have themselves a Heisman boy on their roster and one of the scariest offensive attacks seen in the college ranks in several years, do not ever mistake this bunch for college football's version of the St. Louis Rams. OU actually has a defense, and it showed all night in the top-ranked squad's 27-24 victory over Kansas State in the Big XII Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium.
"Our defense is really the story of the game," said head coach Bob Stoops, now heading to the FedEx Orange Bowl in just his second year at the helm of the Crimson and Cream. "What our defense did was pretty special. To be able to hold them to 239 yards in a championship game is strong."
As long as yards are being discussed, go ahead and scrap the 45 yards Jonathan Beasley threw for on a last-minute drive for a touchdown against a Sooner D that was more concerned about the clock hitting triple zeroes.
While most of the talk leading up to the rematch centered around the chess match between OU offensive coordinator Mike Mangino and K-State defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, little consideration was given towards how the end result could very well lie in the hands of Oklahoma's less-heralded defense. After shutting out running back Josh Scobey (22 yards), controlling the dangerous talents of Beasley (106 yards on 12-for-28 passing, and only 49 yards rushing) and holding the dynamic receiving duo of Quincy Morgan and Aaron Lockett to a combined seven catches for 68 yards, there's little question as to how the Midwest was won.
"That's what we're supposed to do," said linebacker Torrance Marshall, who had seven tackles and two for loss. "Defense wins championships and that's what we're trying to do."
Beasley gave them their due credit in defeat.
"At times I had the time and I didn't make the throws, but Oklahoma did a great job of pressuring me," said the senior QB. "They got to us. You have to give them credit."
OU's All-conference studs on that unit shone brightest, as linebackers Rocky Calmus (9 tackles) and Marshall, along with safeties J.T. Thatcher (7 tackles) and Roy Williams (8 tackles) were seemingly everywhere, particularly against the run. They were especially reliable on third and fourth-down situations, holding Beasley and Co. to a combined 3-of-15 on such situations.
"The offense had three-and-out way too many times," added K-State head coach Bill Snyder.
Despite some close calls over the last half of the season for the bend-but-don't-break Sooners, this defense has proven solid at all the right moments down the stretch, as Stoops noted in his postgame press conference.
In the end, perhaps the ultimate man of few words described it best.
"Their defense played better than our offense did," said Snyder in his usual sum-up manner.
Making a Keith Jackson impression
|Darryl Bright and the Sooners celebrate their perfect regular season and Big 12 title.|
Oklahoma tight end Trent Smith turned in the greatest performance of his life, catching eight balls for 96 yards and a touchdown against a defense that did not know how to match up with him when he spread wide.
Matching him up with strong safety Jarrod Cooper was not the answer.
"It put Jarrod in a compromising situation," said Snyder. "Jarrod needed help, and he didn't get it throughout the course of the game. He needed help underneath."
Smith, a sophomore, was surprised by all the traffic going his way.
"I guess it was one of those weird nights," said Smith. "I caught the ball pretty good in practice this week and we were looking for certain matchups and we got them and Josh threw me the ball."
Give him the trophy
If it was up to Kansas State defensive end Chris Johnson, Josh Heupel would receive the Heisman Trophy next Saturday in New York.
"Yes, he would definitely get it," said Johnson, who was in his face all night. "He's just a tough, tough guy. We came at him with everything we had, but he just kept coming back for more. He doesn't crack under pressure. It's frustrating when you get a good hit on someone and they just pop right up."
Playing with pooches
Both teams used the pooch punt during the first half, and to much success. Beasley quick-kicked the ball from the Oklahoma 35 on a fourth-and-2 in the first quarter, which rolled perfectly down to the 3. Then, right before halftime, placekicker Tim Duncan had his turn when he used his left foot to advance the pigskin all the way down to the Kansas State 1 on a fourth-and-15 from the 33. They are the only two quick kicks in Big XII Championship Game history.
Alumni Hustle Award
Former Sooner quarterback Dean Blevins made it to Arrowhead at the start of the second quarter to cheer on his alma mater after spending the afternoon in Baltimore calling the Army-Navy game for CBS.
"What a crazy day, but I couldn't miss this one," said Blevins, who resides in Oklahoma City.
Et Cetera ...
Kansas State is now 0-9 when playing against No. 1 teams. The last time the Wildcats played against the nation's top-ranked team was also against Oklahoma in a 59-10 loss to the Barry Switzer-coached Sooners in 1987 ... Heupel's 24 completions and 44 attempts are new Big XII Championship Game records ... Kansas State is now 4-5 in the month of December under Snyder ... There were 457 credentials issued for this game, a new Big XII Championship Game record ... Tonight's attendance of 79,655 set an all-time conference championship record, set at the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta last December.
Marc Connolly is a senior writer for ABC Sports Online.