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September 7, 2008
NORMAN, Okla. ? The secret is out.
Now, 84,476 fans who filled Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Saturday ? and millions more who tuned into highlight shows ? know what Sooners coach Bob Stoops already knew: Ryan Broyles is something special.
A redshirt freshman making his collegiate debut, Broyles caught seven passes for 141 yards and scored a touchdown in Oklahoma's 52-26 victory over Cincinnati. He had four catches of at least 23 yards.
"I can't say that I'm surprised because we've seen a lot of this form him in practice and scrimmages," Stoops said.
Quarterback Sam Bradford, who connected with Broyles on all of those receptions, wasn't surprised, either.
"This is the first opportunity Ryan has had to play in a game, but he has been waiting to show what he is capable of doing," Bradford said. "We see him do it every day in practice, so there was nothing that surprised us about his abilities. For him to come out and play the way he did in his first game says a lot about him."
Broyles' first catch was near the sideline. He turned upfield before a defensive back could draw a bead on him and turned the play into a 31-yard gain. On the next play, he got behind the Cincinnati secondary and Bradford found him for a 27-yard touchdown strike that gave the Sooners a 7-0 lead.
He struck again midway through the third quarter with OU trying to protect a 28-20 lead. The Sooners were facing third-and-9 when Bradford lofted a high pass down the sideline for which the 5-foot-11 Broyles outjumped a defensive back for a 48-yard gain.
That drive, in which Broyles had two more catches, resulted in another touchdown and helped the Sooners take control.
Oklahoma fans may already have been accustomed to seeing such plays had Broyles not made a big mistake just over a year ago.
Broyles, a local product who attended Norman High School, was arrested by Norman police on charges of stealing gasoline the day before the 2007 season started. He had in his possession a key and pass codes to the gas pumps at a Norman convenience store. Broyles eventually pleaded no contest to the charges.
As punishment, Stoops would not allow Broyles to play last season. Broyles also was suspended from last week's 57-2 victory over Chattanooga for reasons Stoops did not reveal. But he obviously has worked his way back into Stoops' good graces.
"If Ryan keeps doing the things he's been doing lately, he has a chance to be a special player here," Stoops said.
For Broyles, Saturday's game was a chance to make up for lost time.
"I would have loved to play last year," Broyles said. "I've got to take it one game at a time. It's never a good feeling sitting around watching your team. I've had a whole year of anticipation. I think I have something to prove."
He proved he could supply a deep threat to Oklahoma's offense, which could use one. Last season, Malcolm Kelly scored seven touchdowns on receptions of at least 24 yards and led the Sooners with a 16.8-yard average per catch. But Kelly left early for the NFL.
His absence left a void in the high-powered Sooners offense. Consider the void filled.
Broyles not only had an impressive performance, but he did it against a Cincinnati secondary that features All-America cornerback Mike Mickens and free safety DeAngelo Smith, who last season combined for 14 interceptions. It might be the best secondary OU sees this season.
But if they do face a better secondary, at least the Sooners can feel confident knowing they will do so with another big-play threat.
The offense already had wide receivers Juaquin Iglesias and Manuel Johnson, who last season combined for 99 catches. Another big contributor is tight end Jermaine Gresham, who caught 11 touchdown passes last season.
The Sooners also have explosive tailback DeMarco Murray and perhaps the country's premier offensive line. Guiding the unit is Bradford, who last year led the country in passing efficiency. He threw five touchdown passes against Cincinnati.
Broyles adds another dimension to a dynamic unit.
"We have a great group of receivers, tight ends and running backs," Broyles said. "I guess I can help out a little bit. I'm not being cocky or anything, but I guess I can make plays."
Stoops always knew he could. Now everybody else does, too.
Olin Buchanan is a Heisman voter and a senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.