Finishing a priority for Sooners

Oklahoma has struggled recently in games decided in fourth quarter

Updated: November 1, 2012, 12:28 AM ET
By Jake Trotter | SoonerNation

NORMAN, Okla. -- Thanks to two rounds of Big 12 realignment, Landry Jones has never been to Ames, Iowa. Neither has Demontre Hurst. Nor David King.

But the last time Oklahoma did go to Iowa State, five years ago, the game went down to the fourth quarter.

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireBob Stoops and the Sooners have lacked a bit of "Sooner Magic" in the fourth quarter recently.
Uh-oh.

For a program that once thrived on "Sooner Magic" late in games, the fourth quarter has not been kind in recent years.

In fact, since a sluggish 17-7 victory at Iowa State in 2007, OU is 11-14 in games in which the margin was single digits in the fourth quarter.

This season has been no different.

The Sooners led Kansas State in the fourth quarter and lost. The Sooners were tied with Notre Dame in the fourth and lost again.

"Both games we lost we had a chance to win," King said. "They made the plays when they had to, and we didn't.

"That's very frustrating."

OU's fourth-quarter record the past five years is a bit misleading. The majority of OU's victories have been decided well before the fourth quarter. This season, the Sooners put Texas, Texas Tech and Kansas away by the third quarter.

The term "Sooner Magic," however, was coined during the Barry Switzer era because of how many games OU won in the fourth quarter. Sooner Magic returned early on in the Bob Stoops era, as the Sooners once again defined themselves as a fourth-quarter team. From 2000 to '06, in fact, OU went 28-9 in games in which the margin was single digits in the fourth quarter -- a stark contrast from the past five years.

During the national championship season in '00, the Sooners won their final five games in the fourth quarter, including the Orange Bowl against Florida State.

In 2006, despite losing quarterback Rhett Bomar before the season and All-American tailback Adrian Peterson to injury midseason, the Sooners surged to a stunning Big 12 title by prevailing in a series of close games late in the season. Paul Thompson, who replaced Bomar at quarterback, attributed that to an edge and mental toughness the team played with every week.

"Since everyone was doubting us, we played with a nothing-to-lose mentality," Thompson said. "Our guys stayed focused, and everyone bought in to what we were doing."

These Sooners say a lack of fourth-quarter focus has cost them in the two losses this season.

Despite three costly turnovers, the Sooners clung to a 13-10 lead over Kansas State going into the fourth quarter. But the Wildcats turned a Jones interception into a touchdown. Then, after an OU three-and-out, K-State went 77 yards for another score. On the drive, the Wildcats converted a key third-and-12 against a secondary that had been stout all night. K-State converted another third down on its next drive to put the game away.

The Sooners' game last weekend with Notre Dame also went down to the fourth quarter. But after OU tied the game at 13, Irish quarterback Everett Golson answered with a 50-yard bomb over the top of the OU secondary to set up the go-ahead touchdown.

"That was a big play," Stoops said. "That's how you end up on the wrong side of a tight, well-played football game."

Notre Dame's Manti Te'o picked off Jones on the ensuing possession, and the Irish kicked a field goal with three minutes left to ice the game.

"I don't know if it's the fact that 'GameDay' was there or that we were playing with a lot of young players -- we've just had a lack of focus in the fourth quarter," receiver Kenny Stills said. "They were on point in the fourth quarter. We weren't. The result of that was they won and we lost."

Ames has become a tougher place to play in the five years since OU was last there, with eight of Iowa State's past 13 home games going down to the fourth quarter. To escape Ames with another win, the Sooners can ill-afford to be off point in the fourth quarter again.

"We've got to stay focused for four quarters, not three and a half," King said. "That's what we're focusing on this week -- finishing the game."