|Saturday, October 28
Updated: October 29, 12:55 PM ET
Heupel guides Sooner offense with ease
By Wayne Drehs
NORMAN, Okla. -- They call it "The Connection," like some sort of masterful mind-reading process. All it takes is a glance and everybody is on the same page.
It's become the key for Oklahoma's high-scoring offense where, in a matter of that one glance, quarterback Josh Heupel changes the complexion of the game. He's done it all season and he did it again Saturday in Oklahoma's wild 31-14 win over Nebraska.
The victory not only makes the Sooners a lock for the No. 1 ranking in both polls -- their first time in the top spot in over a decade -- but it catapulted the Heisman chances of Heupel, who proved once again that mind sometimes is better than matter.
Such was the case early in the second quarter, when Oklahoma, trailing 14-7, faced a 3rd and 14 at the Nebraska 34. Heupel walked to the line of scrimmage and saw Nebraska rover Joe Walker creeping towards him, hinting at a blitz.
It was at that moment that Heupel glanced over his left shoulder, in the direction of receiver Curtis Fagan, and "The Connection" was made.
Instead of running the prescribed route, Fagan ran a post. Nebraska blitzed and six defenders were upon Heupel in a matter of seconds. With Fagan still in the early stages of his route, Heupel dropped back an extra step, watched the defenders close in and, off his back foot, lofted a hanging "softy," as coach Bob Stoops put it.
The 34-yard Frisbee toss landed right in Fagan's hands -- in stride. The sophomore chugged into the end zone and just like that, Nebraska's early 14-0 lead was erased.
"I got a little jammed in the beginning and when I got stuck on the ten, I just tried to turn on the speed and Josh put it up," Fagan said. "I didn't even see the ball until the very end.
"But that's what we practice all the time. He's got all our speeds down and knows where to put it."
So just like two weeks ago, when Kansas State lived and eventually died by blitzing Heupel, Nebraska suffered the same fate here Saturday. While the Huskers had success early, forcing a host of bad passes and dropped balls, the blitzing ended up burning the Huskers when it counted most.
After Fagan's touchdown, Oklahoma took charge. The offense posted 24 unanswered points in an energy-charged second quarter in which Heupel was 7-of-10 for 159 yards. In addition to Fagan's touchdown reception, Josh Norman and Quentin Griffin ran for scores.
All in all, the Sooners scored 31 straight points, but after the game, most of the talk centered on Heupel's desperation heave to Fagan.
Was it luck? Hardly, assured Stoops, who instead called it more of a unique gift that Heupel has.
"There's a feel to that -- I swear," Stoops said. "I don't know. Whatever he does works. I've seen him throw countless balls anticipating a receiver on a break.
"And when he's getting rushed or under pressure and can't hold it anymore, he lets it go, and when the receiver comes out of his break, there's the ball. There's a gift to that -- where to under throw it, where to put it so the defender won't get it. There's no way you can call it luck because it happens more than it doesn't."
Said Fagan: "We study film together and work on plays in practice all week together so when we see something, we just look at Josh. Nobody has to say anything. We just know. There's that connection."
Say what you will about Heupel's gaudy numbers being attributed to playing in a wide-open system, but it takes the right person to execute that system, to make the reads and call the audibles. They may not have the fastest receivers, the biggest lineman, or the quarterback with the strongest arm, but Oklahoma executes between the ears.
Even when they didn't score Saturday, the Sooners moved the football, with six of their seven first-half drives ending in Nebraska territory. It's just that the points didn't start coming until "The Connection" was made.
Two weeks ago, it came against Kansas State, then the top-ranked defense in the country. This week it came against Nebraska, the No. 16 ranked defense. Both times both teams left field scratching their heads at what had just happened.
But it isn't much of a mystery anymore.
"Josh expects us to get open and we expect him to put it there," Fagan said. "There's just an understanding. A relaxed understanding."
Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com.