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Alabama Fooled by Oklahoma

A fake punt is followed by White's 47-yard touchdown pass that keys a 20-13 victory by the Sooners.

September 07, 2003|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama played with heart but what Oklahoma did took, well, guts.

In a game that featured several big plays from programs that have combined for 13 consensus national championships and 218 years of football experience, No. 1 Oklahoma made two plays Saturday in a 20-13 win that may resonate in lore should the Sooners advance to win the national title.

Play it safe with a lead? On the road? In front of a frenzied Crimson crowd of 83,818 at Bryant-Denny Stadium?

Apparently you've never seen Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops play football poker.

The set-up: Oklahoma led, 13-3, in the third quarter when Alabama cut the lead to three on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Brodie Croyle to Triandos Luke.

The Bryant-Denny crowd kicked up the noise to rock-concert octaves and the Crimson Tide was turning.

Oklahoma got the ball back and it looked as if it would be three-and-out when the Sooners faced fourth-and-11 from their 31.

Punt, right?


Stoops, who learned a few sneaky tricks while serving as Steve Spurrier's defensive coordinator at Florida, pulled a fast one.

Instead of the expected kick, punter Blake Ferguson dumped a pass in the flat to Michael Thompson for a 22-yard gain to the Alabama 47.

"This was my first pass thrown in a game since ninth grade," Ferguson said.

Stoops said his staff noticed Alabama was in a block punt formation and was susceptible to the fake.

"If they were going to be that reckless, we were going to do it," Stoops said.

Yet the play after the punt fake was almost as daring, as Oklahoma's Jason White tossed a perfect pass down the left sideline to the streaking Brandon Jones for a 47-yard touchdown pass that put the Sooners ahead, 20-10.

"I feel like in some of these games away from home, you need to make some calls," Stoops said of his decision-making.

The punt fake was the kind of call that has earned Stoops the reputation as one of college football's best big-game coaches.

Last year, at Missouri, with his team trailing, 24-23, with 6:33 left, Oklahoma faked a 31-yard field-goal attempt that would have given the Sooners a two-point lead.

Instead, holder Matt McCoy took the snap and floated a touchdown pass to backup tight end Chris Chester. The Sooners made the two-point conversion and won the game, 31-24.

Saturday's fake, followed by a go-for-the-jugular scoring pass, might have been bigger under the circumstances because it all but knocked the wind out of Alabama.

"That's why they're pretty good," Alabama Coach Mike Shula said of the plays. "That's why Coach Stoops is a good coach, too."

After trailing, 20-10, the Crimson Tide tried to regain some momentum on its next possession, but it ended abruptly when a Croyle pass was intercepted by safety Donte Nicholson.

Alabama added a field goal to cut the lead to 20-13 with 1:32, but the ensuing on-sides kick was recovered by Oklahoma's Travis Wilson.

Oklahoma (2-0) got a strong performance from senior quarterback White, who completed 21 of 35 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns.

Eerily, in the second game of 2001 (against Nebraska) and 2002 (against Alabama), White tore knee ligaments on plays on which he was not hit.

"Everyone knows the last couple of years I hadn't made it past my second start at quarterback," White said. "So it feels really good to survive this game without an injury."

There are no such things as moral victories at Alabama, which fell to 1-1, but this one was close given the circumstances of Shula taking over the program in May after Mike Price was suddenly fired.

Shula's team played hard against the first top-ranked team ever to come into Tuscaloosa, but the coach says he didn't even consider Saturday's game a measuring stick.

"We've got to look at ourselves before we look at anyone else," Shula said.

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