No. 1 OU next up on Fresno State's brutal schedule

Friday, September 12th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ From the mountains of east Tennessee back to California's San Joaquin Valley and now to central Oklahoma, Fresno State is racking up plenty of frequent flier miles and nearly as many bruises.

Fresno State coach Pat Hill has put together a brutal non-conference tour this season, starting on the road against No. 12 Tennessee and taking on Oregon State at home last week. The Bulldogs face the top-ranked Oklahoma Sooners on Saturday.

The Bulldogs' 16-14 win over Oregon State was ``as violent a game as I've been part of,'' Hill said.

The Sooners will make sure of another rough one.

In Oklahoma's 20-13 win at Alabama last week, the Sooners sacked quarterback Brodie Croyle five times, intercepted him twice and hammered him throughout the game. As a defense with four players on a preseason list for defender of the year, Oklahoma has stockpiled a bunch of guys yearning to make the big play or big hit _ sometimes both at the same time.

``Those guys, they don't believe in just tackling you,'' Croyle said after the game. ``They want to bring some pain when they do it.''

That's usually not a problem for Hill, who lives up to his ``play anyone, anywhere'' mantra season after season. But Fresno State (1-1) is already missing starting quarterback Paul Pinegar, who tore a pectoral muscle in the preseason, and backup Jeff Grady has been playing with a bruised left shoulder and hip.

Defensive end Garrett McIntyre (sprained right knee) and middle linebacker Marc Dailey (MCL sprain of right knee) were added to Fresno State's injury list after the first two games. Those early losses have hurt the depth and morale of a team starting nine freshmen or sophomores, not including Grady, who'll be starting only his fifth game and was booed by the home crowd in the first half of last week's game.

``It'll be very interesting to see if these kids can fight the same way we have the past three weeks,'' Hill said. ``Because I don't know anyone who faces this kind of schedule three straight weeks.''

The Sooners, meanwhile, are hoping they don't have to resort to trickery to win this game.

Bolstered by a fake punt in the third quarter, Oklahoma (2-0) managed to survive its visit to Alabama. Bob Stoops never rules out a little chicanery to pull out a win, but he hopes his offense continues to build off of quarterback Jason White's strong start.

White has thrown touchdown passes of 64, 46 and 47 yards through two games, an explosiveness rarely seen when Quentin Griffin was taking handoffs the past few years.

``We had to put it in a little bit at a time,'' offensive coordinator Chuck Long said of the downfield passing attack. ``Now we're getting to the point where we have a bigger and better downfield package. This is the next step, taking the deep shots.''

As the Sooners continue their offensive transformation, their defense continues to wreak havoc for opponents. Oklahoma is allowing just 229 yards a game, good for 11th in the nation.

``Defensively, they're the best team we've ever played,'' Hill said while watching film in his office earlier this week. ``I don't see them worrying about us too much, probably. I mean, we've only scored two touchdowns this season in two games. We're not exactly an offensive juggernaut.''

That could be why Fresno State enters the game as 29-point underdogs.

``I think that's wrong,'' said Fresno State linebacker Bryce McGill, whistling after hearing the line. ``We won't get beat by 29 points. We haven't even given up 20 points in a game this season so far.''

He didn't say they would win either. For Fresno State, on this rugged run around the country, survival is the name of the game.

``Guys like us aren't supposed to be there,'' Hill said. ``We go on the road and play the toughest teams in America. That's what we've got to do out here to get respect.''