No. 1-ranked Oklahoma's chances for a national championship may have been seriously injured Saturday, along with two invaluable knees -- the left one of quarterback Jamelle Holieway and the right one of fullback Lydell Carr.
Holieway, the elusive conductor of the Sooners' wishbone, underwent extensive surgery for torn ligaments and cartilage yesterday and is out for the season, Coach Barry Switzer said. Carr, the second-leading rusher, was fitted with a cast and will be evaluated for ligament damage today; he could be out for the year, too.
Both were hurt in a 29-10 victory over Oklahoma State in Norman. Oklahoma (9-0) now is without the veteran nucleus of an offense that leads the country with an average of 518 yards per game, incalculable losses for a team that on Nov. 21 must meet No. 2 Nebraska to determine who wins the Big Eight and goes to the Orange Bowl to play for the national title.
"It's quite a loss," Switzer said. "Jamelle never lost to Nebraska. He beat them every time he played them."
It is doubtful the Sooners will have the same flair without Holieway, the easy-going junior who leads the team with 860 yards rushing, 548 passing, and has scored 16 touchdowns. Carr has rushed for 676 yards and eight touchdowns.
Carr was hurt on the first series; Holieway went down in agony during the fourth quarter after running for 123 yards on the day. At first, Holieway did not appear injured as he spun out of a tackle, cut sharply, fell, then hopped up. As he jogged away from the play he dropped to the turf, clutching his knee.
The damage to his knee was far more extensive than originally thought, and for a while was considered a potential career ender, according to assistant coach Merv Johnson. Team surgeon Dave Flesher initially conducted a simple arthroscope, then determined that full-scale repair was needed. He performed the surgery, described as successful, at Oklahoma City's Baptist Hospital.
Holieway's rehabilitation will extend through the spring, trainer Dan Pickett said. But Pickett said that does not necessarily hamper him for next season. He missed this past spring with a broken thumb, with no ill effects.
"We're just happy to hear that he now has a stable knee," Pickett said. " . . . He's the type of person who attacks an adverse situation. We've got something good to work with, and that's great."
It is the first serious injury Holieway has suffered in his career at Oklahoma, which began in 1985 when he started as a freshman and led the Sooners to the Orange Bowl and the national championship. Holieway could not be reached for comment, but Johnson said Holieway was despondent when he left the locker room on crutches Saturday night.
"He's really down," Johnson said. "I don't know that he's ever been seriously hurt. He's in shock."
Carr's injury was somewhat less complicated, but no less significant for the Sooners. The senior fullback is certainly lost for the Nebraska game, but Johnson said there is hope he can be ready for a postseason game. However, it was not yet known how long he will be inactive; estimates are between two and six weeks.
Holieway will be replaced by redshirt freshman Charles Thompson, who has been used extensively as a reserve. Carr's backup is junior Rotnei Anderson, who rushed for 191 yards against Oklahoma State.
Switzer's assistants held a lengthy team meeting yesterday to discuss the situation. "Their initial reaction was kind of shocked and stunned," Johnson said.
Said Switzer of his players: "They believe in the other kids and they believe in themselves."
"We've just got to hope; there's nothing we can do about it," offensive coordinator Jim Donnen said.
The Sooners can take heart in the fact that Thompson appears to be another Holieway in the making. He is a blindingly fast quarterback who has run for 514 yards and nine touchdowns on 62 carries while spelling Holieway in blowout games.
Thompson is in much the same role that Holieway was as a freshman, when he took over for injured Troy Aikman, who later transferred to UCLA. But Holieway had an entire season to prepare for Nebraska; Thompson has two weeks.