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COLLEGE FOOTBALL / WEEK 10

Sooners Show the Nation They're Better Than OK

College football: Oklahoma spots No. 1 Nebraska a two-touchdown lead, then roars back behind Heupel for a 31-14 victory.

October 29, 2000|CHRIS DUFRESNE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORMAN, Okla. — The man shouting on the Owen Field loudspeaker implored the fans not to throw oranges.

They threw oranges.

He told them to stay off the playing field.

They stormed the field.

He pleaded with them not to tear down the goal posts. He warned there was a surveillance camera tracking their every move up the uprights.

They tore down one of the goal posts.

The police finally moved in with pepper spray.

All civility was lost and all decorum was abandoned.

In these parts, it doesn't get much better than this.

Law and order was not the highest priority Saturday when No. 3 Oklahoma beat No. 1 Nebraska, 31-14, before a crowd of 75,989, in a game that will catapult the Sooners (7-0) to the top of the polls today for the first time since they beat the Cornhuskers in 1987.

Nebraska (7-1) had won five consecutive games in the series, and nine of the last 10, but there was no quibbling with Sooner fans who waggled single digits skyward.

"I see a lot of people running around with their finger in the air," Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops remarked later. "The proper finger too."

That wasn't always the case in the lean years after Barry Switzer.

It can only be described as remarkable the ground Oklahoma covered, not only Saturday against Nebraska but in the 19-game reign of Stoops, who took over a team that had suffered three consecutive losing seasons under John Blake.

And now Oklahoma's No. 1?

You can bet Nebraska didn't believe the hype after jumping out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead.

You can bet Nebraska believes it now after surrendering 31 unanswered points and being shown the barn door back to Lincoln.

Oklahoma's defense recovered from the first-quarter jitters and clamped down on Nebraska like a vise. Nebraska gained 167 yards on its first two scoring drives and 161 yards the rest of the game.

The Cornhuskers, the nation's No. 1 rushing offense at 379.7 yards per game, finished with 195.

"We tried to get our running game established," Nebraska Coach Frank Solich. "If you shut that down, you're going to struggle."

The Cornhuskers' drive chart after 14-0 read more like a Baylor drive chart: punt, punt, punt blocked, punt, punt, interception, punt, lost ball on downs, fumble, punt, lost ball on downs.

"I don't know if you'll see a stronger defensive performance against them," Stoops said.

This was supposed to be the gantlet portion of the schedule. Instead, Oklahoma has now disposed of Texas, Kansas State and Nebraska by the cumulative score of 138-59.

The throwing of oranges? Well, that used to be a tradition in the days when Switzer was leading national title runs to the Orange Bowl.

It so happens the Orange Bowl is the site of this year's national title game.

Oklahoma took another giant step toward Miami by shaking off two first-round Nebraska punches--a 39-yard scoring pass from Eric Crouch to Matt Davison and a 37-yard Crouch touchdown run--and then routing the Cornhuskers in every way.

Stoops said it was only a matter of adjusting to Nebraska's option offense and settling down on offense.

Could it have been that easy?

Oklahoma blitzed Nebraska with a 24-point second quarter that knocked the Cornhuskers halfway back to Lincoln.

The Sooners tied the game at 14-14 when Josh Heupel, whose performance elevated him from a Heisman Trophy candidate to a front-runner, sidestepped a Nebraska rusher and floated a perfect, 34-yard scoring pass to Curtis Fagan.

Oklahoma made it 17-14 on a field goal after Josh Norman's block of a Nebraska punt set the Sooners up on the Nebraska four.

After Nebraska went three-and-out on offense, Oklahoma needed only four plays to score again from its 46; the key play Heupel's 37-yard pass to Antwone Savage, who jumped over cornerback DeJuan Groce to make the grab at the Cornhuskers' eight. On first down, Norman raced around left end for a touchdown.

With 2:41 left in the half, Oklahoma led, 24-14. The Sooners scored the only touchdown of the second half when Derrick Strait intercepted a Crouch pass and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown.

"It seemed like he was throwing it straight to me," Strait said.

What did it all mean?

Oklahoma players did their best to keep the win in perspective.

"Being on the No. 1 team in the middle of the season is not something any of the guys in the locker room are concerned about," said Heupel, who completed 20 of 34 passes for 300 yards.

Heupel had little to offer about Orange Bowl prospects or even the oranges that fell around him.

"I was hoping I wasn't going to get hit by one," he said.

There is a slight hitch in all this delirium. Because the Big 12 Conference has a championship game, Oklahoma may very well have to face Nebraska again on Dec. 2 in Kansas City, Mo.

"It's great for the school, and the fans, and the ex-players who were here," defensive tackle Jeremy Wilson-Guest said of the win. "But we still have a long road to go. We may have to face Kansas State or Nebraska again, and there is a trap waiting for us in College Station [Texas A&M] if we're not careful."

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