No doubt now: Oklahoma has arrived

Monday, October 16th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

No doubt now: Oklahoma has arrived Oklahoma's performance at Kansas State left no doubt: The Sooners have arrived as a force in the Big 12 Conference.

A 63-14 victory last week over then-No. 11 Texas left people convinced the Longhorns were overrated and that Oklahoma still had not been tested.

But Saturday, the Sooners went on the road and beat No. 2 Kansas State, 41-31. They ended the Wildcats' 25-game home winning streak by scoring 41 points against a defense that had allowed just 10 per game.

The loss was just the second in the past 37 regular-season games for Kansas State. The victory moved Oklahoma (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) from No. 8 to No. 3 in the Associated Press poll and dropped the Wildcats to 10th.

The victory also leaves the real possibility of Oklahoma's first 11-0 regular-season finish since 1987. The Sooners have this week off to prepare for an Oct. 28 home game against top-ranked Nebraska, then close out their schedule with games against Baylor, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.

"We may be peaking at the right time," said coach Bob Stoops, who in just two years has restored the pride, confidence and organization that were absent during John Blake's three years in charge.

Certainly, anything seems possible for Oklahoma as long as quarterback Josh Heupel remains healthy. Heupel completed 29 of 37 passes for 374 yards and two touchdowns against Kansas State, and continued his knack for calling correct audibles and making important completions.

Perhaps none was bigger than one he made late in the game.

Oklahoma was trying to hold onto a 38-31 lead when it faced third and long. Heupel rolled to his left away from a defender, then threw an off-balance pass to Josh Norman for a first down.

The completion kept the drive alive and led to a clinching field goal.

"He went against the No. 1 defense in the country today and played well," Stoops said. "Without him, we're not here."

Even if the Sooners lose to Nebraska in two weeks, the rest of the schedule leaves them in good shape to win the Big 12 South title and face either the Cornhuskers or Kansas State again in the conference championship game.

"Now, I think the country understands -- OU is here. And we're going to be here to stay," receiver Damian Mackey said.

------ Nebraska's defense, which had looked a bit porous while giving up 340 yards per game, returned to form in the Cornhuskers' 56-3 victory at Texas Tech.

The Red Raiders use the same spread offense as Oklahoma -- Tech's coach, Mike Leach, installed it at OU last year -- but they managed just 181 passing yards and 11 first downs against the Cornhuskers (6-0, 3-0).

Nebraska, meanwhile, compiled 540 yards, including 442 on the ground.

"We played how we are capable of playing," said Dan Alexander, who ran for 120 yards.

The Cornhuskers get another tuneup this week, against Baylor, before their showdown with Oklahoma in Norman.

"I think a lot of people were questioning us," safety Troy Watchorn said. "This game was a huge step in the right direction."

------ The last time Iowa State went to a bowl game was 1978, which also was the last time the Cyclones won three straight road games.

Until this year. A 33-26 victory over Oklahoma State was their third straight win away from home. And it was their fifth victory of the season, one shy of the total needed to become bowl eligible.

With three of their final five games at home, the Cyclones (5-1, 2-1) are in good shape to get a bid.

------ Texas rebounded from its loss to Oklahoma by winning 28-14 at Colorado. Coach Mack Brown's choice as the starting quarterback, Major Applewhite, threw for 308 yards and three touchdowns. The defense held Colorado to 133 total yards.

"They couldn't run the ball and we could," Brown said. "We sacked their guy and they couldn't get to Major. The play on both sides of the line of scrimmage did it for us."