Arkansas State players say they don't plan to roll over for Sooners

Thursday, September 7th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Arkansas State comes to town as a heavy underdog to No. 20 Oklahoma, and why not? The first and only time these teams played, Oklahoma won 61-0.

But that was eight years ago, Arkansas State's first season in Division I-A. The Indians have shown in recent seasons that they have made strides. They lost last year by five to Memphis and by a field goal to Texas Christian, and last week they opened the season with a double-overtime loss at North Carolina State.

What they haven't been able to do is win one of those games, pull off the kind of upset that can energize a program.

"You lay awake at night or you sit in your office and you hear people on TV say, 'ASU is never going to get over the hump' and stuff like that, which is not true at all," Indians coach Joe Hollis said. "It makes you more determined.

"I know these youngsters better than anyone in this room. I know what they are made of," he said. "We're playing a Top 25 program this week and in the next month, we'll play three Top 25 programs. We'll compete against all of them."

The Indians certainly had North Carolina State's attention. ASU led by a field goal late in the game and had fourth-and-1 at the Wolfpack 2-yard line, and Hollis opted to go for the clinching touchdown. The Indians got stopped on the play, North Carolina State drove for a tying field goal and then won in the second overtime, 38-31.

The tape of that game impressed Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, and said it should have opened his players' eyes as well.

"I don't think there's any question it did, absolutely," he said. "There were a lot of very good plays in the game that they created and made on both sides of the ball, so without question we'll need to be prepared."

Arkansas State has a senior quarterback in Cleo Lemon, a four-year starter who has thrown for nearly 5,900 yards during his career. Running back Jonathan Adams had 137 yards on 28 carries against North Carolina State, and receiver Robert Kilow caught a school-record 57 passes last year.

But Arkansas State gave up 397 passing yards a week ago, and Saturday night will face an Oklahoma team that wants to improve on its performance in the opener against Texas-El Paso.

Josh Heupel, who completed 62 percent of his passes last season, looked spotty while going 18-of-36 against UTEP, although Stoops noted that 10 passes were dropped.

"We're a better team than that," Stoops said. "We weren't far off the other day from really having an incredible day. We just overshot a couple deep balls that were awfully close and dropped a number of other balls that would have made a big difference."

Hollis says his team is close to avoiding the near-misses. But pulling off that victory becomes difficult as the close losses mount and the schedule stays difficult _ road games against TCU and Mississippi still await.

"Our kids are knowledgeable youngsters. They open up every newspaper in America on Monday and we're picked to lose again," Hollis said. "Whether it's right or wrong, that's the way it is. But the only people who can change that are the guys who put the uniform on."