Oklahoma cruises, makes case for No. 1

NORMAN, Okla. —Ask Sam Bradford about his big numbers or Oklahoma’s potential to sit atop the college football rankings, and he’ll tell you exactly what all that means to him.

“Absolutely nothing,” Bradford said. “We’ve still got a long way to go before we even think about where we’re ranked in the polls. Right now, they pretty much don’t mean anything.”

If this week proved anything, it certainly showed that Bradford’s opinion is spot on. The second-ranked Sooners (4-0) were the only team in the top four that emerged unblemished, beating No. 24 TCU 35-10 Saturday night behind his career-best 411 yards passing and three long touchdown catches by Manuel Johnson.

With top-ranked Southern California, No. 3 Georgia and No. 4 Florida all losing, Oklahoma (4-0) made as strong a case as anyone to get back to No. 1 for the first time since it lost to Kansas State in the 2003 Big 12 championship game.

“It’s a good thing, definitely a good thing, but we won’t look at it,” said cornerback Brian Jackson, who had his first interception of the season among the Sooners’ four takeaways. “The rankings don’t mean anything until the end of the season.”

It didn’t matter the Horned Frogs (4-1) felt they’d been called cheaters following their 2005 upset in Norman, or that they brought in the nation’s top-ranked defense. Oklahoma aired it out behind Bradford and found the same success it had in winning its first three games by a 164-42 margin.

Bradford found Johnson for first-half scores of 76 and 55 yards on plays when his defender stumbled, and Johnson added another 63-yard TD in the third quarter on a screen pass to push the lead to 35-3.

By then, the Sooners’ 21st straight home victory was as good as locked up. The streak, which started after TCU’s upset, ties the second-longest in school history. Only a 25-game streak that ended in 1957 was longer.

“It’s always a good thing to win,” Sooners coach Bob Stoops said. “Believe me, it’s not easy to do.”

Bradford’s passing total was a career best and the third-highest in school history, behind only a pair of performances by Josh Heupel the year before he was the 2000 Heisman Trophy runner-up. Johnson broke Mark Clayton’s record with 206 receiving yards.

“When they bring receivers in here, they always want to label them the next Mark Clayton,” Johnson said of the former Baltimore Ravens first-round draft pick. “I don’t think there’s anybody that’s going to be the next Mark Clayton.”

Oklahoma struggled to get a running game going, picking up only 25 yards on 36 carries against a TCU defense that was giving up only 30.5 yards rushing per game, the least in the nation.

Bradford made up for that by going 19-for-34 and throwing four touchdown passes to push his total for the season to 16, against only two interceptions.

His numbers have been even more impressive than last year, when he led the nation in passing efficiency, in Oklahoma’s new no-huddle offense. Stoops called that scheme the reason the Sooners closed scrimmages this year, but TCU was left with the impression that Oklahoma thought they’d cheated by spying on practice prior to their 17-10 upset in the 2005 season opener.

The Frogs were never close to pulling off a repeat.

TCU, which had controlled the ball for an NCAA-best 37 minutes per game, got only one first down on its first four drives and fell behind 21-3. The only score came on Ross Evans’ 32-yard field goal that followed Aaron Brown’s 75-yard kickoff return.

By the end of the first quarter, Bradford had 202 yards passing—the most by an Oklahoma quarterback in a first period. Johnson passed Clayton’s record of 190 yards, set in 2003 against Texas, as he zipped downfield after catching the screen pass—a perfect play-call against TCU’s aggressive defense.

“You can’t give up big plays and win ball games,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “A lot of that was my fault. I tried to blitz it … I was trying to get them into downs where we could make them punt, and they made big plays.

“The bottom line to it is when we quit doing it as much, we played better defense.”

After that, the Sooners spent most of the time pounding the ball up the middle and trying to run out the clock.

It was a luxury USC, Florida and No. 9 Wisconsin didn’t have. All three had been upset by the time the Sooners took the opening kickoff, and Georgia joined them with a loss to No. 8 Alabama.

That left a scramble for the top spot, and the Sooners capitalized.

They didn’t seem to miss injured defensive tackle Demarcus Granger (left foot) and created three first-half takeaways—including two fumbles recovered by Lendy Holmes—against a TCU offense that had only one turnover through its first four games.

The Frogs also hurt themselves with 12 penalties, and backup quarterback Marcus Jackson threw another interception in the final minute after Andy Dalton had been taken off with an injury.

Dalton ended up with 212 yards on 16-for-39 passing. TCU was held to 102 yards rushing, less than half its 249-yard average, on 35 carries.