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Sooners Catch Their Breaks

Times Staff Writer

Oklahoma ran (and passed) its record to 9-0, won its second straight game on the road against a ranked opponent and cleared the last major obstacle on its way to a probable unbeaten regular season.

So what’s wrong?

No. 2 Oklahoma’s 42-35 victory on Saturday over No. 22 Texas A&M; in front of a crowd of 81,125 at Kyle Field left as many questions as it provided answers.

For starters, Oklahoma narrowly defeated an Aggie team the Sooners beat last year, 77-0. More recently, this was an Aggie team that last week lost to Baylor.

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If you’re keeping score in Norman, Oklahoma has now allowed its last two opponents 70 points, 10 touchdowns and 846 total yards, not quite statement performances for a team trying to retain its No. 2 ranking in the bowl championship series standings.

Or maybe it’s just nitpicking by the national BCS beauty-contest judges who descended upon College Station to witness a possible upset.

“There will be plenty to criticize, which will happen,” Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops said afterward. “And we’re one of those teams that gets it even when we win.”

Stoops and others would point out correctly that Texas A&M;, after last year’s 77-0 debacle, could not have been more fired up had they come out of a kiln.

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To win, Oklahoma needed a few lucky bounces, tough running by freshman sensation Adrian Peterson and every ounce of senior quarterback Jason White’s leadership.

Oh, and one more thing: a busted pass play that led to the game-winning touchdown, a 40-yard pass from White to Mark Bradley with 6:43 left.

Bradley, according to White, was supposed to run a corner route but ran the wrong way. White pulled the ball down, bought some time and then re-directed his pass to Bradley in the middle of the field. Bradley caught the ball, spun to his right and raced in for the score.

“It was kind of a broken play,” White said. “I thought about running, trying to get into field goal range. But Bradley came open right at the last second.”

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Game over? Not this game.

Texas A&M;, which emptied its gadget play book in an effort to pull off the upset, got the ball back at its own 13 with 1:09 left and managed to move the ball far enough downfield to get two deep heaves to the Oklahoma end zone in the last 10 seconds.

The second pass, from walk-on quarterback Ty Branyon, subbing for injured Reggie McNeal, actually deflected off a group of players at the one-yard line and was nearly caught by Aggie receiver Chad Schroeder.

“I didn’t get a hand on it, but I was close,” Schroeder said.

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The play ended a wild game in which the teams combined for 77 points and 922 total yards.

Texas A&M; (6-3) stunned Oklahoma by scoring on its first four possessions, taking a 28-14 lead in the second quarter when the Aggies turned a fake punt attempt into a 71-yard touchdown pass from holder Jacob Young to Earvin Taylor.

Oklahoma cut the lead to 28-21 just before the half on White’s 24-yard scoring pass to Joe John Finley and then took advantage of two huge Aggie mistakes in the third quarter, both leading to touchdowns.

Texas A&M;'s retreat started on the second-half kickoff, after Oklahoma’s Tony Cade recovered Terren Murphy’s fumble at the 10. That led to a scoring pass, White to Bradley, to tie the game at 28. Later in the quarter, Oklahoma recovered another Murphy fumble at the Texas A&M; 11 and that led to another gift touchdown, a two-yard pass from White to James Moses.

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Texas A&M; tied the game at 35 with 10:08 left on another trick play, a pass out of field-goal formation that led to a four-yard touchdown from Schroeder to Joey Thomas.

Afterward, Oklahoma put its best spin on the hard-fought win, and there was a lot of good news to spread.

White, last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, tied a school record with five touchdown passes and Peterson kept this year’s Heisman hopes alive by finishing with 101 yards in 29 carries. Peterson has now rushed for more than 100 yards in all nine Oklahoma wins this year.

The Sooner defense was a darker story, especially those horror-filled first 30 minutes.

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“I don’t think I could walk away and be comfortable with what we did in the first half,” Stoops said.

The Sooner secondary was scorched repeatedly by the A&M; offense and many times appeared confused and out of position.

“I’m not concerned about our defense at all,” defensive end Dan Cody said later. “Not every defense is going to be as good as we were last year. We’re not just going to steam roll everybody, know what I mean?”

If Oklahoma doesn’t shore up loose ends, however, it may start paying a price in the polls.

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One voting coach who vows not to be swayed by the Sooners’ performance is -- what a surprise -- Bob Stoops.

Asked whether he would drop Oklahoma in the polls, Stoops responded: “Heck no. We’re still No. 1 in our eyes. That’s an easy question.”

The questions may get harder.

Oklahoma closes the season with games against Nebraska, Baylor and then whatever mediocre opponent the Big 12 North Division spits out in the Dec. 4 championship game at Kansas City.

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Bradley, the Sooners’ receiver, says the team’s ability to come from behind is not a negative.

“It shows we have a little fight in us.... It’s a good thing,” Bradley said. “Later on down the line, we might need this.”

Does Oklahoma have enough fight to hold onto its No. 2 spot in the Jan. 4 Orange Bowl, site of this year’s BCS national title game?

“If you win games you’re going to get what you want,” White said.

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Saturday, Oklahoma had to settle for getting what it needed.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Heisman Watch

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Oklahoma freshman tailback Adrian Peterson is averaging 5.7 yards per carry and has 1,373 yards this season.

*--* Opponent ATT YDS AVG TD Bowling Green 16 100 6.3 1 Houston 25 117 4.7 2 Oregon 24 183 7.6 2 Texas Tech 22 146 6.6 1 Texas 32 225 7.0 0 Kansas State 36 130 3.6 0 Kansas 22 122 5.5 1 Oklahoma State 33 249 7.5 1 Texas A&M; 29 101 3.5 1 Total 239 1,373 5.7 9

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