When Dusty Dvoracek thinks of last year’s Missouri-Oklahoma football game, two words come to mind: Brad Smith.
By the time the Sooners visited MU in 2002, Smith had played four games, including a brilliant debut against Illinois. Dvoracek, a junior defensive tackle, said game tape was not enough to prepare Oklahoma for the barrage that was about to hit it.
“The first thing I think of when I think of last year is Brad Smith,” Dvoracek said. “He made us look foolish and he left us guessing. We saw him on film, but we didn’t know he’d be that good. He was unbelievable.”
The No. 1 Sooners expect to be better prepared Saturday when Smith and the No. 24 Tigers roll into Norman on the heels of their biggest win in years against Nebraska. The game will be televised on Fox Sports Net at 6 p.m.
Many fans took notice after Smith’s performance against the Illini last season, but it was his scintillating showing against Oklahoma that earned him a national reputation as one of the country’s best dual-threat quarterbacks.
Smith, who Sports Illustrated featured this week in a short article, torched the Sooners for 391 of Missouri’s 449 yards and three touchdowns. His dominance was not enough, though. The Tigers lost to the Sooners 31-24 after a fake field goal pass from holder Matt McCoy to tight end Chris Chester for a touchdown with 6:33 left.
Smith might need to match or even better that effort for the Tigers to have a chance against Oklahoma and its No. 3 defense. The Sooners return nine starters and are loaded with All-American candidates at almost every defensive position.
Linebacker Teddy Lehman is the heart and soul of the unit, leading Oklahoma with 47 tackles. Up front, the Sooners boast Outland Trophy candidate Tommie Harris, a massive run-stopper at defensive tackle, who has four sacks.
If MU looks to go to the passing game, it must deal with two of the best playmaking defensive backs in the country, cornerback Derrick Strait and free safety Brandon Everage. Strait has an interception and three fumble recoveries. Everage is third on the team with 31 tackles.
Smith said Oklahoma might be improved this season.
“They are very fast and very talented,” Smith said. “They’ve got guys all over the field that can play in the NFL.”
The Sooners might not have been ready for Smith and the Missouri offense last season, but they almost certainly will be more prepared for Saturday. Oklahoma has had plenty of time to analyze why Smith had such success.
The Sooners have also faced athletic quarterbacks such as Texas’ Vincent Young and Iowa State’s Seneca Wallace, who has since graduated.
Coach Bob Stoops said his team won’t change much in preparation, but needs to do the fundamental things to slow a player of Smith’s caliber.
“He does a great job of running with the football and throws it well, also,” Stoops said. “Overall, you don’t have to invent a new defense, but, as much as anything, you have to tackle better and support the quarterback run game better.”
Oklahoma’s defense overshadowed the offense in years past, but the offense is quickly changing that perception. The Sooners posted 65 points against Texas and are No. 1 in scoring offense, averaging 47.67 points.
Quarterback Jason White has emerged as a Heisman Trophy candidate, passing for 1,762 yards and 20 touchdowns.
In each of the past two seasons, White tore the anterior cruciate ligament in a knee. He tore the right ACL against Alabama in 2002 and the left ACL against Nebraska in 2001.
His return has sparked a stagnant offense that relied too much on former tailback Quentin Griffin. White’s ability to throw the ball deep has helped Mark Clayton emerge as one of the nation’s top receivers. Clayton has 30 catches for 579 yards and five touchdowns.
The Oklahoma running game is balanced. Renaldo Works (378 yards) and Kejuan Jones (376) lead the attack.
If that isn’t enough, Oklahoma also has one of the Big 12 Conference’s biggest special teams threats. Punt returner Antonio Perkins returned three punts for touchdowns in the Sooners’ 59-24 win against UCLA on Sept. 20.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said the Sooners are the No. 1 team in the nation for a reason.
“Oklahoma is a great football team,” Pinkel said. “One of the first things we always do is look at personnel to find out any weaknesses.
“There is always one or two or three players that might be vulnerable, but they have players playing at a high level at absolutely every position offensively and defensively.”