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Sooners prepare for Pasadena
By Jack Arute
Special to ABC Sports Online

While this will be Oklahoma's first-ever appearance in the Rose Bowl presented by Play Station 2, it's not the first visit to Pasadena for several Sooners coaches.

Head coach Bob Stoops, his brother and co-defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, tight ends coach Jonathan Hayes and offensive coordinator Chuck Long were all on Hayden Fry's Iowa Hawkeyes roster when they faced off against Washington in 1982.

Sooner-connected personnel are winless in Pasadena -- something this year's players intend to correct.

In that matchup, Washington's Jacque Robinson rushed for 142 yards and two touchdowns in route to a 28-0 victory over the Hawkeyes.

"That game was all Bob's fault," Mike Stoops joked. "Jacque Robinson ran all up and down the field on us. All I know is I got an opportunity to play. He (Bob) got hurt, and I was scared to death going back in trying to substitute for him. I think the first play they saw me in there they went deep, but he (Washington quarterback Steve Pelluer) overthrew it."

Then, in 1986, Long's Rose Bowl appearance included a passing performance of 29-of-37 for 319 yards and one touchdown. But it wasn't enough as freshman tailback Eric Ball paved the way for UCLA's 45-28 upset victory.

That leaves Sooner-connected personnel winless in Pasadena -- something this year's players intend to correct.

"It was exciting watching the Rose Bowl announcement and hearing them call the Rose Bowl the 'Granddaddy of them all,' " senior receiver Curtis Fagan said. "It's a great feeling to know we're going to be playing there."

While in Norman, Okla., on Wednesday, I found that few players were aware of their coaches' 0-2 Rose Bowl record. "Really?" exclaimed junior All-American linebacker Teddy Lehman. "That's news to me. All that I'm concerned about is showing people that this defense is ready to play Washington State."

Fellow linebacker Lance Mitchell echoed Lehman's sentiments. "There's no question that we want to finish big. Losing to A&M and then to Oklahoma State has left us all feeling like this game is our chance to make things right."

Quentin Griffin
The Sooners established a running game this season wtih Quentin Griffin.

OU's defense has respect for Washington State quarterback Jason Gesser. "He really knows the game of football," explained Mitchell. "It's our job as linebackers to shut down the run and force him to pass."

But the Sooners don't plan on changing their defensive style. "We swarm to the ball and play aggressively," said Lehman. "It's about making big plays. My perfect Rose Bowl moment would be if I could get a pick and run it in for a touchdown."

Mixing Rose Bowl preparations with academics has been a bit difficult the past couple of days. The university is in exams week, and a couple of the team's practices were cut short or altered to accommodate players' exam schedules.

"It's been really tough," said Sooner quarterback Nate Hybl. "A lot of backups have gotten snaps in practice because starters have been taking finals. We will really get down to the game plan after the Christmas break." For Hybl exam week has been a bit odd. "I graduated last weekend and I'm still taking exams," he chuckled. "I'll be happy when they are over and I can begin to concentrate on the game."

When Hybl does begin that concentration, it will center on continuing the rushing game the Sooners established with senior tailback Quentin Griffin. "He's been the big difference this year," Hybl said.

"Q" ended the regular season with 1,740 yards -- just 22 shy of OU's all-time record held by Billy Simms (1,762 yards in 1978). Because of a change in NCAA accounting, stating that the NCAA will count bowl statistics for single-season totals, Griffin can break the record against the Cougars.

A corps of receivers, including Fagan, Brandon Jones, Antwone Savage, Will Peoples, Travis Wilson and Mark Clayton sit at the ready for Hybl's passes. Then there's Hybl's roommate, tight end Trent Smith. "He wants the ball all the time," laughed Hybl.

Right now, distractions stand in the way of full attention to the game. But after a couple of days off for the holidays, the Sooners re-convene in Norman on Christmas Day for their charter flight to Pasadena.

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