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October 10, 2012

Sooners can advance faster now that bye weeks are finished

— Nothing sharpens a team like games. A college football team will conduct close to 100 practices a year, but it’s the 13 or 14 games in which players truly become better.

Oklahoma is coming off a game in which the progression was obvious. It looked like a tougher, sharper and more talented team in last Saturday’s 41-20 romp over Texas Tech.

“Hopefully we can build on it. I’ve said it a lot this week. Now, hopefully, we can get into a rhythm,” OU coach Bob Stoops said Monday. “We’ve had two off weeks the last three weeks. Everyone else has played five and six games … You really make your improvement when you’re on the field and playing in game situations. Hopefully, we can make some strides and keep improving.”

The 13th-ranked Sooners (3-1, 1-1 Big 12) will need to make more improvement as they prepare to meet No. 15 Texas (4-1, 1-1) at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

The Red River Rivalry has always served as a sort of mid-term exam for both programs. Although, many would argue it’s also been more like an October final, given the importance of the game to both fan bases and the history it’s played in determining the Big 12 champion.

Both teams expect to have to play their best to win. And OU feels its playing only three games the first five weeks of the season stunted its growth.

“You feel like every Saturday, you’re either getting better or you’re not,“ wide receiver Kenny Stills said. “We weren’t getting our chances to show we were improving by having those bye weeks. It felt like it slowed us a little bit.”

The performance against Texas Tech proved some strides were made.

The offense moved the ball at will the first three quarters. The defensive starters came up with three interceptions and didn’t give up a touchdown in the 11 series they were on the field.

“Yeah, we just played. It’s pretty simple. We just played a lot better,” quarterback Landry Jones said. “All around the board — me, offensive line, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, fullbacks — everyone just stepped up and played the way I think we’re playing. Maybe we missed some things, but as a whole and as a whole game, we played like we’re used to playing around this place.”

Defensive end R.J. Washington had a similar impression on his side of the ball.

“The first couple of games we weren’t playing OU-type defense. We weren’t hitting people in the mouth,” he said. “This last game, we showed what we can do. Now we have to go and do it every week.”

The performance against Texas Tech could serve as a launching point.

OU teams that have played well typically go on to do pretty good things. The teams that allowed OU coach Bob Stoops to compile his eight wins in 13 tries against the Longhorns have averaged 11.6 wins per season.

The Sooners believe they’re on that path again. The performance against Texas Tech was validation.

Stoops wants to see more.

“I just expect them to continue to work hard … Hopefully, as we start playing week to week,” he said, “we can continue making improvements.”

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