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September 6, 2008

Playing keep up with Sooners is losing game

No. 4 Oklahoma 56, Cincinnati 26: Box score | Recap

NORMAN, Okla. – Just two plays.

That's all that was required to get a full understanding of the explosiveness of the Oklahoma offense.

Just two plays.

And neither was run by fourth-ranked OU.

Make no mistake, the scary-good Sooners made plenty of big plays in Saturday's 52-26 thrashing of Cincinnati. Silky-smooth quarterback Sam Bradford set a career-high with 395 passing yards and equaled another with five touchdowns. Freshman receiver Ryan Broyles emerged as perhaps OU's next big play threat, and the Sooners rolled up 592 yards in total offense.

But what underscored the impact of OU's offense is that it dictated what Cincinnati's offense would do. That's right, Cincinnati's offense. Keep in mind, the Bearcats are not chopped liver. Cincinnati finished 10-3 last season with victories over teams like Rutgers, Connecticut and South Florida.

Facing fourth-and-5 in the first quarter Saturday, the Cincinnati shunned a 41-yard field-goal attempt and went for the first down. They Bearcats came up short.

In the third quarter, UC opted for a fake punt on fourth-and-7 from its 23-yard line. It failed.

Bradford threw a touchdown pass to tight end Jermaine Gresham on the next play for a 42-20 lead. Game over.

"I thought we were losing the momentum of the game," said Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly in offering an explanation for the fake punt. "I thought that Oklahoma had controlled the football two consecutive drives there, and I felt that we had an opportunity to pick it (a first down) up."

In reality, Kelly was hoping to keep OU's offense off the field. Those fourth-down decisions – he actually went for it on fourth-and-1 on two other occasions in the first half – might be unusual, but nobody should question those decisions. Playing keep-away was Cincinnati's best chance.

You don't try to match buckets with Kobe Bryant.

You don't try to match wits with a genius.

You don't try to match Usain Bolt in a 100-meter dash.

Getting in a shootout with these Sooners seems equally futile. Really, they're that good.

No. 4 Oklahoma 52, Cincinnati 26
Fourth-ranked Oklahoma showed off its explosive offense with two touchdowns in just over a minute in the third quarter to take a 20-point lead, and the Sooners cruised to a 52-26 victory over Cincinnati. OU quarterback Sam Bradford threw touchdown passes on the first two OU drives of the game to give the Sooners an early 14-0 lead. The Bearcats stayed close with a big day from senior receiver Mardy Gilyard and were within a touchdown after he returned a kickoff 97 yards for a score. But OU's two quick touchdowns in the third quarter put the game out of reach.
Bradford has already had several impressive performances in his career, but few better than on Saturday. Bradford passed for 395 yards and five touchdown passes. His last one was deflected in the end zone and into the hands of Sooners fullback Matt Clapp. Hey, when things are going good…
Linebacker seemed like an area of concern for the Sooners coming into the season with two new starters. But redshirt freshman Travis Lewis has surely eased the minds of Sooners fans. He recorded 12 tackles, including two sacks, against Cincinnati. He was also credited with a quarterback hurry.
When DeMarco Murray scored on an 11-yard touchdown run to stake OU to a 35-20 lead with five minutes left in the third quarter, Cincinnati was unable to answer with a scoring drive. Instead, the Bearcats faked a punt from their 22-yard line, but OU's J.R. Bryant broke up a pass by punter Kevin Huber. Bradford threw a touchdown pass to Jermaine Gresham on the next play, and just like that the Sooners turned the game into a blowout.
Cincinnati quarterback Dustin Grutza was taken from the field on a stretcher with a fractured right fibula with 12:53 remaining in the game. On the previous play Grutza was sacked by Oklahoma linebacker Travis Lewis and defensive tackle Cory Bennett and his leg was pinned under the pile. He will be out at least four weeks. Grutza was replaced by Tony Pike.
A matchup of teams which posted double-digit victory totals last season figured to feature several hard hits, but they figured to come after kickoff. However, one of day's hardest hits occurred before the game. Oklahoma receiver Adron Tennell crossed the 50-yard line trying to catch a pass and rammed into the back of Cincinnati cornerback Mike Mickens, who was stretching. Tennell appeared to apologize. Mickens clapped his hands, and there was no incident. … Oklahoma sophomore Dominique Franks' first career interception couldn't have come at a better time. Cincinnati, trailing 21-7, had first-and-goal at the 4-yard line midway through the second quarter when Franks intercepted Grutza in the end zone. … UC's Gilyard established a school record with 365 all-purpose yards (119 receiving, 246 in return yardage). His 97-yard kickoff return was Cincinnati's first since 1995, a span of 145 games …. Oklahoma redshirt freshman Ryan Broyles had the best debut of any receiver in Sooners history with seven catches for 141 yards and a touchdown. … Oklahoma defensive lineman Jeremy Beal posted a career-high 10 tackles. He's the first OU defensive lineman to notch a double-digit tackle total since 2001.

"I think the biggest problem (OU's offenses poses) defensively, is, to spread people out and use them all," OU coach Bob Stoops said. "Then it's hard to double-cover anybody. If (defenses) spread it out too much, then we run the ball. If you hunker in too much, there will be a lot of one-on-one matchups."

The Sooners rushed for 208 yards. Running back DeMarco Murray gained 88 while averaging 5.9 yards per carry. His backup, Chris Brown, gained 71.

Former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer used to openly speak of his desire to "hang-a-half-a-hundred" on overmatched opponents.

The Sooners have done that twice, already.

They have a huge, powerful, veteran offensive line, solid receivers and fast running backs. But what sets Oklahoma apart is Bradford, who is better than a year ago when he led the nation in passing efficiency as a redshirt freshman.

He did throw a couple of interceptions (one was deflected), but he also made excellent throws for four touchdowns. He almost always finds the open receiver.

"Sam was fantastic at the line of scrimmage," Stoops raved. "Sam is such a good decision-maker that you have such confidence to do whatever you want to do.

"I thought Sam threw the ball incredibly well and the receivers did a great job."

Bradford was especially sharp in the second half. The feisty Bearcats trailed just 21-13 at halftime, and it could have been much closer if not for an interception in the end zone and a penalty at the end of a 36-yard completion a minute before halftime.

But they had no chance in the second half. Bradford didn't give them one.

He completed 16 of 18 attempts for 204 yards and three scores after intermission.

"For us to come out after halftime and play the way we did says a lot about our offense," Bradford said. "We were willing to buy into what coach had to say at halftime and we came out and executed."

However, Oklahoma was not without its warts.

Big 12 championships are nice – the Sooners have won three of the last four – but Oklahoma perennially aims higher.

Yet, OU's defense and special teams might have raised questions about Oklahoma's national championship aspirations.

Cincinnati accumulated 326 yards in total offense, with 239 coming via the pass - an area in which the Sooners defense has struggled in recent years. Although Cincinnati ranked among the country's top 30 offenses in 2007, that was a unit led by quarterback Ben Mauk.

Dustin Grutza, Cincinnati's starting quarterback, would not have been in the starting lineup had the NCAA not denied Mauk's repeated appeals for an additional year of eligibility.

Grutza threw for 218 yards and a touchdown before leaving with a fractured right fibula in the fourth quarter. He also threw an interception into the end zone when the Bearcats had first-and-goal at the 4-yard line in the second quarter.

Furthermore, Cincinnati receiver Mardy Gilyard, who had 119 receiving yards on seven catches, rolled up 365 all-purpose yards. Gilyard accumulated 97 of those all-purpose yards on a kickoff returned for a touchdown.

But Stoops seemed unconcerned by any defensive issues.

"Defensively, let's face it, these guys (Bearcats) have racked up a bunch of points on a lot of people and (the OU) defense only gives up two touchdowns," he said. "That's pretty good.

"The only bad part was kickoff coverage. Everything else was solid, and we'll keep working on that to get better. It's one of those issues early in the season that you have to iron out."

Besides, OU's offense may be so good it can make up for any defensive or special teams lapses.

And the really scary part is they feel they can get much better on offense, too.

"I think we can be as good as we want to be," Bradford said. "There were times we stopped ourselves with turnovers and penalties. It's not like we played perfectly. We need to get better each week and we can have a pretty good offense down the road."

Down the road?

Kelly is convinced now.

"I think they (OU offense) exerted their presence in the second half," he said. "It was 20-13 and we had the ball in the beginning of the third quarter, and they stop us and really answer like a champion. They resemble a championship football team. They have that championship demeanor to them."

Olin Buchanan is a senior national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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