Sooners face first true road test at MU

Saturday, October 5, 2002

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Missouri Tigers are off to a good start, led by a talented young quarterback and a defense that leads the Big 12 in turnover margin.

Now comes a real test -- a visit tonight by No. 3 Oklahoma in the Big 12 opener for both teams.

"Offense or defense, you play a team of this caliber, perhaps the best team in the league, you're going to find out a lot about your football team," coach Gary Pinkel said.

The same might be said of Oklahoma (4-0). Although unbeaten, the Sooners have been inconsistent on offense and they have yet to play a true road game. Their only game away from home was the opener at Tulsa, where the crowd was overwhelmingly pro-Oklahoma.

"Hopefully as we go through this week, we'll be a little more consistent in what we're doing," coach Bob Stoops said. "We need to be."

The Sooners' biggest test came in their second game, against Alabama, where they built a big lead, gave it all back, then rallied in the closing minutes to win.

That game saw Oklahoma finish with minus-23 yards rushing. There also were breakdowns on special teams and on defense.

The Sooners looked much better in all areas during a 68-0 victory over Texas-El Paso the following week. But last week against South Florida, they started slowly, never got the running game going and punted poorly in a 31-14 victory.

"When there's breakdowns or inconsistencies, I'm willing to take the blame always as the head coach, or certain coaches want to," Stoops said. "But sometimes we let our players off the hook, too. Our players need to be accountable, when something's been covered all week and they get in the game and it's not done. That's on them."

One position that hasn't come under fire is quarterback. Nate Hybl isn't flashy, but he has thrown 116 passes without an interception, including last year's Cotton Bowl game. He also has shown a nice touch on the deep passes that are a bigger part of the offensive package this season.

"I'm very pleased with the way Nate's playing," Stoops said.

Both of South Florida's touchdowns last week came in the final two minutes, against Oklahoma reserves. Co-defensive coordinator Mike Stoops says his front-line players are performing well, and they must continue that this week against quarterback Brad Smith.

Smith, a redshirt freshman, is averaging 98.5 yards per game rushing and 218.8 per game passing. He has four touchdown passes and only one interception.

"He can break any defense down," said teammate Justin Gage.

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