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October 14, 2007

Stoops, Oklahoma aiming for more

NORMAN, Okla. They were businesslike, hurrying off the field like someone seeking cover from a light rain, eye-balling the ground instead of the bleachers, where fans rejoiced over the most significant win of the Big 12 season.

Or at least it was supposed to be.

The Oklahoma Sooners apparently didn't feel that way after Saturday's 41-31 victory over Missouri and neither did their coach.

Bob Stoops praised his players for scoring 18 straight points during their fourth-quarter rally. His satisfaction with the victory, though, was tempered by some dodo-brain mistakes that could've cost No. 6 Oklahoma the game.

"I don't think we've played to our potential yet," Stoops said. "It's disappointing to me as a coach. I think we should be better than we are."

A few moments later I asked Stoops to expound on those comments.

"I don't want to get into that," said Stoops, who then turned and walked out the door.

The guess here is that Stoops is frustrated because, deep down, he senses the best team might not have won Saturday. That's not to say the 11th-ranked Tigers are decidedly better than Oklahoma, but Missouri certainly played well enough to spark the debate.

Missouri outgained Oklahoma 418-384 and led early in the fourth quarter. Three of the Sooners' touchdowns came courtesy of Missouri turnovers.

OKLAHOMA 41, MISSOURI 31
Offensive player of the game
Picking the quarterback is too easy. Instead of Sam Bradford (24-of-34 for 266 yards) we'll go with Oklahoma running back Chris Brown, who scored his first three touchdowns of the season Saturday. Forty-eight of Brown's game-high 67 yards came in the decisive fourth quarter. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry. DeMarco Murray (2 yards) and Allen Patrick (44) combined for just 46 yards. "They're going to be hot on different nights," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said.
Defensive player of the game
Oklahoma linebacker Curtis Lofton registered a season-high 18 tackles and now has five double-digit tackle games this season. Also deserving mention is defensive end Austin English, who tallied nine tackles including two for losses two pass break-ups, a quarterback hurry and a sack.
Turning point
Trailing 29-24 after an Oklahoma touchdown, Missouri took the field early in the fourth quarter looking to regain the momentum and the lead. Instead, Jeremy Maclin fumbled a handoff from quarterback Chase Daniel on the Tigers' 12-yard line. Oklahoma linebacker Curtis Lofton scooped up the loose ball and returned it for a score that gave the Sooners a 35-24 lead and a momentum they would never relinquish.
Surprise performance
This doesn't have to be positive, does it? Oklahoma's special teams need to be called out for their atrocious performance on extra point and conversion opportunities. Garrett Hartley missed two PATS and had another one blocked. Oklahoma also failed on a two-point conversion. "It was just one thing after another," Stoops said.
What this means for Oklahoma
The Sooners are back in the national championship picture. Look for Bob Stoops' squad to win its next three games before ending the season with tough matchups against Texas Tech in Lubbock and Oklahoma State in Norman. Oklahoma should be even better by then.
What this means for Missouri
The Tigers should still be viewed as the favorite to represent the Big 12 North in the league championship game Dec. 1 in San Antonio. The toughest two games remaining on Oklahoma's schedule? Next week's tilt with Texas Tech in Columbia and a Nov. 25 showdown against rival Kansas at sold-out Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.
Noteworthy
Oklahoma's D.J. Wolfe picked off his third pass of the season Juaquin Iglesias now has 102 career catches, making him the 12th Sooner in history to surpass 100. But the accomplishment is probably bittersweet considering he lost two fumbles that Missouri converted into touchdowns Oklahoma has won 15 consecutive home games Missouri running back Tony Temple (ankle sprain) missed Saturday's game Tigers tight end Chase Coffman had 10 catches for 102 yards Jeremy Maclin had 189 all-purpose yards after entering the game averaging a national-best 214 Missouri's Pig Brown dropped two interceptions The Top 10 teams in the Preseason AP poll have at least one loss.
"We can't blow out every team," Oklahoma running back Chris Brown said. "We knew we were going to have our hands full with those guys. We just had to bear down and handle it like men."

Oklahoma did, and because of that the 6-1 Sooners have catapulted back into the hunt for the national title. Missouri fell to 6-1 after losing for the first time this season, but the setback shouldn't hurt the Tigers in the rankings.

Even though his squad lost, Saturday's game might have been Gary Pinkel's finest moment as Missouri's head coach. And you could argue that Tigers are the best one-loss team

So entertaining was Saturday's game that folks were already talking about a rematch in the Big 12 Championship on Dec. 1 at the AlamoDome in San Antonio. The Sooners and Tigers, though, refused to take the bait.

"What's on our mind is Texas Tech," said Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel, referring to the Tigers' next opponent. "They're killing people right now, so we have a huge test ahead of us."

Oklahoma, meanwhile, has what should be three easy wins against Iowa State, Texas A&M and Baylor before closing the season against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. By then, the Sooners vow they'll be better.

Again, it's not that Oklahoma played poorly against the Tigers. At times the Sooners were incredible. But Stoops has higher standards, and nearly losing to Missouri at home, no less just isn't going to cut it in Norman.

Especially since Oklahoma has already lost to Colorado. By the way, can someone explain how in tarnation that happened?

"So much of the time, people fans, media, whoever want to place you in this great place," Stoops said. "We're not there yet. We're (improving). But I still don't think we're where we should be. We're used to making more improvement by this point in the year than I think we have."

Oklahoma lost two fumbles Saturday both by Juaquin Iglesias and botched three extra-point attempts and a two-point conversion. Daniel threw for 361 yards, and the Sooners allowed Tigers receiver Jeremy Maclin to score on a double reverse. Twice.

"Obviously, that's something we need to work on," said defensive coordinator Brent Venables, chuckling half-heartedly.

Still, for all of Stoops' frustrations, Oklahoma was magnificent in the fourth quarter.

The Sooners went up 29-24 on Brown's 1-yard touchdown run with about 12 minutes remaining. Then, on Missouri's ensuing possession, Maclin fumbled a handoff from Daniel. Oklahoma linebacker Curtis Lofton scooped up the loose ball and returned it for a touchdown that ballooned the Sooners' lead to 35-24 after the missed PAT.

Missouri never threatened again.

"It was an evening of mistakes," Pinkel said. "They made mistakes and we took advantage of it, and we made mistakes and they took advantage of it.

"Our football team gave a great effort, but we came up short."

So did top-ranked LSU. And Cal, and Wisconsin, and Illinois. Every week it seems Top 25 teams are falling by the wayside. Each school ranked in the preseason Top 10 has at least one loss.

Undefeated Ohio State will be perched atop the first Bowl Championship Series poll when it's released this afternoon, but there are plenty of other schools Oklahoma and Missouri among them right on the Buckeyes' tail.

"Every player in the country follows that stuff," Oklahoma center Jon Cooper said. "We know what's going on. We don't stress about it like fans, though. All we can do is keep winning every game."

And it would help, Stoops said, if the Sooners could do it in a more impressive fashion.

"We did some good things out there tonight," Stoops said. "But we're after more."

Jason King is a college football and basketball writer for Yahoo! Sports.



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