Young players big part of Oklahoma success

Thursday, November 2nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ It was early in the fourth quarter and Nebraska, trailing 31-14 and badly in need of a touchdown, had driven to Oklahoma's 23-yard line.

Eric Crouch dropped back and threw to Matt Davison, who caught the pass on the run and took a few steps before cornerback Derrick Strait stripped the ball and safety Brandon Everage fell on it at the 20-yard line.

Once again, youth had been served.

``I haven't been around such a young team that's making so many plays to the extent that they are,'' Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. ``It's fun to watch.''

While senior Josh Heupel has been a major factor in Oklahoma's climb to No. 1, the Sooners' young players have excelled as well. The depth chart has 25 players who are second-year sophomores or younger.

Strait and Everage are each redshirt freshman. Strait was a quarterback, running back and safety in high school, then was moved to cornerback when he got to Oklahoma.

He got burned for a touchdown early against Nebraska _ he read Crouch's eyes and cut inside, and the receiver stayed outside _ but regrouped and came up with two big plays. Prior to causing the fumble, he had intercepted a pass and returned it 32 yards for the clinching touchdown.

``He's just a football player,'' said co-defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. ``He understands the game, he understands his position. I think he understands the strengths and weaknesses of his own game.''

Strait and the other young players also have come to understand what is expected of them. Bob Stoops they have grown more confident as they have gained experience, but he credited Heupel and the veteran players for setting a standard.

``It's not acceptable not to play well, regardless if you're injured, regardless if you're a freshman, regardless if you're a senior,'' Stoops said. ``Our players expect that of one another now, and if it isn't happening, it's not acceptable.

``That's what you like, when they start governing themselves a little bit that way.''

The youth has been on display all season. Tailback Quentin Griffin, a sophomore, set a school record with six touchdowns against Texas this season. His backup, Renaldo Works, is a freshman.

Seven of the top eight receivers on the team are sophomores or younger. And, as Nebraska found out, they can make big plays.

On Oklahoma's second touchdown drive, Heupel threw a pass that was deflected straight up as sophomore Andre Woolfolk and the defender went up to get it. As the ball came down, Woolfolk made a one-handed catch as he lay on his back. It was good for a 34-yard gain.

Three plays later, sophomore Curtis Fagan beat his man and caught a 34-yard touchdown pass.

Oklahoma's third touchdown came on a short run one play after sophomore Antwone Savage went up and outfought the defender for a 37-yard completion.

``Everybody's getting out there and everybody's feeling more comfortable,'' Strait said. ``I know everybody had a very prominent career in their high school, so you know they can play football. It's just a matter of getting comfortable out there on the field.''

The secondary's depth chart has two seniors, one junior, two sophomores and three redshirt freshmen. One of the seniors, J.T. Thatcher, leads the Big 12 with six interceptions. Everage and sophomore Roy Williams have two each.

``There's no fear in their game,'' Mike Stoops said. ``That's what you like. They're young, but they play with reckless abandon. They hustle and they're good football players.''

Oklahoma travels to Waco on Saturday to face Baylor (2-6, 0-5).