By John Shinn
CNHI News Service
NORMAN – Coaches stress playing well from the start of a game in every sport. But it’s always with the caveat that it’s not everything.
For No. 12 Oklahoma, that won’t be the case Thursday against No. 5 Baylor. What happens in the opening minutes will likely be the difference between winning and losing.
“It’s important for our whole team — offense, defense and special teams. We all need to start fast,” Sooner quarterback Blake Bell said. “We need to put together some long drives as an offense and keep them off the field.”
A major reason the Bears (7-0, 4-0 Big 12) are a two-touchdown favorite has been their ability to explode out of the gate. They’re averaging 23.4 points in the first quarter. In six of their seven games, it was over after the first 15 minutes.
For the Sooners (7-1, 4-1) a slow start means they’ll like become another victim Thursday night. But starting slow has been OU’s modus operandi all season. Averaging just 4.125 first-quarter points.
Anything similar to that is a death nail Thursday.
“You have to stay within the game early, in the first quarter and second quarter, of what you are trying to do to them,” OU offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “If they do jump out, you have to continue to play the next play. I think it’s important that we start fast. We have to score touchdowns in the red zone. The culmination of a lot of things have to come together for us.”
The Sooners have to play well in every phase, but the fast start in every phase is essential.
Falling behind early has a demoralizing effect on teams. But one of the biggest problems it causes is the game plan becomes useless. Spend a whole week working on something and it can be completely useless in three series.
The goal Thursday is going to be control ball, shorten the game and try to win it in the fourth quarter. That can’t happen without scoring some points early and getting some early stops.
“If we play 90-100 snaps, it’s not good. You can’t win a game, I don’t believe, playing Baylor if we have to play 90-100 snaps. That’s not a game that you want to be in,” OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “You hope your offense can control the football and you can control the tempo of the game. If they are running in those numbers, it means they have the ball and they are running very efficiently and that’s going to stress your defense more than the d-line. It’s going to stress your players covering those guys for 100 snaps. Covering them for 100 snaps is virtually impossible.”
Baylor’s been able to run up those massive play totals because repeatedly this season they’ve habitually built first-quarter leads.
The Sooners know if it happens to them Thursday it will be an excruciatingly long night.