Normally, the Oklahoma captains set the routine goals: Beat Texas, beat Oklahoma State, Win the Big 12, Win the National Championship. The group this year wanted to do something a little different.
They wanted to focus on winning one game at a time. That didn’t quite come to fruition until after the Red River Showdown loss to Texas, a game that some of the players said they might have overlooked.
The message is clear now.
“No one game was more important than another,” said Oklahoma center Ty Darlington, one of the Sooners’ five captains. “We wanted to focus on them one game at a time. Last year, we got too caught up in the big picture and what we could do long term. . . . We’ve embraced that since the loss to Texas. You’ve seen a resurgence. It’s been because we know we have to take care of us.”
Despite playing against lower level competition for the past three weeks, Oklahoma has stayed steady. Texas Tech, Kansas and Kansas State have combined for just eight wins this season and just two Big 12 Conference victories. All three are in the bottom half of the conference in total defense, and the Kansas schools have some of the worst offenses in the league.
There was no hiccup thus far – no trap game.
Oklahoma (7-1, 4-1) has done it by staying focused on itself not matching up – or down – to the competition.
“That’s how you get beat if you overlook somebody, so you’ve got to take it one week at a time,” Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “ . . . So, we’ve got to go in, take it one week at a time. This is a Big 12 game. Each Big 12 game is another step toward the goal.”
Now, Iowa State – a team that is coming off a thorough victory against Texas – shows up on the schedule: Another game against a lesser opponent. It’s another chance for Oklahoma to prove to itself that it’s learned its Texas-sized lesson.
Worrying about the big picture hurt the Sooners last year, when national championship hype turned into five losses – tied for the most under Bob Stoops. It caught up with Oklahoma against Texas, when the undefeated Sooners faced a team that was down-and-out.
That’s when the old coaching cliché finally kicked in. The Sooners finally realized that the season has to be taken one game at a time. It’s the only way to take the season.
They can’t look ahead.
Stoops wouldn’t even acknowledged the potential for excitement that will come in the final three weeks of the season, when the Big 12 decides its champion with a Round Robin-style semi-tournament. His players have followed suit and seem to really believe it now.
“You can’t worry about where it ends,” Darlington said. “All I’ve been telling my guys is to worry about dominating every day and putting it on tape. You don’t need to worry about any sort of talking. You need to be able to come at an opponent and say this is who we are as a group. If that’s the attitude we have the other stuff will take care of itself at the end.
“. . . We have focus on what we need to do preparation wise and mentality wise to play to the best of our ability every single day.”