NORMAN — Mike Stoops insisted he doesn't think much about — or remember much from — the last time he matched wits with Bill Snyder.
“Shoot, that was 8 1/2 years ago,” said the Oklahoma defensive coordinator. “It's a blur to me. I don't really think much about it.”
As for some of the Sooners who spent the evening of Dec. 6, 2003, chasing Darren Sproles down the Arrowhead Stadium field, watching their perfect season wiped away in humiliating fashion?
They think about the 35-7, Big 12 championship game drubbing from Kansas State all the time.
“We didn't go out there and play hard enough,” said Teddy Lehman, then a senior linebacker who won the Bednarik and Butkus awards.
“We didn't block, didn't tackle. Didn't do the things we'd done that whole season. They weren't even close to the team we were; it's not even debatable.”
Many who watched the 28-point rout that day would probably take that debate.
During Bob Stoops' 13 years in Norman, the 2003 Big 12 title game is his only loss in seven meetings with Snyder, who had both Stoops brothers on his Kansas State staff in the early 1990s.
The Oklahoma defense has generally done pretty well against Snyder's offenses, with this one giant exception.
Oklahoma took a 7-0 lead on its first drive but watched Kansas State quarterback Ell Roberson and Sproles, the small, lightning-fast running back, light up the scoreboard for five unanswered touchdowns to win the game and Snyder's only conference championship.
On the first play of the second quarter, senior cornerback Derrick Strait — that year's Jim Thorpe Award winner — blitzed and hit Sproles five yards behind the line of scrimmage. But the diminutive Sproles spun off the tackle and sprinted for a 55-yard gain to set up the Wildcats' first score.
“The whole thing started there,” Bob Stoops said. “If we make the tackle, who knows what happens?”
Bob Stoops refuses to blame the game entirely on his defense that night, pointing to the offense's stagnant performance and inability to capitalize on several opportunities throughout the game.
Still, Sproles finished with 22 carries for 235 yards — a stunning 10.7 yard-per-carry average — against a defense that gave up a season average of 3.8 yards. One of Roberson's four touchdown passes was a 60-yarder to Sproles.
For a variety of reasons, the game was a shocking and difficult pill to swallow for Sooners everywhere.
Oklahoma was being hailed as the greatest college football team to ever play, and for a time, it certainly seemed like a possibility.
Seven Sooners became first-team All-Americans, and four won prestigious individual awards — including Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jason White.
“We had star players everywhere on both sides of the ball,” said then-defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek. “We got it. We were disciplined.”
National media, fans and — for the first time — even their own coaches were praising the Sooners in media interviews.
“I basically heard Mike Stoops and Coach (Brent) Venables tell me how bad I was for four years,” Lehman said with a chuckle. “And then coaches were talking about how great the team was. It was weird to hear them say that stuff on television.”
Then, just days before OU faced Kansas State, Mike Stoops announced that he was leaving to take Arizona's head coaching position, but would stay with the Sooners through the Big 12 title game.
“You can never be in two places at one time; that's just the way this business is,” Mike Stoops said of the tough days of practice after his announcement. “Everything changes immediately.”
Dvoracek and Lehman insisted Mike Stoops' announcement had no negative effect on their performance; only that it made them want to play harder for him.
In what would become an accurate prediction, word came that the Big 12 outcome wouldn't have any bearing on Oklahoma's expected spot in the Sugar Bowl, where the Sooners went on to lose 21-14 to LSU for the national title.
“There's nothing to show for it,” Lehman said of the season. “There were a bunch of award winners, but no one cares about that. They care that up in the stadium, it should've said, ‘2003 national champions.'”
Mike Stoops returned as Oklahoma's defensive coordinator last offseason. He will face his old boss and the Wildcats' powerful rushing attack for the first time since that December 2003 night. The No. 15 Wildcats bring their reliably powerful rushing attack, led by senior quarterback Collin Klein, to Norman on Saturday.
“You've got to play 11 on 11,” Mike Stoops said. “If somebody breaks down, they're gonna usually get a decent play.”
Breakdowns are exactly what cost Mike Stoops' defense in his last battle with Snyder; those mistakes still haunt Dvoracek and Lehman, who today are co-hosts on an afternoon sports talk show on KREF.
“We were the best team in the country that year,” Dvoracek said. “As bad as it was in Kansas City — and it was bad — we had a chance to redeem ourselves in New Orleans, and we didn't.
“At the end of the day, they kicked our butts, man. Darren Sproles was amazing, and their defensive line put Jason through the ringer.”