Oklahoma 10, Arkansas 3

January 1, 2002 | at Dallas | Attendance 72,955

Oklahoma had visions of playing for a second straight national championship well within their grasp, thanks to Nebraska's shocking 62-36 loss at Colorado the day after Thanksgiving, leaving the door open for the Sooners to play Miami for the title in the Rose Bowl. But they could not take advantage of the opportunity, suffering a 16-13 loss to Oklahoma State the following day that snapped their 19-game home winning streak, knocking them not only out of the Big 12 championship game, but with a strong conference, also out of a Bowl Championship Series game.

Limited contractually by the BCS agreement of permitting a maximum of two teams from a conference to be among the eight chosen to participate in the four bowl games, one of the invitations automatically went to the Big 12 champ and Associated Press' #3 team, Colorado (10-2), who was matched against Pac-10 champ and #2 Oregon (10-1) in the Fiesta Bowl. As expected, a BCS at-large bid was extended to #4 Nebraska (11-1), but what was unexpected was they controversially finished second in the final regular season BCS standings, and therefore were playing in the sponsored title game opposite top-ranked Miami (11-0). Folks around Boulder, and around the country, had been outraged when they learned that the Huskers got the nod instead of the Buffaloes, who had soundly crushed Nebraska to close the regular season, won their conference championship, and were ranked higher in the human polls, but inexplicably finished third in the BCS standings, barely trailing the Huskers by .05 points, 7.23-7.28, which was a negligible difference.

The commotion also meant that the tenth-ranked Sooners (10-2) had to settle for a consolation prize, a trip to the non-BCS affiliated Cotton Bowl to face unranked Arkansas (7-4). It was the first-ever trip to the New Years Day Cotton game for Oklahoma, which plays Texas in the facility on an annual basis. Coincidentally, the #9 Longhorns were another team that was left out of the BCS equation, as they had already finished their season 11-2, losing 39-37 to Colorado in the Big 12 title game, but then rebounding with a 47-43 win over #21 Washington in the Holiday Bowl on December 28th.

Louisiana State's 31-20 win over Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference championship game had also contributed to the BCS chaos. Had the Volunteers won, at the time ranked #2 in the polls and BCS, they would have earned the Rose Bowl berth against Miami, LSU would have likely been the Cotton's selection, and the Razorbacks would have been headed for the Independence Bowl. But the Tigers' upset shuffled the sequence and opened up the Cotton slot for Arkansas.

The Sooners were making their 35th bowl trip, and third straight under coach Bob Stoops, and owned an all-time bowl mark of 21-12-1. Arkansas had dropped eight of its last nine bowl games to fall to 10-17-1 all-time in postseason play. The Razorbacks' only bowl victory since '85 was a 27-6 win over Texas in the '00 Cotton Bowl. In head-to-head competition, Oklahoma and Arkansas had played 14 times previously, and the Sooners held the upper hand with a 9-4-1 record, but in the two previous bowl meetings, the Razorbacks had shocked Oklahoma 31-6 in the '78 Orange Bowl, and Barry Switzer gained revenge with a 42-8 pasting in the '87 Orange Bowl, the teams' most recent meeting. The '02 Cotton Bowl would be the rubber match.

Oklahoma was roughly two plays away from being undefeated, and playing for the Big XII and then possibly the national title, but they were last seen losing the shocker to Oklahoma State. For most of the season, the Sooners were unimaginative and stagnant on offense, instead relying on its unbelievable defense to win games. Set up by great field position from its defense and the great punting of Jeff Ferguson, the Oklahoma offense rarely had to win games, they just had to not lose them.

The Sooners' defense was one of the nation's best, and only twice had they allowed more than 20 points in a game, Kansas State came back in garbage time and North Carolina scored three late meaningless scores. Everyone already knew about junior safety Roy Williams and senior linebacker Rocky Calmus, who won the Butkus and Nagurski Awards, respectively, but there was more to the defense, such as freshman tackle Tommie Harris, already one of the nation's top defensive linemen and practically a lock for all-America honors over the next few years, and sophomore linebackers Teddy Lehman and Jimmy Wilkerson, who combined for 151 stops and 28 tackles for loss.

Oklahoma was not in the Rose Bowl due in large part to an inconsistent running game that continued to struggle against Oklahoma State. The Sooners rank 89th in Division 1-A in rushing, averaging just 119.4 yards per game, but they had zero net yards on 27 carries against the Cowboys. Quarterback Nate Hybl lost his starting job to Jason White during the season, but regained it when White suffered a season-ending injury. Hybl finished third in the Big 12 in passing yards with 2,216 but threw 13 interceptions, including three against the Cowboys.

Arkansas rated as one of the most improved teams in the country, rebounding from a 1-3 start to win six of its last seven games. The Razorbacks could have won the SEC West, but suffered a 41-38 loss to eventual SEC champion Louisiana State that snapped a six-game winning streak. Coach Houston Nutt's team might look like big-time underdogs to the mighty Sooners, but this team never got the credit it deserved. With little offense and the terrible start, the Hogs were dismissed as being an also-ran SEC team that would have to fight to get out of the bottom of the conference. Then they discovered a 6-5 freshman named Matt Jones who doesn't look like much of a scrambler, but the young quarterback became their best runner and injected life into the offense, combining with sophomore Zak Clark's passing. Jones rushed for 592 yards during the season, second on the team behind Fred Talley's 774, suspended by Nutt for disciplinary reasons.

On defense, Arkansas had a few unsung superstars also. Senior linebacker Jermaine Petty paced the SEC in tackles with 140, and sophomore free safety Ken Hamlin was one of the few defensive backs in the country who rival Williams' hitting ability.

Oklahoma chose to start out on defense and at kickoff at 10 AM, the temperature was 36-degrees before an overflow crowd of 72,955. Starting from its own 20, the Razorbacks got a taste of things to come on the game's opening drive, managing just four yards on three plays, and Richie Butler punted the ball away. Conversely, the Sooners also found out that the Arkansas defense was tough, gaining just two yards on their three plays, and Jeff Ferguson punted the ball right back, and it looked like a defensive struggle. The Razorbacks' next possession was even less fruitful, and ended when Clark forced a long pass, and cornerback Matt McCoy intercepted it at the Sooner 37 with 9:28 left in the opening period.

Hybl and the Oklahoma offense, using new coordinator Chuck Long's conservative game plan, capitalized on the turnover. On two different third down occasions, he found running back Quentin Griffin for 10 yards and tight end Trent Smith for 18 yards during the possession. Faced with a fourth down-and-one at the 16, Hybl and Smith hooked up for four yards. Two runs later, Hybl capped the 13-play, 63-yard drive by plunging over from a yard out for the game's first score. Tim Duncan's extra point made it 7-0 at the 2:54 mark.

After the ensuing kickoff gave the Razorbacks the ball at its 20, Jones was in the game at quarterback. He immediately made an impact on his first play with a 20-yard scamper for a first down. But the Sooner defense stuffed the Arkansas offense on the next three plays, allowing only three yards, another punt gave the Sooners the ball at their 26, with only 17 seconds left in the first quarter.

The second period opened with the Sooners finishing three plays and out, and Ferguson's short punt gave Arkansas great field position with the ball at its 44-yard line. But the Oklahoma defense was up to the challenge, and despite a roughing the punter penalty, seven plays netted a loss of 14 yards, forcing another punt. However, the Sooners went three and out, and punted the ball right back.

With the defense Oklahoma was showing, the Hogs were forced to prove that they could complete some mid-range passes. Williams completely destroyed sophomore tailback Cedric Cobbs to get his second sack, and it was another three and out for Arkansas, and it was apparent that they would need a couple of huge breaks to score. Other than the one long Oklahoma drive, the Hogs' defense has been more than up to the task, and a hit on Hybl during their possession knocked his helmet off, an example of how hard hitting the game was, and Ferguson punted the ball away.

The teams again alternated punts, and the half ended with Arkansas running just two plays. Oklahoma was only up 7-0 at the half, but their defense was dominating the Razorbacks, holding them to only 19 yards in total offense.

Oklahoma got the ball to start the second half, and the Hog defense was extremely fired up. Regardless, Hybl, with a ton of time to throw the ball, marched the offense down the field. He completed a 36-yard strike to Josh Norman that set them close, but on third down, Hybl overthrew a wide-open Smith in the end zone, missing a golden opportunity. They had to settle for Duncan's 32-yard field goal 6:15 into the quarter, their second long scoring drive, and, considering how the Sooners' defense was playing, they had a seemingly insurmountable 10-0 lead.

After the ensuing kickoff, Arkansas went to work for their initial possession of the second half. However, the Oklahoma defense was again a rock, and three plays netted a loss of 16 yards, forcing another Butler punt, his sixth of the game. It was starting to look like the Razorbacks might not gain even 50 yards total during the game.

Meanwhile, their defense looked like the emotion has been drained out of them. Midway through the period, Griffin tore through several tacklers on a shovel pass for big yards, and then he fumbled. Hogs' defensive lineman Carlos Hall recovered at the Razorbacks 45 and had open field ahead of him, but he stumbled while picking up the ball and was ruled down. Finally, Arkansas had a break. Once again, the offense was stymied, dropping to zero for nine on third down conversions, and another three plays and out brought Butler in again.

Oklahoma's offense was also having their own problems. After picking up only eight yards, Ferguson's short punt gave the Razorbacks great field position, first of the day inside Sooners territory, taking over at the 43. Two plays later, Clark threw a beautiful pass towards George Wilson, who caught the ball after running a beautiful corner pattern against cornerback Derrick Strait over his shoulder, but the receiver's toe was just on the line on the five, and then they were faced with a fourth down. Arkansas went for it, and didn't even come close. Oklahoma took over, and the period came to a close with the Sooners holding a ten-point lead. With just 15 minutes left, and facing a tough Oklahoma defense and unable to generate any offense, Nutt and his staff at some point had to admit that the offense was not working an make some adjustments.

After another Ferguson punt, Arkansas started at its own 32. On their first drive of the fourth quarter, Jones had a series of carries that allowed the Hogs' offense to finally get their initial first down of the game, and then they got another, which was followed by an Oklahoma personal foul penalty. Faced with a third-and-four from the Sooners' 17, Calmus tackled Jones short of the marker, and the 52-yard drive stalled. On the 12th play, they had to settle for a 33-yard field goal by Brendan O'Donohoe. It cut the lead to seven points, and amazingly, Arkansas was still in the game with 9:46 remaining. It would be interesting to see how Oklahoma would respond.

The Hog defense came through and did what it needed to do, holding serve and forcing a three and out series that gained nine yards. On Ferguson's punt, Williams forced a fumble and his teammates recovered, but it was ruled it wasn't a fumble, and Arkansas had possession at its 29.

With a lot of the momentum turning Arkansas' way, from there, Williams took over. He forced a nine-yard loss, and the Sooner' defense took it all back, forcing a three and out. Oklahoma took over at its 42, and Hybl directed the offense 26 yards into Razorback territory on seven plays before they stalled. Faced with a fourth down-and-one with 2:50 left, Duncan slipped and his 49-yard field goal attempt never got off the ground.

Arkansas took over at its 33 with one final chance at a potential game-tying touchdown. After a run by Jones left the Razorbacks with a second-and-seven at their own 46, he rolled to his left for an option pass. He looked toward DeCori Birmingham and gave a little pump fake, and Oklahoma's Lehman jumped with his arms up and stripped the ball, sacking Jones. The pigskin bounced five yards backwards, and Calmus wrestled the loose ball away from Arkansas lineman Shannon Money at the Hogs' 35 with 1:42 to play, apparently dashing the Hogs' final comeback hopes.

However, the Arkansas defense stiffened and Oklahoma could not run out the clock, with their three plays gaining zero yards. Forced to punt, Ferguson's perfectly placed ball was downed at the one-yard line by Calmus with just nine seconds remaining. Two incompletions later, and the Sooner Schooner rode onto the field to start celebrating the 10-3 win.

The Sooners' defense was the big story. With major award winners Williams and Calmus leading the way, they tied a Cotton Bowl and team record with nine sacks that cost Arkansas 55 yards, as Wilkerson, Dusty Dvoracek and Brandon Moore joined Williams with two. The 50 yards allowed were the third fewest in the history of the bowl game, and they also allowed only two Razorback completions for 13 yards, allowed Arkansas to cross midfield just three times, and make six first downs all game, two by penalty. Combined with last year's 13-2 national championship win over Florida State, Oklahoma had allowed just five points in the two bowl games.

"It's just amazing to keep someone to 13 yards passing and only two completions in a college football game today," Stoops added, now 2-1 in bowl games in Norman. "I don't care who you're playing…Defensively, we may have outperformed what we did a year ago. To play two bowl games the last two years against two very good football teams and keep them out of the end zone is hard to do."

Closing out a brilliant career, Calmus made nine solo tackles, two for loss, two assists, and recovered Jones' late fumble. "I saw the ball pop out and the center was right next to it and I knew it was going to be a scramble," he said. "I was trying to set myself up where it wouldn't squirt away. Fortunately, it bounced right into my hands and I kept it."

"First of all, our defense was absolutely dominating today," Dvoracek said. "And just like all season, Rocky was all over the place. He always seems to be around the ball, it's amazing."

"This was the best defense we've seen in the 15 to 20 years we've been coaching," Nutt said. "They really got to us out on the edges. We had hoped to avoid those third and long situations that let them pin their ears back and come after us." He continued, "Obviously, they're very, very talented, very fast. They gave us a lot of problems today. They're so fast that they would get us behind the count. It's really hard to call a good game when you're behind in the count like that. You've got to give them a lot of credit. There were just no weaknesses."

Arkansas was content to go with its regular offense and try to run the ball hoping its defense would come up with the big play, but the Hogs desperately needed to do something to get creative and mix it up. The Oklahoma defense zoomed into the backfield so fast that Clark and Jones seldom had time to find receivers. Clark was two for 12 passing with an interception, and Jones was zero for one and fumbled to end the second-to-last drive. The running game didn't work either, as Brandon Holmes led the Razorbacks with 27 yards while Jones and Talley each gained 23.

Offense was the main reason the Sooners weren't able to defend their national title, and it left a lot to be desired against Arkansas, as the Hogs' defense was also up to the task holding Oklahoma to 240 yards of offense. Hybl went 24 of 32 in the passing department, setting a Cotton Bowl record for completions, but with mostly short passes, they went for only 175 yards. Most importantly, he didn't turn the ball over and played as well as the Sooner coach's could've hoped for. Meanwhile, Griffin ran 19 times for 58 yards.

Williams was voted the Outstanding Defensive Player, finishing just ahead of Calmus, while Griffin garnered offensive honors.

Source: Jeff Linkowski

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