Bold fourth-down call nets Sooners a win

Wednesday, November 8th 2006, 10:07 pm
By: News On 6

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ With the game on the line, Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops has made his mark by never shying away from calls that other coaches might never make.

From trick plays to tough decisions, Stoops has made a habit of making the right call when he's needed to find a way to win. And he's not afraid to face criticism if one of those decisions doesn't work out as planned.

``Everybody knows what you ought to do after the deal, but you're the one that has to win,'' Stoops said. ``We want to do our best to coach to win. Sometimes doing that you have to take some risks. They're calculated risks.''

On Saturday, it was a fourth-and-inches play that could have gone down as one of the most costly decisions in Stoops' time with the Sooners if it had failed. But it didn't.

Instead of giving the ball back to the Aggies in range for the game-winning field goal, Stoops' Sooners were able to get a first down and run out the clock in a 17-16 win, Oklahoma's latest thriller in College Station.

Stoops' initial thought was a conservative one, though. He had planned to punt the ball away and trust his defense to stop the Aggies in the final 89 seconds. Then he factored in the wind _ he estimated it would shorten a punt by about 15 yards _ and just how short a distance the Sooners needed to go.

``I thought, `This isn't adding up,''' Stoops said. ``We've got to make 3 inches, the game is over and take away all their opportunities.''

The final straw was the looks on his players faces.

``They liked it when I said that's what we're going to do,'' Stoops said. ``Initially when I thought we'd punt it, I could tell they were disappointed. They weren't saying anything to me but I could just tell looking at them.''

If they weren't telling Stoops, the players were certainly thinking it to themselves.

``I was definitely saying, `Let's go for it,''' quarterback Paul Thompson said. ``I definitely thought that was a situation where we should go for it.''

That sentiment alone wouldn't have been enough for Stoops to pull the trigger.

``Players always want to go for it but you as a coach have to make a judgment on the risk-reward what you feel you need to do,'' Stoops said. ``I just felt the momentum that they had at the time, it just didn't add up giving them another chance and we better just finish it off.''

Once the decision was made not to punt, there were several mitigating factors on the fourth-down play. Allen Patrick, who had run for 173 yards on 32 carries, was getting his right ankle taped after coming up short on third down, and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson wanted to avoid running into an outside blitz the Aggies had been using in short yardage situations.

Both made Thompson's sneak a better option than an off-tackle run.

In the box score, neither of Thompson's two successful conversions counted. He converted the sneak once as Stoops called a last-second timeout _ the third in a row after one by A&M and another by the Sooners. On the actual play, Texas A&M was flagged for having 12 men on the field to negate his 2-yard pickup.

``Whether it was a gutsy call or not, I just think on the road with their crowd behind them with the wind, you don't want to give them a chance,'' Wilson said.

Last year, Stoops also had a fourth-down call pay off in the fourth quarter. After allowing Tulsa to pull within 17-15, the Sooners faced a fourth-and-1 at the Tulsa 41. At the risk of giving Tulsa the ball back near midfield, Stoops called on Adrian Peterson to pick up the first down and he wound up with a clinching 41-yard touchdown run.

Texas A&M would have been in even better position if it could have come up with a stop, but Stoops went for it anyway, figuring the success rate on fourth downs with only 3 inches left was pretty high.

``Sometimes you go with percentages or you trust the way you've been working the ball all day that it's going to work. If it doesn't, you know that's coming but that's OK,'' Stoops said. ``I'd rather coach to win than worry about being criticized.''