Bradford's return gives Sooners boost heading into Red River

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Sam Bradford came back Saturday. And as he did so often during his 2008 Heisman-winning season, the Oklahoma quarterback threw for big yardage (389). The Sooners' offense also put up some circa-'08 numbers (589).

So why, then, did the 19th-ranked Sooners, now 3-2, still struggle to put the ball in the end zone for much of their 33-7 win over Baylor? Why did OU lead just 14-7 at halftime on the Robert Griffin-less Bears and go nearly the entire second half without a touchdown?

Because as great as it is to have Bradford back, the Sooners still miss Ryan Bryoles. And Jermaine Gresham. And all those offensive linemen from last year.

OU converted just two of its first 11 third-down attempts Saturday in large part because Bradford's inexperienced receiving corps couldn't hold on to the ball. His targets dropped eight passes in the first half, including a couple of potential touchdowns. The offensive line protected Bradford well enough, but was noticeably ordinary when the Sooners tried to convert short-yardage situations on the ground.

Oklahoma eventually put the game out of reach thanks to four Jimmy Stevens second-half field goals, three on OU drives that stalled in the red zone. Bradford got his yards, but posted an uncharacteristically low 54.1 completion percentage. The Sooners wound up running for 203 yards but averaged less than four yards per carry for most of the day.

So how should Sooners fans feel heading into next week's Red River showdown with No. 2 Texas? Not overly optimistic, but a whole lot better than a week ago.

There's no understating Bradford's importance. Even with such little help from his supporting cast, the unflappable junior still threw for nearly 400 yards. And he figures to only get sharper the more game action he sees. Ditto his young receivers.

The Sooners' defense will need to continue to carry the team the way it did in holding Baylor to 269 yards. Remember, this is a defense that just played fairly well for a half against Miami before giving up big plays in the second half. It's hard to say how much of that could have been avoided had the offense given it more support.

Last Tuesday, while discussing his possible return, Bradford said he was not yet ready to concede the possibility of returning to the BCS title game. "What happens if we win nine straight games and we win the Big 12?" he said.

That's probably asking too much; however, a fourth straight conference title remains very much in play for the Sooners. Unfortunately for them, the most difficult obstacle on their path comes next week, not next month. Bradford will need to play every bit like a projected No. 1 pick for OU to pull it off.