Friday, October 19, 2007

Stoops keeps Sooners focused on struggling Iowa State

AP Sports Writer

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - If Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has any opinions about the Sooners being ranked fifth in this week's Bowl Championship Series standings, he's keeping them to himself.

``There is nothing to talk about,'' Stoops said. ``It doesn't mean anything right now.''

What Stoops lacked in eloquence, he made up for in accuracy.

The upsets that have swept the nation have reinforced the notion that midseason rankings are essentially meaningless. But upheaval has been a good thing for No. 4 Oklahoma, which is back in the national title hunt just three weeks after suffering an upset of its own.

The Sooners (6-1, 2-1 Big 12) lost 27-24 at Colorado on Sept. 29 but have recovered nicely with wins over No. 19 Texas and No. 15 Missouri. They have moved back behind unbeatens Ohio State and Boston College in the AP Top 25 poll.

Now Oklahoma wants to avoid another letdown when it visits Iowa State (1-6, 0-3) on Saturday.

``We look to have a different outcome than last time,'' Sooners strong safety D.J. Wolfe said. ``We have to go into it with the mentality that we can't be beaten and we're going to play our game.''

Stoops, ever the perfectionist, sees mistakes that he'd like cleaned up soon. But Oklahoma's win over the Tigers was encouraging for a number of reasons.

The Sooners scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, forced Missouri into four turnovers and went 10-for-14 on third downs. Oklahoma also held Missouri's spread attack to a season-low 31 points.

``Defensively, I felt we played a really good game. Against a team who has been as productive as they (Missouri) have been, to force them to four turnovers, one for a touchdown and two that set up touchdowns in the red zone, is awfully positive,'' Stoops said.

Oklahoma's defense has been bolstered by the emergence of junior linebacker Curtis Lofton and sophomore defensive end Auston English, both of whom were overshadowed by a roster full of stars entering the season.

Lofton had 18 tackles and a fumble return for a touchdown against the Tigers, earning conference defensive player of the week honors. English, back from a redshirt season, has a team-high 7.5 sacks and was a major force against Missouri, picking up a career-high nine tackles.

``He was physical, he tackled well and he covered well,'' Stoops said. ``Auston English was equally impressive. He had an incredible night with his pressure.''

It's hard to imagine that Iowa State could replicate Colorado's effort against the Sooners. The Cyclones, under first-year coach Gene Chizik, haven't even shown they can compete with the rest of the Big 12.

Last week, Iowa State allowed the game-winning score on Texas' first play from scrimmage en route to a 56-3 home loss, its worst in 20 years and its 10th defeat in 11 conference games dating back to last season.

Iowa State is seeking to avoid the first 11-loss season in school history. It's been outscored 133-37 in Big 12 play.

``I'm sure confidence is something we have to be very aware of and concerned about, obviously. But the bottom line is that every week they are resilient. They come back and work, and they go into every game trying to play hard,'' Chizik said.

To help keep his team focused on the Cyclones, who enter the game as 30-point underdogs, Stoops printed a list of upsets in college football this year and handed it to his players. It was a much longer list than usual, and, of course, it included his own team's loss to Colorado.

History says the Sooners have little to worry about, however. Oklahoma is 66-5-2 against its former Big Eight rival and has won 19 straight in Ames dating back to 1960.

But in a year turned upside down by upsets, Stoops believes his players need all the reminders they can get.

``It was eye-opening,'' senior running back Jacob Gutierrez said of Stoops' list. ``It is a great lesson to learn, to know going into a game that it is not a ranked team but the way things are going and the way football is these days you can lose to anyone.''

Source:; Photo Credit: OU Athletics Department