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UCLA vs. NO. 21 OKLAHOMA Saturday at the Rose Bowl
12:30 p.m., Channel 7

Cut Off At The Pass

Oklahoma relies almost exclusively on Peterson, who was suspended from practice for two days for missing class but is expected to play against Bruins

September 14, 2005|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

Oklahoma's bumpy start may have whipped Sooner Nation into a tizzy, but few in Norman have given players a hard time about losing a game in September for the first time in the Bob Stoops era. At least not face to face.

Quarterback Rhett Bomar, a lightning rod for criticism on radio talk shows, has a pretty good idea why.

"I don't think anybody is going to say much to football players," Bomar said in a telephone interview. "These guys are big."

But it won't be surprising if a few voices are raised now that Adrian Peterson, the Sooners' All-American running back, has jeopardized his status as a starter by missing class. Peterson was suspended from practice Monday and Tuesday but is expected to play Saturday afternoon when No. 21 Oklahoma (1-1) takes on UCLA (2-0) at the Rose Bowl.

The Sooners will need the 2004 Heisman Trophy runner-up for a full complement of carries considering the shoddy play of their quarterbacks.

Bomar last Saturday made his first career start against Tulsa after Paul Thompson had a pass intercepted and fumbled three times during the Sooners' season-opening loss to Texas Christian.

But Bomar, a redshirt freshman, fared only slightly better. After two of his passes were intercepted in the first half, Bomar did not throw at all thereafter.

Peterson ran for 180 of his 220 yards in the second half to carry Oklahoma to a 31-15 victory that wasn't secure until the final minutes.

"We were just thinking about winning the game," Bomar said of the Sooners' reliance on their running game. "We just wanted to establish a physical presence. All that matters is that we won."

The Sooners won, all right, but everything is far from OK with an Oklahoma offense that has been one-dimensional. Including his 24 yards receiving, Peterson has accounted for 348 of the Sooners' 494 yards -- 70%.

So you stop Peterson and you pretty much stifle the Sooners, right?

"Everyone is going to try to shut A.P. down, and me and the receivers are going to have to step up," said Bomar, who has been tabbed for his second consecutive start. "We're not worried about that."

Stoops might feel otherwise. Asked to assess the play of his quarterback against Tulsa, the coach called it "pretty average."

"It's pretty obvious we need to continue to develop and improve our passing game," Stoops said during his weekly conference call. "[But] it isn't just [Bomar]. It's the quarterback, the receivers and the protection and where we're going with it."

Indeed, there is plenty of room for improvement. Sensing that its veterans weren't getting the job done, Oklahoma used three freshman offensive linemen for much of the second half against Tulsa.

Travis Wilson, the Sooners' leading returning receiver, caught one pass and dropped two others. He also fell down on a play in which he was the intended target of a Bomar pass that was intercepted.

"We take this all in stride as a team because we know that if there is one thing wrong with the offense then we all play a part in it," said senior Chris Chester, a former Tustin High standout who plays center for the Sooners. "We know that we all have to play our part in order for everything to work."

Bomar, who completed five of 13 passes for 42 yards, had his moments. One came when he scrambled for a 15-yard gain on third-and-nine to sustain the 91-yard touchdown drive that gave Oklahoma a 24-15 lead late in the fourth quarter.

But, like Peterson, Bomar has had some problems off the field of late. The 20-year-old was cited earlier this month for possession of alcohol by a minor at a party in Norman. He is scheduled to appear in court Oct. 5, three days before Oklahoma plays second-ranked Texas in Dallas.

The Sooners could have a losing record by then if they don't find a way to distribute the ball to more players than Peterson, who was not allowed to speak with the media this week.

Bomar said a diversified approach would be key to beating UCLA. "We're not going to be able to run every play and have him take that beating," Bomar said of Peterson. "Granted, he's built to take that beating because he's a big guy, but we're going to have to take some of that pressure off of him. They're going to stack the box and we're going to have to respond."

Much has changed for Stoops' offense since this time last year, when the Sooners had rolled up 1,079 yards in victories over Houston and Bowling Green on their way to an undefeated regular season and an appearance in the Orange Bowl, the bowl championship series title game.

Quarterback Jason White, the 2003 Heisman Trophy winner and a finalist last year, has moved on, taking with him any semblance of a passing game.

"Just because what we've done in the past has worked and worked well doesn't mean that it will continue to," Stoops said. "We have really got to be smart in what we're attempting to do. We need to make some adjustments and make sure we can execute certain parts of our passing game more consistently."

Said Bomar: "I think we're determined. I don't think there's any uncertainty. We got the win last week and everyone is excited. I think we're ready to try to get back to playing Oklahoma football."

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