OU football: Fun in the Sun
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Writer
Friday, January 01, 2010
1/01/10 at 12:44 PM
EL PASO, Texas — As endless refrains of "Boomer Sooner" played on and the seconds on the clock ticked away, Oklahoma's New Year's Eve party unfurled.
Quinton Carter hopped up and down, with no one and with everyone. Travis Lewis slapped hands with Brian Simmons over and over. Chris Brown embraced DeMarco Murray.
"Finally won this thing," Simmons said with a smile.
"Finally got us one," shouted Brown.
And as Gerald McCoy went from teammate to teammate, squeezing sweaty bear hugs from each, tears poured down his face.
"Man," McCoy said, "we ain't won a bowl since I've been here. I can't explain it, man. It's on another level. It feels great."
As the sun descended behind the mountains and the shadows stretched across Sun Bowl Stadium, one of college football's most scrutinized losing streaks ended. Oklahoma won a bowl game.
That fact, for Sooner fans, is every bit as newsworthy as the opponent (Stanford), the score (31-27) and the setting (the 76th Sun Bowl).
Bob Stoops, the Sooners' gritty leader, went a bit soft when asked to reflect on his most difficult season and the joy of ending it in triumph.
"I love the team," Stoops said. "The attitude of 'em. They've been awesome."
Stoops and the Sooners had lost three straight bowl games. Only two players on the roster, fullback Matt Clapp and linebacker Keenan Clayton, played in OU's last postseason victory, a 2005 win over Oregon in the Holiday Bowl.
As this season spiraled downward with injury after injury, losses mounted, but determination never faded. As Stoops pointed out, an OU team ranked No. 3 nationally to start the season fought through unprecedented adversity and defeated two ranked teams at the end of the season to finish 8-5. Stanford (also 8-5) was No. 19; Oklahoma State, a 27-0 Sooner victim last month, was ranked 11th.
"It shows you just the resolve of the kids and what might have been with all those other guys," Stoops said.
A bowl- and stadium-record 53,713 fans ascended Sun Bowl Stadium's mountainous backdrop to watch OU overcome.
OU wide receiver Ryan Broyles was the game's MVP, catching a school-record 13 passes for 156 yards and three touchdowns. He also set the school record for season catches (89) and TDs (15).
Quarterback Landry Jones, so maligned this season for his performances away from Norman, completed 30-of-51 passes for an OU bowl-record 418 yards, including a key string of third-down completions.
And OU's defense was as dominant as ever, holding one-dimensional Stanford to a season-low 262 yards. Stanford's previous low was 345, and on the season it averaged 441.
Tailback Toby Gerhart, the Heisman runner-up and national rushing and TD leader, did his best as a solo act, rushing for 135 yards and scoring two TDs. But with fifth-year senior Tavita Pritchard working at QB for injured Andrew Luck, the Stanford passing game — 8-of-19 for 117 yards with two interceptions — did little to help Gerhart.
"Oklahoma has a heck of a defense," said Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, who gave Stanford its first bowl trip in nine years and guided his team to wins over USC and Pac-10 champion Oregon.
Neither team ever led by more than a TD, and the lead changed hands four times. OU trailed 24-17 at halftime despite a 259-183 edge in total yardage. OU couldn't run much (1.6 yards per carry), but behind Jones' rollout passes and Broyles and Dejuan Miller's clutch catches, OU enjoyed a yardage advantage of 218-79 in the second half.
"Whatever it takes to win the game," Jones said. "... Four-hundred-whatever yards passing is OK with me, too."
Jones went 7-of-8 for 79 yards on OU's first drive of the third quarter, crowning it with a 6-yard throw to Broyles and tying the score at 24-24.
The Sooners' next two drives stalled, but Broyles jump-started things with a 42-yard punt return, and Jones found Trent Ratterree open behind the defense for a 38-yard completion to the Stanford 2. Two plays later, DeMarco Murray somersaulted over the pile for a 31-24 Sooner lead.
Jones' best drive, though, may have been a clock-eating near masterpiece in the fourth quarter. With Stanford trailing 31-27, Jones took over with 9:21 to play and drove the Sooners 75 yards on 17 plays, converting 3-of-4 third-down passes. Although the drive short-circuited when Patrick O'Hara missed a clinching field goal, Stanford didn't get the ball back until just 3:21 left.
The Sooner defense didn't yield a first down. For a team carried all season by arguably Stoops' best defense, it seemed a fitting end.
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OU receiver Ryan Broyles scores one of his three touchdowns after beating Stanford's Delano Howell on Thursday at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas. Stephen Pingry/Tulsa World
OU's DeMarco Murray dives into the end zone for a third-quarter touchdown. The score gave the Sooners a 31-24 lead. Stephen Pingry/Tulsa World