Under legendary coaches Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer, a forward pass was about as common a sight at Oklahoma as a palm tree. But with a new coaching staff and a left-handed quarterback from South Dakota who is quickly rewriting the school record book, the Sooners have passed their way to a 3-0 record and their first national ranking in nearly four years going into Saturday's game at Notre Dame.
It all started last December when Oklahoma hired then-Florida defensive coordinator Bob Stoops to replace John Blake. Stoops hired Mike Leach, the mastermind behind Kentucky's pass-oriented offense for the past two years, as his offensive coordinator. In turn, Leach convinced Aberdeen, S.D., native Josh Heupel to come to Oklahoma from Snow Junior College in Utah, where he had passed for 2,100 yards his sophomore season despite playing in only the first half of each game.
The Sooners lead the nation in total offense (536 yards per game), passing offense (399.7 yards per game) and scoring offense (44 points per game). They also have gone from receiving no votes in the Associated Press preseason top 25 poll to moving into the rankings this week at No. 23.
Heupel (pronounced HYPE-pull) already is within one touchdown pass of the Oklahoma season record of 14 and with 97 completions, is well on his way to shattering the team season mark of 149 completions. He has set school single-game records for touchdown passes (five), attempts (54), completions (37) and yards (429). (Actually, he has set the completion and yardage marks twice.) He has completed passes to 16 players.
"Records are something I wasn't concerned with," said Heupel, who is 6 feet 2 and 195 pounds. "I'm concerned with making sure that this offense is explosive and putting up points, whether it is through the run or through the pass."
Stoops said the Sooners' success has resulted from a combination of Heupel's talent and experience and Leach's system.
Heupel "had run a similar offense at junior college so he picked [Oklahoma's offense] up right away," Stoops said. "From competing against this offense [when Stoops was at Florida] . . . I knew that a quarterback with Josh's abilities got an opportunity to be very successful, so I can't say that I am [surprised]."
As for Oklahoma's fans, Heupel said: "It's something they've never seen or have been accustomed to . . . but they are enjoying it now."
Kick 'Em When They're Down
With just one team in this week's top 25 (No. 25 Oregon), the Pacific-10 Conference is having its share of problems. After last week's games, place kicking can be added to the ever-growing list.
Arizona's Mark McDonald missed all four of his field goal attempts in the Wildcats' 30-24 win over Washington State last Saturday, and is 0 for 6 this season. But even that pales in comparison to what happened late in Oregon's 33-30, triple-overtime win over Southern California.
USC could have taken a four-point lead after scoring a touchdown with just over three minutes left in regulation, but the ball was snapped over the holder's head on the extra-point try. The Trojans' David Newbury then missed a 30-yard field goal attempt with 2 minutes 20 seconds left in regulation, a 51-yarder in the first overtime and a 37-yarder in the third overtime.
Oregon's Nathan Villegas forced overtime with a 26-yard field goal with 33 seconds left in regulation. However, the right-footer, who had made 7 of 9 field goal attempts this season, tore his right ACL while celebrating with holder Joey Harrington--an injury so bizarre that Coach Mike Bellotti reportedly stayed up until 3:30 Sunday morning, watching tape of the sequence in an attempt to figure out exactly how Villegas got hurt. Second-stringer Dan Katz missed badly from 33 yards in the first overtime. Josh Frankel, Oregon's number three kicker, finally won the game with a 27-yarder.
Not to kick a dead horse, but the Pac-10 is close to having no teams in the AP top 25 for the first time since 1985.
Big MAC Showdown
Although the season is young, a spot in the Mid-American Conference championship game likely is on the line Saturday when No. 17 Marshall travels to Miami of Ohio. The winner will have a clear path to the Eastern Division title.
Led by long-shot Heisman Trophy hopeful Chad Pennington at quarterback, the Thundering Herd has been strong, as expected, on offense, averaging 494 yards per game. What is surprising is that Marshall's defense is ranked eighth in the country at 235.8 yards per game.
Miami has star running back Travis Prentice (508 rushing yards), but the Thundering Herd held Prentice to 84 yards last season while handing Miami its only loss of the season. The RedHawks, who have been trying to institute a more balanced offense under first-year coach Terry Hoeppner, were hurt badly when wide receiver Sly Johnson suffered a season-ending knee injury last weekend. Johnson was seventh in the nation at 119 receiving yards per game.
Eastern Washington set a school record with 456 yards rushing last Saturday; two running backs topped the 200-yard mark in a 48-41 win over Cal State Northridge. Jovan Griffith rushed for 262 yards and six touchdowns, five in the first half, while Jesse Chatman had 211 yards on 16 carries.
The game was not decided until Eastern Washington foiled Northridge's onside kick attempt with 23 seconds remaining. The Matadors stayed close behind quarterback Marcus Brady, who threw for 484 yards and five touchdowns. They have allowed an average of 308 yards rushing in three games this season to rank 121st in Division I-AA.
In on Insley, Handle on Randle El
Nevada senior wide receiver Trevor Insley leads the nation with 14 catches and 201.3 receiving yards per game. That's almost 50 yards per game more than second-place Troy Walters of Stanford. Insley is on pace to break Howard Twilley's NCAA season records for receptions (13.4) and yards (177.9) per game, set in 1965 at Tulsa. However, Insley has just one touchdown catch. . . .
Indiana quarterback Antwaan Randle El is almost on pace to become the first player in NCAA history to rush for 1,000 yards and pass for 2,000 in the same season. Through four games, he has 362 yards rushing and 718 passing. If he maintains that pace, he will end with 996 yards rushing and 1,975 passing.
Randle El has a better chance of becoming the second Division I-A quarterback to have 1,000 yards rushing and 1,500 passing in the same season. The other is Washington Redskins running back Brian Mitchell, who accomplished the feat in 1989 at Southwestern Louisiana.