1 Oklahoma If the revamped offense runs as efficiently as the D, the Sooners will win their second national title in three years

August 11, 2002

It was midway through spring practice when the Sooners'
offensive linemen started to get ornery. They picked fights with
defensive tackles during scrimmages and brawled with one another
between drills. These flare-ups, says senior tight end Trent
Smith, were the most encouraging signs of the spring. "After
every practice, all the defense could talk about was how nasty
the O-linemen were getting," says Smith. "They'd found their
attitude."

It's about time. Behind passive young linemen last year the
Oklahoma attack produced a mere 119.4 rushing yards per game
(89th in the nation) and only two touchdowns combined in losses
to Nebraska and Oklahoma State. What's more, quarterbacks Nate
Hybl and Jason White were sacked 31 times. That the Sooners
finished 11-2, including a win over Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl,
is a credit to their uncompromising defense, which allowed 262.8
yards per game to rank fourth in the nation.

"It felt like we spent the entire season in third-and-long,"
says Smith, who led the nation's tight ends with 564 receiving
yards. "Unlike the defensive players, we had never adjusted our
attitudes after [winning the national championship in 2000]. We
just finessed everything, while our defense was constantly going
for broke."

The offense overall should be dynamic compared with last
season's, and for that reason Oklahoma has an excellent chance
to win its second national title in three years. The
transformation is due mostly to the hiring of assistant Kevin
Wilson, the former Northwestern offensive coordinator who was
brought in to resuscitate the running game, and to the promotion
of assistant Chuck Long to offensive coordinator. (Long succeeds
Mark Mangino, who took the Kansas coaching job.) As part of
their effort to diversify a short-pass heavy spread offense that
better defenses read like a pop-up book, the coaches have
instructed the offensive linemen to eliminate the oceans of
space that existed between them last year and block more as a
unit. They hope the change improves the team's rushing game and
creates more opportunities to throw deep.

"My goals were to make the quarterback a more viable run option
and devise a simple blocking scheme that works with one-back and
two-back sets," says Wilson, whose Northwestern offense averaged
475.6 yards in 2000 (third best in the nation) and 442.9 last
season (15th best). "The idea is to let the players use their
natural abilities, which is important when you're working with
such high-caliber athletes."

Wilson has plenty of topflight athletes to work with, including
sophomore tackles Jammal Brown, Jerod Fields and Wes Sims, and
sophomore center Vince Carter, all of whom started at least five
games last year. The line's cohesiveness will be essential to
senior tailback Quentin Griffin, who is better than his 67.0
yards per game in 2001, and to White, who connected on 64.6% of
his passes for 681 yards in seven games before tearing the ACL in
his left knee against Nebraska.

Because he is more mobile and has a better field sense, White, a
junior, has the inside track on the starting quarterback job
over Hybl, a senior who last year threw for 2,234 yards and 14
touchdowns but had 13 interceptions. A deep and versatile
receiving corps that includes precocious sophomore Mark Clayton
and sure-handed senior Antwone Savage will allow Smith, who
bulked up to 244 pounds in the off-season, to provide the
linemen with extra blocking help.

The combination of a new offensive coaching philosophy and
battle-tested personnel, not to mention a favorable schedule
(home games against Colorado and Texas A&M), makes Oklahoma the
team to beat. "The addition of Kevin has only added to that
team's strengths," says Ohio State defensive coordinator Mark
Dantonio, whose staff traveled to Norman in March to observe the
Sooners. "There's a championship air about that team."

--Kelley King

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS 22 SKIDOO A new emphasis on the ground game promises to create more options for the attack and unleash the dangerous Griffin.

FAST FACTS

2001 RECORD: 11-2 (6-2, 2nd in Big 12 South)
FINAL RANKING: No. 6 AP, No. 6 coaches' poll

TELLING NUMBER

18.7
Average margin of victory in 38 games under Bob Stoops; in those
games Oklahoma has won by 10 or more points 31 times.

FIVE KEY RETURNEES

DT Tommie Harris [Soph.]
Big 12's top defensive rookie in '01

RB Quentin Griffin [Sr.]
30 straight games with a reception

CB Derrick Strait [Jr.]
One of nation's top cover corners

LB Teddy Lehman [Jr.]
Ranked third on team in tackles (83)

TE Trent Smith [Sr.]
Led all I-A tight ends with 61 catches

ENEMY LINES
An opposing coach's view

A defense built for speed will be tough for any foe

"This is a great defense, the best we'll face. They're very good
when they react, like getting back on a play-action pass.... End
Jimmie Wilkerson is phenomenal. If you run a naked bootleg, he's
going to squeeze the tackle and catch the quarterback. When you
game-plan, you see that that's not the way to run.... Teddy
Lehman and the other linebackers run every bit as well as
running backs do.... The safeties are making plays two and three
yards behind the line. When they're not supporting the run, they
are in the proper area of pass coverage.... On offense you try
to get on the quarterback. Jason White, who's mobile, is better
than Nate Hybl, who's a standing target.... Running back Quentin
Griffin has good balance and toughness.... Tight end Trent Smith
is hard to stop when they need a few yards.

SCHEDULE
Strength: 35th

Aug. 30 at Tulsa
Sept. 7 ALABAMA
14 TEXAS-EL PASO
28 SOUTH FLORIDA
Oct. 5 at Missouri
12 TEXAS*
19 IOWA STATE
Nov. 2 COLORADO
9 at Texas A&M
16 at Baylor
23 TEXAS TECH
30 at Oklahoma State

*In Dallas

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)