Heupel, Sooners ready to take center stage

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

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) -- Talk about Deja vu. Kansas State fans must have thought some wicked, unseen force had whisked them back to the bad old days.

There was Barry Switzer, excitedly pacing the Oklahoma sideline.

There were the Sooners, busting tackles, breaking big plays and having their way with poor, overmatched Kansas State.

This time, though, the retired Switzer was merely a venerated cheerleader, a guest of current Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. But the other part of the Wildcats' nightmare was real.

Just as they'd been for so many years in the past, the Sooners (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) were clearly the better team. Josh Heupel, who seems to set scoring standards wherever he goes, hit 29-of-37 for 374 yards and two touchdowns against a defense that was ranked No.

1 in the nation. The result was a 41-31 victory for the revitalized Sooners.

Oklahoma, which vaulted from No. 8 to No. 3 in The Associated Press poll, seemed to be screaming, "We're back! We're back!"

Kansas State (6-1, 2-1), now 1-18 in the Bill Snyder era against opponents ranked in the top 10, dropped from No. 2 to No. 10 and were left to wonder if they'll ever be ready for football's big boys.

The 41 points were the most anyone had scored against Kansas State in Manhattan since Nebraska scored 45 in 1990. Even more impressively, Oklahoma was fresh off a 63-14 rout of Texas, the most points any Sooner team ever scored in that long, storied rivalry.

"I can't say I am totally surprised," said Stoops. "We have an exceptional quarterback. We have great poise and confidence. Our receivers did a great job of getting open, and our running game has come along. So we feel confident we should score points."

Also harking back to the old days of Oklahoma's greatness under Switzer is the renewed importance of the Nebraska game. The Sooners take this week off, then host the top-ranked Huskers on Oct. 28 in a match that'll have far-reaching consequences in the national championship chase.

"We feel we can beat the best teams in the nation," said Oklahoma's Antwone Savage, who turned a short pass on third-and-26 into a backbreaking 74-yard touchdown play in the third quarter.

"That's our main goal right now. We're just getting ready for Nebraska."

Heupel had two touchdown passes and scored once on a 1-yard plunge on fourth down. The left-handed flinger spread his passes around to six different receivers. He was sacked four times and knocked on his back about twice that often, but he never lost his cool.

After Kansas State scored two quick touchdowns early in the fourth quarter to get within 7 points, Heupel led Oklahoma on a time-consuming drive culminated with Tim Duncan's 40-yard field goal.

"We let them have field position," said Kansas State coach Bill Snyder. "Defensively, sometimes it was a slow death.

Offensively, we were sporadic. There was far less consistency."

Critics of Kansas State's cupcake non-conference schedule will guffaw at what Snyder said next.

"But we were playing against a better defense than we have been facing."

If Oklahoma wins the Big 12 South Division and Kansas State beats Nebraska and wins the North, the Sooners and Wildcats could meet in Kansas City on Dec. 2 in the Big 12 title game.

But Switzer, standing outside the Oklahoma locker room after the game, seemed to believe the days of Oklahoma dominance are back.

Responding to a compliment by a purple-clad Kansas State fan, Switzer said, "Thank you, thank you. That was a nice run ya'll had."