By JOHN SHINN
Oklahoma’s always wanted to be a team that could wear teams down in the fourth quarter. Thus far, it’s been that team. In virtually every victory, the Sooners have salted games away by pushing opponents around — both offensively and defensively — in the fourth quarter.
There’s something admirable about playing in peak form in the final minutes. But it’s the opening minutes where OU leaves much to be desired.
The Sooners have been outscored 38-33 in the first quarter this season. It’s not a significant deficit, but it illustrates how the Sooners have staggered out of the blocks on both sides of the ball.
The 33 points are the least OU’s scored in any quarter. The 38 allowed is the most in any quarter.
“We just need to come out quicker and come out swinging quicker. Obviously, Texas Tech has a good defense. We need to come out and get on top quick … I think it’s just knowing our job and executing,” OU quarterback Blake Bell said.
The 17th-ranked Sooners (6-1, 3-1 Big 12) host No. 10 Texas Tech (7-0, 4-0) at 2:30 p.m. today at Owen Field and the Red Raiders claim one of the conference’s most explosive offenses. That puts the onus on OU to come out strong.
The Red Raiders have outscored their opponents 68-27 in the first quarter.
“Defense has to get their stops too, but you play together as a team. Field position, you stay on the field, you get third downs. Even if you get stopped, you hope you’re kind of at a midpoint on the field and you punt it and they’re on the 10 or 15. It’s all part of it,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “You have to complement one another offensively and defensively. Hopefully, we can do that.”
The last time OU started quickly came in its 35-21 victory over Notre Dame.
The Sooners built a two-touchdown lead in that game and were able to hold on to it. Sure, the first touchdown came on an interception return, but that shouldn’t diminish the accomplishment.
OU was ready to play at a high level from the opening kick.
But that kind of early performance has not been the norm this season.
“You have 11 guys out there and if one guy is off his game a little bit, things can go poorly. The biggest thing is execution,” center Gabe Ikard said. “You have your plan. You line up in practice (against) how you think they are going to line up and the looks they are going to give you. Sometimes they give you something a little different and you have to adjust to it. What it comes down to is guys blocking and guys making plays. We need to be more efficient.”
Today’s game is the first of two straight against explosive teams with penchants for burying opponents early. No. 6 Baylor awaits Nov. 7.
These are not games in which the Sooners can afford to dig large holes. Big deficits ruin game plans and turn a week’s worth of planning into rubble.
“We have to get that going early, especially in this game. We know they are going to put a lot of points up and we just need to counter that,” wide receiver Sterling Shepard said.
The Sooners have shown they can win in the end. The beginning, however, is going to be essential today.