washingtonpost.com  > Sports > Leagues and Sports > College Football

Poor Decision Sets Off Series of Miscues for OU

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 5, 2005; Page D09

MIAMI, Jan. 4 -- Oklahoma's jack-of-all trades, Mark Bradley, is accustomed to being involved on nearly every snap. He starts at receiver, holds on field goals and extra points, takes the field with every special teams unit. But if there was one play this season that did not benefit from Bradley's participation, it was a certain bouncing punt early in Tuesday night's Orange Bowl.

Bradley's unfathomable decision to pick up the stray football inside the Oklahoma 5-yard line and attempt a return, despite being surrounded by charging Southern Cal players, resulted in the first of four critical turnovers that doomed the No. 2 Sooners in their 55-19 loss to the No. 1 Trojans, who claimed their second straight national title with stunning ease.

Defensive back Jason Leach (27) comes down with the first interception of the night thrown by Jason White as Eric Wright (25) and Justin Wyatt (24) lend their support. (Wilfredo Lee -- AP)

_____College Football Basics_____
Area Colleges Section
College Football Section

The score was tied at 7 when Bradley pushed a Southern Cal player out of the way to seize a ball he had no business even being near. He had just turned upfield when a hit by Collin Ashton lashed the ball loose. Josh Pinkard recovered the fumble, giving USC possession at the Oklahoma 6 and sending the Trojans fans at Pro Player Stadium into delirium.

Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops, generally generous to his players after the game, let Bradley have it for the mistake.

"I have no idea why Mark would have done that," he said. "Of course, I was shocked like everybody in the stadium. How do you explain that? I don't know. That goes back to Pop Warner football. . . . That's as bad as any play there is."

Said Bradley, "It doesn't matter what I was thinking, it was just a boneheaded play."

Six seconds after the fumble, Oklahoma -- which had gone 92 yards on its opening drive -- trailed by seven, never to arise.

Sooners quarterback Jason White, who might now be the least-revered Heisman Trophy winner in history, made certain of the unexpected collapse by throwing interceptions on the Sooners' next two possessions, which brought back haunting memories of the team's crushing loss in last year's Sugar Bowl.

His first miscue -- unloading wildly into triple coverage under heavy pressure -- rivaled Bradley's mistake for the sheer inexplicability of it. His second interception on the succeeding drive was more forgivable as his intended receiver -- Bradley, naturally -- slipped. A third interception came early in the fourth quarter, with the stadium nearly emptied of Sooners supporters. All three led to touchdowns by Southern Cal.

"We turned the ball over and that killed us in the first half," White said. "We were just playing catch-up the rest of the time. . . . They came out to play and we didn't."

A fumble by Kejuan Jones at the Oklahoma 35 with less than a minute remaining in the half completed the blizzard of miscues, leading to a USC field goal that made the score 38-10 at halftime. The Sooners, who had turned over the ball 13 times in 12 games this season, had committed four in less than one half, leading to 24 numbing points.

If Bradley's mistake started Oklahoma's troubles, White's poor decisions seemed to seal his team's fate and, perhaps, his legacy. White's performance eerily resembled his play in last year's Bowl Championship Series title game soon after he was awarded the Heisman. In the 21-14 upset loss to LSU, he completed 13 of 37 passes for 102 yards with two interceptions. He also threw four straight incompletions with a chance to tie the game at the end, the last coming on the LSU 12 with 2:46 left.

Tonight, he completed 24 of 36 passes for 244 yards with two touchdowns.

White said he was "disappointed, embarrassed, you name it. You go through both seasons so well and make it all the way to the end to what you really want and you don't get it."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company