Big 12: Kansas City 0815

Stoops humble about Sooners' historic three-peat

December, 7, 2008
12/07/08
3:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Bob Stoops hates the mere mention of the "D" word.

A historic three-peat of Big 12 titles convincingly provided the Oklahoma coach with his record sixth Big 12 championship after the Sooners' decisive 62-21 victory over Missouri.

 
 Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
 Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops won his sixth Big 12 Championship, 62-21, over Missouri Saturday night.

And the slight hint about whether the Sooners have staked a dynasty during their recent run was enough to make Stoops blanch.

"I don't go into any of those words," Stoops said. "That isn't me. You won't get me into saying that."

Maybe Stoops won't. But quarterback Sam Bradford understands how special the Sooners' recent run of success in the Big 12 has been.

"For us to win three straight Big 12 championships, it just shows what type of team we have around here and the chemistry we have," said Bradford, who became the only quarterback in Big 12 history to win more than one championship. "Everyone wants the same thing around here. And that's to win."

Stoops and the Sooners' have continued the success that helped carry the Oklahoma program to seven national championships. And it can be argued that the recent sustained run through the Big 12 has been more impressive than the earlier work of Barry Switzer, Bud Wilkinson or Bennie Owen because the Big 12 has been harder than any of the Sooners' previous conference affiliations.

"I've been around the Big 12 since the inception and realize the parity and how hard it is to get these," Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. "The guys who have been around here have set a precedent and we expect to be in this position. And to win it three years in a row is very special."

The Sooners have now won six Big 12 titles in the league's 13-season history. Nebraska and Texas are next with two conference championships. And no other coach in league history has won more than one.

Still, Stoops said nothing was to be expected with this team -- particularly with its recent controversy qualifying for the championship game by nosing out Texas despite losing to the Longhorns in an earlier game this season.

"I never count on the fact that just because you've been good before that you're going to be now," Stoops said. "I guess I say you have to earn it every time. And this team has persevered through a lot."

While some might have doubted whether Oklahoma deserved to be in Kansas City as the Big 12's South Division representative before the game, their performance Saturday answered many critics.

The Sooners rang up 60 points for an NCAA record fifth-straight game. They rolled up 627 yards of total offense and notched their fifth victory over a ranked team this season.

Their roll started from the beginning of the game, scoring on the opening possession for the 11th time in 13 games. And they proceeded to blow the game open with a 28-point blitz in the second quarter.

Oklahoma was forced to punt only once in the game, converting 12 of 16 third-down plays against the beleaguered Missouri defense. They had no turnovers, no sacks and scored all nine times they got the ball inside the red zone.

Winning like they did proved that the Sooners belong in the BCS title game -- even if some might have doubted whether they really belonged in Kansas City.

"There was a lot of talk this week about how we didn't deserve to be in this game," Bradford said. "We didn't get a lot of credit for what we had done this year. There was a lot of motivation for us to come out and play well and prove to everyone in the country that we belonged in the game."

Tailback Chris Brown understands that some weren't ready to accept that the Sooners deserved to play in the championship game. He didn't care, as long as his team made the most of its opportunity.

After three Big 12 titles in his first three seasons at Oklahoma, Brown wants more in the future.

"You know, we're still building around here," Brown said. "It's a big accomplishment to get three championships. But next week we'll start talking about getting four."

Sooners put shackles on Missouri's potent offense

December, 7, 2008
12/07/08
2:46
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Oklahoma's struggling defense has been a prime point of discussion all season.

 
 Dale Zanine/US Presswire
 Oklahoma sooners cornerback Lendy Holmes snagged an interception of Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel to help lead a strong defensive effort from the Sooners.

The Sooners have allowed more points than any other defense for a team coached by Bob Stoops. But considering the Big 12's explosive offenses, a few touchdowns and yards are almost to be expected.

But Oklahoma produced a solid answer to some of that recent criticism with a stifling performance in a 62-21 victory over Missouri in the Big 12 title game.

"Hopefully, those critics watched this game and saw that Oklahoma can play on both sides of the ball and not just on offense," redshirt freshman linebacker Travis Lewis said.

And while some naysayers might wonder about 294 passing yards allowed, Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables preferred to focus on the good things his defense did in keeping Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel in check.

The Sooners produced two interceptions, a fumble recovery and two sacks. They were able to harass Daniel's balance throughout the game with a masterful defensive performance in their second-straight Big 12 title game victory over the Tigers.

Missouri was limited to 66 yards rushing and seemingly were in long-yardage situations throughout the game.

"It all starts with our front four," Lewis said. "I don't think Chase was comfortable all night because of them. I give them a lot of credit. And the secondary played great coming downhill. It was just a total team effort."

Venables cooked up some different schemes that kept the Tigers off balance. The Sooners used a two-man rush successfully at times, dropping nine defenders into coverage to flummox Daniel.

Top pass rusher Auston English provided a lift with three tackles in his first playing time after missing two games with a sprained knee.

But the biggest producer was junior cornerback Brian Jackson, who contributed a fumble recovery and one of Oklahoma's two interceptions.

Venables has heard about how much the Sooners' defense has fallen back from the glory days of the Oklahoma dynasty. Recent efforts like Saturday's have been his unit's retort.

"Obviously with all of the up and downs and the setbacks we've had, you're proud of the guys zeroing in and blocking everything out," Venables said. "But I've felt like a real maturation process has taken place over the last six weeks. We've gotten better and better."

That defensive growth has provided 21 turnovers over the past five games. Their work in shutting down Texas Tech opened some eyes. And even with seven new starters from last year's team, this group appears to be peaking as the season finishes up.

The naysayers are likely to return before the Sooners face Tim Tebow and Florida in a likely BCS title game. Lewis said his unit will be ready.

"I think if you give us a month, we'll be a pretty good defense," Lewis said. "But I think we're a pretty good darn good defense anyway. And we showed it tonight."

Murray's injury doesn't ground Oklahoma's running attack

December, 7, 2008
12/07/08
1:39
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Chris Brown was out of breath after the game Saturday night, as much from hoisting the Big 12 championship trophy and jumping with his teammates to celebrate another title game victory as from too many carries earlier in the game.

 
 Icon SMI
 Oklahoma running back Chris Brown ran for 122 yards and three touchdowns against Missouri in a Big 12 Championship win.
"Yeah, I'm pretty tired," Brown said. "But it's from celebrating with team. I'll probably feel it when we get on the airplane. I'll be exhausted."

You could never get Brown to admit to the exhaustion came from the action on the field. But there were some extenuating circumstances after rushing for 122 yards on a career-best 27 carries to help power the Sooners to a convincing 65-21 victory over Missouri.

The realization that it was going to be a long night came early in the game. Leading Oklahoma rusher DeMarco Murray sustained a bruised knee on the opening kickoff that kept him idled for the rest of the game.

"It's something that if you hope doesn't happen," Brown said. "But when it does, you want to be ready. I didn't want to take that role, but if I had to do, I would do what I could to help the team."

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said his team's resiliency of battling through the injuries has marked his team throughout the season. When Murray went down, he said he wasn't surprised that Brown was ready to fill in and thrive when he got his chance.

"We've had a lot of injuries, but we fought through them, just like we did today," Stoops said. "I'm the biggest Chris Brown fan there is. That guy is a great player."

Backup Mossis Madu picked up the slack as the second back, rushing for a career-best 114 yards on 15 carries. Both Brown and Madu each produced three touchdowns to spark OU's running attack that physically punished Missouri throughout the game.

"Guys have to step up and we're all committed to step in," Brown said. "And that's what happened tonight."

That depth enabled the Sooners to persevere again and thrive as they charged to their record sixth Big 12 title.

The Sooner Schooner was stuck on the field for a couple of minutes after throwing a wheel after Oklahoma's first scoring drive, but the team's running backs didn't have the same fate when Murray went down.

"This is probably the best way to say it," Stoops said. "Some years, I look up and we're running the play and I'm wondering why so and so isn't in. But that's not the case this year. I don't feel that way with all three of those guys. I feel as good with one as the other. That tells you the quality of those guys back there."

Final: Oklahoma 62, Missouri 21

December, 6, 2008
12/06/08
11:44
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Any questions?

Oklahoma proved its legitimacy not only as a title game participant but also as a national championship contender with a convincing 62-21 victory over Missouri.

It enabled the Sooners to make history as the first team in Big 12 history to win three consecutive champions.  They also became the first team in NCAA history to reach 60 points in five straight games.

And this one might have been the easiest one of them all. The Sooners scored on all but one first-half possession as they cruised to another easy victory.

I'm headed down to hear what the Sooners have to say about their history-making performance.

Early 4Q: Oklahoma 48, Missouri 14

December, 6, 2008
12/06/08
11:01
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Despite having their third-straight Big 12 championship game firmly in hand, Oklahoma doesn't seem to be giving anything up.

The Sooners still have most of their starters in the game as they've raced to a 48-14 lead two plays into the fourth quarter.

Oklahoma's defensive effort is playing as almost an informerical for coordinator Brent Venables' coaching acumen.

Missouri didn't advance inside the red zone until 5:13 left in the third quarter. The Sooners have been in a feeding frenzy with a succession of big hits and turnovers throughout the game.

Sam Bradford has already passed for 306 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Sooners haven't even missed leading rusher DeMarco Murray as they've piled up 174 rushing yards. Chris Brown has rushed for 104 yards and backup Mossis Madu added 63 yards in relief.

Most of the Missouri fans have left the stadium. But the Sooner fans are still here and getting louder as the onslaught continues.

Halftime: Oklahoma 38, Missouri 7

December, 6, 2008
12/06/08
10:13
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Oklahoma came into the Big 12 title game needing to make a statement to prove their legitimacy as the South Division title-game participants.

After one half, the Sooners' resounding 38-7 lead shows that they not only belong in Kansas City, but likely in Miami for the BCS title game as well.

The Sooners have scored on all but one first-half possession as they have manhandled the Tigers from the start. They've already piled up 359 yards on 54 first-half plays, averaging 6.6 yards per snap.

It's that high-powered offense that has enabled them to score 678 points for the season, setting a modern-day NCAA record.

Oklahoma's defense has been fearsome, notching two sacks and forcing two turnovers. Cornerback Brian Jackson has notched a fumble recovery and an interception that set up scoring drives.

How dominant has it been? Leading Oklahoma rusher DeMarco Murray sprained his ankle on the opening kickoff and hasn't played. And he's hardly been missed as the Sooners have piled up 119 rushing yards.

The onslaught could best be seen late in the first half. After Chase Daniel was tackled with seven seconds left, the Tigers decided to meekly let the rest of the clock tick away despite having the ball on the Sooners' side of the 50.

Oklahoma scored 28 points in the second quarter and blew the game open. The Tigers look beaten and like they want to go sit where it's warm instead of coming out for the second half.

Here are some items of interest I've noticed in watching the first half.

  • The South Division has dominated the Big 12 in the last several years and it's continuing tonight with Oklahoma's fast start. Including the last four years and tonight's first half, the South Division teams have outscored the North, 202-37.
  • The Sooners have taken advantage of their huge size edge on the left side, running behind clearing blocks by massive left tackle Phil Loadholt and Outland finalist Duke Robinson for success throughout the first half.
  • The Sooners became the first team in Big 12 history with a pair of 1,000-yard backs. Murray came into the game with 1,002 yards. And Brown has joined him with 83 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, giving him 1,071 for the season.
  • Missouri's secondary struggled throughout the season. And the loss of starting cornerback Castine Bridges appears to have worsened the condition. The Tigers have been susceptible to slants as they've been outclassed by Oklahoma's more physical and quicker collection of receivers. Ryan Broyles has six catches, Juaquin Iglesias has four and Quentin Chaney has two. And massive tight end Jermaine Gresham has run free through the secondary with six receptions for 59 yards.
  • The game has been chippy in the early going. Oklahoma defensive end Frank Alexander and Missouri tackle Elvis Fisher both were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after tangling in the first quarter.

Veteran Missouri wide receiver Tommy Saunders was flagged for taunting after the Tigers' touchdown, setting up good field position that the Sooners turned into a 53-yard touchdown drive. And Iglesias was flagged for taunting after his own touchdown later in the second quarter.

It prompted referee Randy Christal to call the teams together with about 12 minutes to go in the half, telling them to cool the extra energy.

  • Sam Bradford's Heisman candidacy has never looked stronger. Despite playing with an injured left thumb immobilized by a splint, Bradford has completed 22 of 31 yards for 240 yards and two touchdowns in the first half.

1Q: Oklahoma 10, Missouri 0

December, 6, 2008
12/06/08
9:04
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It hasn't been the smoothest of starts for Oklahoma so far.

But even after losing starting tailback DeMarco Murray on the opening kickoff and having the Sooner Schooner damage a wheel after its first touchdown, Oklahoma is cruising with a 10-0 lead over Missouri after the first quarter.

Murray hobbled off with what appeared to be an ankle injury on the opening kickoff. He hasn't played since, but hasn't been missed as Chris Brown has rushed for 44 yards on eight carries and a touchdown.

Sam Bradford has showed little effect of his thumb injury, passing for 96 yards. The Sooners have used the shotgun, an easier snap to handle, almost exclusively. 

Oklahoma has played several snaps at the end of the first quarter in a defensive formation featuring two down linemen. The first play resulted in a loss and the second was a 15-yard gain from Chase Daniel to Tommy Saunders -- the Tigers' longest gain of the first quarter.

The Sooners have attacked Missouri early with a fierce defensive performance so far, limiting the potent Missouri offense to only 49 yards and 3.1 yards per snap.

The Oklahoma defense turned away the Tigers on two possessions inside their own 40. Jeff Wolfert missed a field goal on the Tigers' first possession and a devastating hit by Keenan Clayton on Daniel killed the Tigers' drive after Missouri had taken over at the Oklahoma 41.

Banner wars over the skies at Arrowhead Stadium

December, 6, 2008
12/06/08
7:40
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Forget record-setting offenses and a slew of top quarterbacks. The Big 12 is becoming just as well known for its pre-game flyovers as anything else.

Texas fans made their presence well known tonight. A plane flew over the stadium a couple of hours before the kickoff with the banner "Enjoy the BeatbyTexas.com Bowl." Texas had beaten both teams by double-digit margins earlier this season.

The Web site Longhorn Nation revealed the rationale behind the flyover, which comes after similar spectacles at Austin and Stillwater during games last week. Another flyover lampooned Mack Brown on Thursday over the Texas campus.

It will be interesting if any other airplanes come by during the rest of the game. An even more dramatic point could be made if one of the groups decided to rent a blimp for its message delivery.

Here are some other late factors as we get ready for kickoff, about 30 minutes away.

WHAT'S AT STAKE: The conference's championship and an automatic bid to the Bowl Championship Series will be contested. Oklahoma can likely cement a chance to play in the BCS championship with a triumph. It would be a record third-straight Big 12 championship for the Sooners and would also provide Bob Stoops his sixth Big 12 championship. No other coach in league history has won more than one title.

And despite disappointment from a 9-3 season, Missouri can claim their first Big 12 title and also their first BCS berth in school history with an upset tonight. They would be headed for the Fiesta Bowl with the win.

The loser of the tonight's game could slide all the way to the Alamo Bowl, although Oklahoma might be able to squeeze its way into the Cotton Bowl if it should lose tonight.

One other item to note. Missouri is the biggest underdog in Big 12 conference history.

WEATHER: It's going to be cold tonight at Arrowhead Stadium, but not as frigid as for some previous Big 12 title games. The game-time temperature is 32 degrees with a wind chill in the mid-20s. The temperature will slide below freezing as the game continues. The wind will be coming from the northwest at about 10 mph, so it could be a factor. There is no chance of precipitation.

Most importantly, the Arrowhead Stadium field looks to be in good shape. After turning soupy during the rain and snow at the end of last week's Missouri-Kansas game here, the Kansas City Chiefs' ground crew has done a masterful job of getting the turf back in shape. It looks like it's ready to go.

INJURIES: The biggest concern for Oklahoma is the loss of starting linebacker Austin Box, who sprained his knee against Oklahoma State last week. Construction-worker-turned-Sooner Mike Balogun apparently will get the start, although Travis Lewis might get more snaps in the middle and linebacker Nic Harris could switch from safety. Top Oklahoma pass rusher Auston English has looked sturdy in pre-game warm-ups and could return to the game for up to 20 to 25 snaps. And Sam Bradford's damaged thumb ligament on his non-throwing hand has been stabilized with a splint. He has been passing normally during the pre-game throws I've seen.

Missouri will be missing starting cornerback Castine Bridges, who sustained a season-ending knee injury last week against Kansas. Undersized senior replacement Tru Vaughns will get the first start of his career tonight in his place.

Missouri could find redemption after disappointing season

December, 6, 2008
12/06/08
6:06
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Missouri entered the year with more preseason buzz than any season in recent history.

The return of 2007 Heisman Trophy finalist Chase Daniel and many of his offensive weapons made most think the Tigers offense would be a juggernaut this season. But the real excitement was about 10 returning defensive starters, making people think this Missouri team could evolve into a legitimate national title threat.

Mid-season losses to Oklahoma State and Texas snuffed out those dreams. And a loss to Kansas last week dropped the Tigers to 9-3.

They claimed a North Division title. But fans wanted more -- much more -- that never materialized.

Those disappointments could be changed if Missouri wins tonight. An upset tonight over Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game would catapult the Tigers into their first BCS bowl berth in history.

And that realization keeps Missouri coach Gary Pinkel from proclaiming this season was a failure despite the dashed national title hopes.

"I'm really proud of our team," Pinkel said. "You all want to win 10 or 11 games a year, and there's no question I want to do that.

"We didn't get it done. We lost to Texas, we had four straight games and lost a close one at the end after we had secured our championship. But I'm really proud of our team. You have to do the right things to win and we didn't do the right things."

Missouri wide receiver Jeremy Maclin was more succinct than that.

"You know, this is a crazy league," Maclin said. "We lost to Texas and Oklahoma State and then we beat Colorado 58-0. But I know we're where we want to be tonight. And if we can win the game tonight, we'll definitely be where we want to be."

Coming into the game, here are some notable items I'll be watching as the game unfolds.

  • How will the cold weather affect Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford's injured left thumb? Bradford tore a ligament in his non-throwing hand last week against Oklahoma State. The injury has been stabilized with a splint and Bradford should be ready to go. A sign to watch will be if Oklahoma coaches trust him to take direct snaps from center Jon Cooper. The Sooners used shotgun formations almost exclusively in the second half last week, affecting their running game. If Bradford can take direct snaps, the Sooner running game should be more effective.
  • Daniel's chance to make history. It should be an emotional night for the Missouri quarterback, who will leave with nearly every major passing record in school history. But he still doesn't have a Big 12 title to his credit, which he could produce tonight with a major effort.
  • How long will the Sooners remain with untested starter Mike Balogun at middle linebacker? Balogun, who skipped playing high school football to make money for his family as a construction worker, will be making his first career start for the Sooners tonight. Coaches like his determination and moxie, but he's not schooled in the intricacies of pass coverage. That could be a huge liability covering Missouri tight end Chase Coffman. If Balogun should struggle early, look for Travis Lewis to switch from weakside linebacker to the middle with 230-pound safety Nic Harris taking his place.
  • Can Missouri withstand an early Oklahoma assault? It will be important for Missouri to stay in the ballgame against an Oklahoma team that has steamrolled most opponents early in the game with their no-huddle attack. An early stop or two would give the Tigers some confidence and quickly bring what should be a pro-Missouri crowd into the game.
  • How will Missouri's secondary hold up? Losing top cover cornerback Castine Bridges isn't a good sign. The Tigers will have to insert undersized senior Tru Vaughns into the lineup against Oklahoma's tall group of receivers. They'll have to combat that disadvantage, which is especially worrisome against Bradford, who averages 15.22 yards per completion and has nine completions this season for 50 yards or more.

Live from Arrowhead Stadium: Tailgaters start early

December, 6, 2008
12/06/08
5:31
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- I arrived at Arrowhead Stadium a few minutes ago. It amazes me how different the feel is in the parking lots here compared to typical Big 12 games.

Most stadiums in the Big 12 are relics of a forgotten past and parking is almost an afterthought at many of them. That keeps fans from tailgating or enjoying much of a game-day atmosphere very close to the facility.

That's not the case here. I saw fans grilling all kinds of Kansas City barbecue, burgers and brats. One involved group was serving a turducken which they said they didn't serve on Thanksgiving.

Even though Missouri is a huge underdog in Saturday's game, it doesn't seem to have affected the excitement level in the parking lots.

But kickoff is still two-and-a-half hours away and reality could set in between now and then.

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