Oklahoma's air game knows no bounds
DALLAS -- Oklahoma wide receiver Kenny Stills looks like he's majoring in shock value. He's got a Mohawk that's partially dyed bright blond, a fully inked upper body and a piercing beneath his lower lip.
Sidekick Ryan Broyles plays it straight and narrow. He has no tattoos, no piercings and closely cropped hair.
"He's from California," Broyles explained. "I'm from Oklahoma."
Together, the stylistic opposites inhabit a state of euphoria catching passes from Sooners quarterback Landry Jones. Throw in emerging third wheel Jaz Reynolds, and Oklahoma has a receiving corps that's more deadly than two-dozen fried Oreos from the State Fair of Texas.
Jones is the Heisman Trophy candidate at Oklahoma, and his 367 yards and three touchdowns in a 55-17 blowout of rival Texas only enhanced that status. But he'll tell you he owes a lot of his stats to the guys catching the passes.
"They just make my job a lot easier," Jones said. "I don't have to be as accurate as I need to be. I can miss a throw every once in a while and they're going to make a play on it."
Broyles, Stills and Reynolds made plays all over the Cotton Bowl on Saturday. They combined to catch 20 passes for 265 yards and three touchdowns, schooling the Longhorns' inexperienced cornerbacks all afternoon.
Broyles had nine catches for 122 yards and a touchdown, further enhancing his All-America credentials. Stills caught five passes for 51 yards and two touchdowns, further establishing his reputation as a guy with a knack for finding the end zone. And Reynolds, whose previous claim to fame was a 2010 suspension for a tasteless Twitter shot at Texas, continued his recent tear with six catches for 92 yards, giving him 16 receptions for 326 yards in the last three games.
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The trio broke tackles. Made catches in traffic. Got open with ease. Dropped nothing.
"Their receivers made play after play down the field," Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said.
Broyles credited astute film study during the week for the Sooners' success throwing the ball.
"The media doesn't watch film like we do, and doesn't see the matchups we can expose," Broyles said. "They're young. We knew there would be spots in the secondary they'd leave open."
And Jones delivered the ball into those openings, handling Diaz's array of blitzes without much difficulty. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops certainly gave him every opportunity to enhance his Heisman standing, getting Jones eight pass attempts in the fourth quarter of a rout.
"He was as good as anybody in the country today," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "He got pressured, he got hit, and he still made the throws. He did a tremendous job."
The Oklahoma air show is pretty tremendous to behold. The Sooners came into this game fifth nationally in passing offense at 378 yards per game, putting it up an average of 42 times. They are the embodiment of modern football.
Time was, you had to run the ball to succeed. Oklahoma cannot run the ball consistently -- it had 86 yards on the ground against Texas, and 64 of those came in one run by Dominique Whaley -- but that might not matter.
At least, not until Jan. 9.
That's the date of the Allstate BCS National Championship Game. A potential matchup with LSU or Alabama could become problematic if the Sooners bail on the run the way they did here, with just 19 rushing attempts to 52 passes.
Try that against the Tigers or Crimson Tide and Jones could be eating meals through a straw for weeks afterward. Having seen all three teams play in person, I still like the two powers from the Southeastern Conference a little more than the Sooners.
But in the Big 12, Oklahoma should be able to pass at will without any real risk. A trip to Manhattan, Kan., on Oct. 29 looks trickier today than it had earlier in the season, but that still should be a test the Sooners can handle. It would be a pretty major shock if they weren't 11-0 going to Stillwater to end the regular season in a huge showdown with rival Oklahoma State.
One thing was clear Saturday: Texas wasn't up to this challenge. The program is still a long way from the high level it played at from 2001-09.
The Longhorns' quarterback play was horrible. Youngsters Case McCoy and David Ash were knocked around quite a bit, taking 78 yards in sacks and combining for four turnovers -- two fumbles by McCoy, two interceptions by Ash.
One three-play sequence in the third quarter pretty well summed up their day: Ash lost four yards on first down when he fumbled a shotgun snap; then he lost 15 on second down when he didn't feel the pressure from his blind side; then he lost 20 on third down, fumbling again although Texas recovered.
At least the Longhorns' fifth turnover of the game wasn't on the quarterbacks. That came when Oklahoma cornerback Jamell Fleming simply ripped the ball away from receiver Mike Davis and ran it back 56 yards for a touchdown.
"I was actually cramping up -- don't tell nobody about that," Fleming said. "The Texas side [of the 50-50 fan split in the stadium] was a little silent. I started on the Texas side, I got to the Oklahoma side it was twice as loud as I got to the end zone."
Oklahoma had plenty of reasons Saturday to be loud and proud. Three defensive scores are worth celebrating -- but this team's national championship chances will primarily ride on the arm of Landry Jones and the six hands of his stud wide receivers.Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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