Wishbone returns to Norman in form of Rice Owls

Tuesday, September 19th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ After a week without a game, No. 17 Oklahoma returns to the field Saturday to face a remnant of its past: the Wishbone offense.

The system _ used by only a handful of college teams across the country _ is Rice's offensive staple, and with the Owls (1-2) coming to Norman this weekend some interesting sights have been afoot on the Sooner practice field.

In place of the Sooners' wide-open, full throttle offense, backup quarterback Patrick Fletcher and the second-team offense ran the bone, the decades-long cornerstone of Sooner offenses of the past.

``We might have to throw Patrick in there on occasion and we might have to get back to the bone a little bit,'' Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said Tuesday.

He was joking, of course.

While watching the team practice the Wishbone may bring back a hint of nostalgia for longtime Sooner faithful, Stoops said he'll leave the bone in the hands of Rice coach Ken Hatfield, a 22-year college head coach.

``Coach Hatfield knows what he likes, what he wants or what he feels his team can do the best, and he's been coaching a long time and has been successful for many years,'' Stoops said. ``It is good to see somebody who sticks to what they believe in and recruits to it and it continues to work.''

Work it does. The Owls gained 335 yards on the ground in a 23-16 loss to Tulsa last week and have ranked among the top 10 rushing teams in the nation for each of the past four seasons.

Requiring strict man-to-man assignments, preparing for a Wishbone offense means special attention to specific defensive lanes, Stoops said.

``They're going to try to establish the fullback and if you don't take care of him he hurts you. You eliminate the fullback and the quarterback has the ball and if you're not assigning correctly and don't have somebody assigned to the quarterback then he runs it up the field. If you do, then they pitch it,'' Stoops said.

``They check you out from inside out and make sure you're assigning correct across the board.''

And then there's the play-action pass, which Stoops called the most dangerous component of the Rice offense.

``It's impossible to stop the option without the secondary and if your secondary quits reading for the pass and is just concerned about the run then that tends to sneak people behind you and can create some big plays,'' Stoops said.

The wishbone has declined in popularity throughout the years, replaced with more creative and variable offenses. Hatfield said his reliance on the system is borne of strategy, not stubbornness.

``We can't recruit the same guy that Oklahoma can or that Texas can,'' Hatfield said. ``So if you can't recruit the same guys, why are you going to do the same thing they're doing when they're doing it better with better athletes?''

For OU's defense, though, the offense is not just a strategy but a very real threat. And while OU is the heavy favorite in the game and has yet to be challenged in its two games so far, OU's defensive players are not taking the antiquated system lightly.

``They've been doing this scheme for a long time so I think they'll probably be a little better than what we've faced so far,'' Sooner defensive lineman Ryan Fisher said.