Sunday, September 7, 2003

Sooners hold off Tide's charge

No. 1 Oklahoma 20, Alabama 13

By Josh Dubow
The Associated Press

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Alabama was rolling, the crowd was in a frenzy and Oklahoma was about to punt.

Just when it looked as if the Crimson Tide was going to take control, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops went into his bag of tricks.

Blake Ferguson threw a 22-yard pass on a fake punt and Jason White followed with his second long touchdown pass of the game, leading the top-ranked Sooners to a 20-13 victory on Saturday night.

"We felt if they would be that reckless off the corners we would use it," Stoops said. "In games like this on the road, you need to make things happen. You have to have the guts to go with it and it worked."

White and Oklahoma's stellar defense did the rest, leading the Sooners (2-0) to their 15th straight nonconference win.

White, who had a season-ending knee injury last year against Alabama, wasn't around when the Crimson Tide almost rallied from 21 points down to win in Norman, Okla.

After a slow start in this year's game, White answered every challenge for Oklahoma, the first No. 1 team ever to visit Tuscaloosa.

He threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to Mark Clayton directly after the Tide's first field goal in the second quarter and connected with Brandon Jones on a 47-yard score right after Alabama (1-1) cut it to 13-10 in the third.

"We have receivers who have the ability to do that and Jason likes it," Stoops said. "The more aggressive they play, it opens it up sometimes. We hit some big plays."

White finished 21-for-35 for 259 yards and the two touchdowns. Oklahoma's defense did the rest with five sacks and two interceptions, spoiling Alabama coach Mike Shula's campus debut.

"They're No. 1 for a reason and we found that out tonight," Shula said. "They're a well-coached, talented team."

After a trying offseason that began with popular coach Dennis Franchione bolting for Texas A&M and ended with the embarrassment surrounding Mike Price's firing for his encounter with strippers, the Tide fans were pumped for their first game of the season at Tuscaloosa.

Alabama beat South Florida 40-17 at its second home in Birmingham last weekend.

But this was Shula's first real test, against the top team in the nation. Even though he lost, Shula is off to a better start to his Alabama career than Bear Bryant, who began 0-1-1, and the fans were supportive until the end.

"We have to grow up in a hurry," Shula said. "Each guy has to have that attitude and they will because they're good football players."

The game turned midway through the third quarter. After Brodie Croyle's 20-yard touchdown pass to Triandos Luke brought Alabama within 13-10 and sent the crowd into a frenzy, the Sooners had fourth-and-11 from their 31 when Stoops called for the trick play.

"I was a little nervous," Ferguson said. "But it ended up being great. I couldn't believe we'd use a fake punt. We just designed that play for this game."

Ferguson threw a short pass in the flat to defensive back Michael Thompson, who had open field in front of him and went 22 yards for a first down.

"It was a big play that kind of broke our back," Alabama linebacker Demeco Ryans said. "We were stopping the run and the pass but it was just the big plays that got to us."

On the next play, White hit Jones on a deep post making it 20-10 and silencing the crowd.

After Alabama drove to Oklahoma's 30, Donte Nicholson intercepted Croyle's pass to Zach Fletcher at the 5.

White then drove the Sooners 61 yards, killing 6:35 off the clock before Oklahoma turned it over on downs.

Alabama got a 36-yard field goal from Brian Bostick with 1:32 left to cut it to 20-13 but Oklahoma recovered an onsides kick and ran out the clock.

Oklahoma's defense tried to quiet the crowd early by getting an interception by Antonio Perkins at the Alabama 33 on the first play from scrimmage, setting up Trey DiCarlo's 34-yard field goal.

Alabama then went three and out, giving the Sooners the ball on their own 47. KeJuan Jones ran three times for 19 yards, setting up DiCarlo's 40-yard field goal that made it 6-0.

Bostick's 44-yard field goal got Alabama on the board with 4:55 left in the half when White stepped up.

Mark Bradley took a screen pass 35 yards to get into Alabama territory. White then connected on his first deep pass, as Clayton ran past Charles Jones and pulled in a 46-yard score to make it 13-3.

White had been 5-for-14 for only 22 yards and the Sooners had only 63 yards before the two long completions.

Croyle went 24-for-42 for 195 yards with two interceptions. Shaud Williams ran 17 times for 91 yards for the Tide.

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