OKLAHOMA CITY —
By JEFF LATZKE
NORMAN — No. 6 Oklahoma has a perfect record after clearing what's usually the toughest hurdle on its way to the Big 12 championship game and beyond.
Still, coach Bob Stoops sees no room for his Sooners (5-0, 1-0 Big 12) to relax, even with an off week before they host Iowa State on Oct. 16. He said this week started with the team addressing "at great length" the areas where improvement is needed.
"College guys are so young that there's a lot of maturity and experience gained in technique work that should improve as you go through the year, and we've got to make it," Stoops said Tuesday.
"We're a long way from a finished product. Our job is to keep working it and pushing it to make that improvement, and I think we will."
Stoops has led Oklahoma to a 5-0 start on six other occasions, and it's almost always been a good omen. Five of those seasons have concluded with the Sooners playing for the Big 12 title, and four times they've played for the national championship, too.
Of course, making it to the halfway point of the season without a blemish means the Sooners have prevailed over archrival Texas, just as they did Saturday with a 28-20 win in the annual Red River Rivalry game. That's usually an indicator that Oklahoma is on track to represent the Big 12 South in the conference title game, although team captain Travis Lewis doesn't want to hear that as he sees other strong teams around the league.
"It's not just a two-horse race anymore," said Lewis, a linebacker. "It used to be if we beat Texas or Texas beats us, that team's going to be in the Big 12 championship. It's not going to be like that anymore."
Stoops said he sees no difference in player attitudes now than in the spring and summer, when they were eager to make amends for finishing last year 8-5.
"They've had an attitude that way of being hungry to improve and work, so we've got a lot of work ahead of us," Stoops said. "I said that last week. The Texas game is one game. We've got seven conference games ahead of us, and if you don't win those, that game doesn't much matter."
Chief among the concerns for Oklahoma is a disturbing trend of poor play in the fourth quarter.
Opponents are outscoring the Sooners 51-17 in the final period, with Texas becoming the latest team to mount a comeback from a double-digit deficit that came up just short.
The Longhorns scored 10 straight points in the fourth quarter Saturday and had an opportunity to tie it when Sooners quarterback Landry Jones fumbled inside the 10-yard line. He was able to knock the ball away from Texas linebacker Jared Norton before he could scoop it up and score.
"We're still playing great defense 80 percent of the time and the other 20 percent we're giving up big plays," Lewis said. "And we're giving up too many points in the fourth quarter.
"It's good to be 5-0 and have all the problems that we do."
The Sooners have won four of their five games by eight points or less — after leading by at least 15 points in each game.
"I know we're in good enough shape where it's not fatigue. Players are just getting their eyes in the wrong places and trying to do someone else's job, and then they hit the big play on us," Lewis said. "It's a discipline type of thing. We need to be more disciplined in the fourth quarter."
Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said his unit also needs to do a better job of protecting — and extending — late leads. After going up 28-10 on Texas, Oklahoma totaled just one first down on its next two drives while trying to put the game away.
"The bottom line is we're not a tough-enough, pounding-it running team where we can totally just ram it against a really outstanding defense, which they had" Wilson said. "We ran the ball well, but we ran it when we had good balance."
The Sooners were also at their best when using their hurry-up offense, not exactly their best weapon when trying to drain the clock. Yet Wilson said he still plans to operate at a slower pace late in games.
"If we go fast and don't execute, then we look like buffoons. And if we slow down, we get out of rhythm," Wilson said. "So, it's a hard deal."