Rivalry Game Next Hurdle For No. 10 Sooners

Sunday, September 30th 2007, 7:10 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ In recent years, the Red River Rivalry game between Oklahoma and Texas has become the gateway to the Big 12 Conference championship, the Bowl Championship Series and sometimes even more.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops sees no reason why a couple of upsets should change any of that.

``We understand it's a big game. We always have looked at it that way,'' Stoops said. ``It's like it always is. You have to win it.''

After blowing out its first four opponents by just under 50 points per game, it looked like Oklahoma (4-1) had seen its national championship hopes go up in thin air with a 27-24 loss at Colorado on Saturday.

But a line of upsets followed, with fellow top-15 teams Florida, Texas, Rutgers and Clemson all losing to unranked foes. West Virginia, which had been ranked fifth, also fell victim to an upset a night earlier.

``I think that it's obvious what happened (Saturday) around the whole country that there's a lot still that can happen and you've just got to keep playing,'' Stoops said.

The Red River Rivalry lost some of its intrigue when both the Sooners and Longhorns lost, but both teams control their own destiny since their defeats came against Big 12 North foes. Texas fell from No. 7 to No. 19 following its 41-21 loss to Kansas State.

``Guys will be excited and charged up and ready to play the next one, it's a big game obviously,'' Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. ``They all are. Win or lose (Saturday), it's still the same situation in regards to the dynamics of the game and what it does to the Big 12 South. Obviously, all of our goals are sitting in front of us.''

After losing a game in which two interceptions and a muffed punt limited his football team to only 19 offensive plays in the second half _ compared to 46 for Colorado _ Stoops said it was ``worth consideration'' whether his defense became mentally fatigued.

``I'm not going to sit here and make any excuses. You play the best you can in every game, and that's just the way it happened,'' Stoops said. He also said the theory that his team let down mentally after taking a 24-7 third quarter lead would ``be a convenient excuse, but I don't believe that.''

``We've got to be better,'' Stoops said. ``We were in position in some plays. We've got to be able to make some plays when we have to. You know, we weren't far off.”

“We'll learn from it and get better from it,” said Stoops. “Up until the middle of the third quarter, there's a lot of good about that game. We've got to be able to finish it. Whether it's their attitude and mental state, whether it's just the ability to make plays when you have to in the fourth quarter, we've got to be able to make them.''

Oklahoma's coaches said it was a breakdown in the team concept in which the offense couldn't help the defense, and vice versa. That left the defense almost continuously on the field, becoming increasingly fatigued and unable to make a stop.

``Late in the game, I think it probably was a factor in not being able to make a play when you had to, but the bottom line is you teach and you push and demand these guys to make no excuses. Regardless of the situation, you've got to respond,'' Venables said.

``We're really close and we've got to find a way to get it done in those situations, bottom line.''

Even in different circumstances, the Longhorns still present the first hurdle for the Sooners if they're to salvage a season that started with such high expectations.

``For us, it's still a big game,'' Stoops said. ``Our goal is always to win the South and the Big 12 championship, and that's a big game towards it.''