MIAMI -- Somebody's got to convince the Oklahoma football team to step into the 20th century while there's still time. We've all heard the gospel according to the mastodons: There are only three things that can happen when you pass, and two of them are bad. But there's only one thing that happens when you can't pass -- and it's terrible. New Year's night it cost Oklahoma the national championship.
The wishbone is a relentless, contemptuous, pounding offense; it's money in the bank when you're dealing from a position of strength in terms of speed and talent. Year after year Oklahoma uses it to beat 90 percent of its opponents 100 percent of the time. But every year there are one or two teams in the country that have the speed and talent to countervail the wishbone. This year that team was Miami. Should they get a lead and force the wishbone team into a catch-up posture, the lack of a passing dimension invariably dooms the wishbone team. "What did I think of Oklahoma's passing attack?" laughed Miami's audacious wide receiver, Michael Irvin. "What passing attack?"
The pass is Oklahoma's Waterloo. The Sooners can't throw it. They can't catch it. And they can't stop it. They may have led the country in pass defense, but that's mainly against the Tulsas, Kansases and Iowa States of the world. Vinny Testaverde and Steve Walsh incinerated them.
Oklahoma is 33-3 over the last three seasons. All three defeats are by Miami, all three soundly administered. You talk about having someone's number, Miami has Oklahoma's entire ZIP code. Every year the Sooners come into the game averaging 40-plus points and leave with their ears in a bag. Miami stops them colder than the underside of a stone. Oklahoma, which goes all season never being behind against anyone, is always behind against Miami. And once the wishbone is corralled, what is Oklahoma supposed to do? "Our quarterback throws like Woody Allen," Barry Switzer shrugged. Well, la-dee-dah.
"We spend three-quarters of our practice time on pass protection, and throwing and catching the football," said Coach Jimmy Johnson. "We're good at it because we work on it." Oklahoma disdains the pass. (One of the reasons the Sooners can't stop it is because they rarely see any sophisticated passing in the Big Eight. But I suspect another reason they can't stop the pass is because they have so little respect for it to begin with.) Here's the downside of a one-dimensional offense: Oklahoma ball carriers were regularly being hogtied along the line of scrimmage, yet the Sooners remained rooted in the ground. They didn't pass at all in the first or third quarters. They completed only one pass in the first half. When they absolutely, positively had to throw late in the game, not only weren't all the Sooners on the same page, but the pages they were on weren't written in English.
At the coaches' news conference the other day, while critiquing Oklahoma's offense, Johnson couldn't come up with the name of the Sooners' split end, and blushed when Switzer interjected, "Carl Cabbiness." But why should Johnson know the name? Of what use is a split end to Oklahoma? The guy caught 10 passes all season. Oklahoma quarterbacks probably don't know his name either.
"It's matchups that win ball games. We do things Oklahoma can't stop," said Irvin. "Once we get them down, it's over. They can't play come-from-behind football. We knew it last year and the year before that, too."
Desperate, Oklahoma resorted to that same smarty-pants, grade-school play Nebraska pulled on another Miami team five years ago in another sinking of an invincible Big Two team in the Orange Bowl -- The Old Fumblerooski, in which they lay the ball down for an offensive behemoth to pick up and tote into the end zone. All hail mighty Oklahoma. NBC spent a lot of time rhapsodizing about how many pro prospects Miami and Oklahoma had stockpiled. Apparently everyone on the Oklahoma offensive line, including the subs, will be a first-round draft choice. As what, running backs?
Puffed up on a batch of Lesser Sixes, Oklahoma is always trumpeted as a colossus. Its tight end, Keith Jackson, is named all-America even though he caught only 13 passes. (I'm sure he's a sensational blocker, but should Don Warren be all-pro?) Jackson caught a pass in the third quarter and promptly fumbled, probably because he was so shocked Oklahoma actually threw to him.
Rickey Dixon is all-America at safety. He had eight interceptions, but how many prayerful passes floated his way from quarterbacks already down by 35 points in the second quarter? Irvin ran right by to catch a touchdown pass in the third quarter. Dixon couldn't stop him. "Can anybody stop me? Can anybody stop Michael Irvin?" Irvin crowed. "I was open all day. All Dixon did was holler, 'You pushed off! You pushed off!' Dixon comes in here with all the pub, and I make him look bad. I'll take that. I told him, 'Dixon, if you're smart enough not to try to cover me one-on-one, I'll see you in the NFL. But if you play me one-on-one, you're going to Arena Football, baby, because I'll kill you.' "
So as we bid adieu to college football for another season and await the dawning of the Age of Reason for Oklahoma, we'll leave you with the essence of the outrageous confidence that is Miami Hurricanes football, these words by Michael Irvin on Michael Irvin's favorite subject, Michael Irvin: "You know who can cover me? I'll tell you the only thing in the world that can cover me. My jersey."