By John Shinn
CNHI News Service
NORMAN — There have been 972 plays run or defended through Oklahoma’s first seven games. It equals about 139 per contest.
However, the 12th-ranked Sooners (5-2, 3-1 Big 12) know only a handful of plays are the difference between looking up at No. 3 Kansas State in the conference standings and being in the thick of the national championship race.
“I think we knew that the whole way through,” fullback Trey Millard said. “We talk about playing every play like it’s your last because we know two or three plays in four or five games are what you’re fighting for in every game.
“That much more effort or that much more attention to detail can change the outcome of any game.”
There’s a difference between being told that will be the case to experiencing it first hand. Coaches says this as often as they blow whistles.
Sometimes the message doesn’t sink through. Now, all they have to do is cue a couple of plays from last Saturday’s 30-13 loss to Notre Dame and the 24-19 loss to Kansas State on Sept. 22 and the message is clear.
There are plays that are haunting reminders that the difference between winning and losing can all come down to one block, one tackle or one decision.
The loss to Kansas State was defined by two plays: quarterback Landry Jones wandered out of the pocket deep in OU’s end of the field. He was sacked and stripped of the ball. The Wildcats’ Jarell Childs returns it 1-yard for a touchdown. Just 11 plays later, OU is on the verge of a touchdown until backup quarterback Blake Bell fumbles a shotgun snap at the Kansas State 5-yard line. The Wildcats recover.
Two plays that took about 20 combined seconds to run were the difference between winning and losing.
The same thing happened against the Irish.
Safety Tony Jefferson takes one extra step to his left as Notre Dame running back Cierre Wood races up the middle of the field. Instead of a 10-yard gain, it’s a 62-yard touchdown. It’s the first of four game-changing plays.
With the clock ticking down in the first half, Bell runs around the left side and appears to have a touchdown to tie the game. Left guard Bronson Irwin, however, is called for holding. Instead of tying the game, the Sooners have to settle for a field goal.
After OU has tied the game with nine minutes left, Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson hits Chris Brown on a perfect play-action pass for a 50-yard gain. Five plays later the Irish were back on top 20-13.
“That was a big play, along with the run, that were the difference in the game,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “We didn’t make a big one there at the end or didn’t stop them. That’s how you end up on the wrong side of a tight, well-played football game.”
There’re four plays out of nearly 1,000. The Sooners have won the overwhelming majority of them.
Outside of those two games, they’ve wrecked every other team they’ve met. They’ll try to get back on the winning track at 11 a.m. on Saturday against Iowa State (5-3, 2-3) at Jack Brice Stadium in Ames, Iowa.