NORMAN — The task at hand this week for the Oklahoma Sooners is to prove that last week was no fluke.
Fine, Mike Stoops’ defense held Kansas to 3 points and 170 total yards.
That means over the course of the Sooners’ last two games — taking into account the full 59-point, 854-yard scope of the troubles at Texas Tech — OU’s defense is giving up 31 points and 522 yards per game.
Not good by Oklahoma standards, but not quite the emergency when the team left Lubbock.
So, which was a closer representation of what the OU defense really is? Saturday against KU or last week at Tech?
One thing is certain: improvements were made, regardless of how good Tech is (the Red Raiders rank No. 2 in the nation in total offense) or how bad KU is (the Jayhawks rank No. 118).
Perhaps the more pressing issue is whether any true improvements made last week actually hold up in this week’s game at Iowa State.
There are no big secrets to continuing whatever progress was made.
“Nah,” Bob Stoops said Monday during his weekly press conference. “Continue to challenge ‘em to step up and play like we’re capable of.”
It’s tricky, too, because it’s a Thursday night road game. Preparation time is shortened by two days.
That’s pretty much the last thing a defense that gave up numerous NCAA records just 10 days ago needs.
OU’s defense against Kansas, Stoops said, was “much, much (different) from the week before in just our ability to make competitive plays, challenge passes great, at the line of scrimmage against the run game. But really … got more pressure in the second half covered really well, broke up a lot of balls and really limited what they were able to do.”
The Cyclones aren’t great offensively (80th nationally in total yards, 97th in points per game), and yet still are substantially better than Kansas.
In truth, because KU is so bad, the Sooners spent a little time last week going over the game plan for Iowa State.
Hey, the schedule shook out like that. Might as well make it work for you. If you only have four days to prepare instead of six, it’s better to slim down things for the Jayhawks so you can spend more time on the Cyclones.
“It’s challenging to a degree (to play on Thursday),” Stoops said, “but at this point of the year, it’s not like all a sudden you start all over and have a whole new offense and defense. So you just have to adjust it to what they’re doing.
“But we did work last week before Saturday’s game. Once the game plan (for KU) was set, we worked a little Thursday and Friday to set up this week. You work ahead a little bit. It’s challenging, but it is for them as well.”
Trickiest of all, though, is coping with the ridiculous amount of injuries. Stoops said this week’s injury report is “similar” to last week, when seven potential starters were sidelined with various maladies.
“I’ve never been in one year with this many injuries and different moving parts,” Stoops said. “But I’ll say that, the guys … in the 2-and 3-deep and the guys are stepping up and playing hard and playing well, doing what we’re asking them to do and playing with good discipline and the way they’re playing and making plays.
“We’re getting awful thin, though, and it’s been concerning. But guys continue to respond.”
After losing to Houston and Ohio State and starting the season 1-2, it seemed the Sooners’ chances of a championship were pretty slim. And after giving up a million points and a billion yards in Lubbock, those chances didn’t look any better.
And yet, as November dawns, here sits Oklahoma, the Big 12 Conference’s only undefeated team in league play, now the only Big 12 team that controls its own destiny entering the coming month.
With a dreadful defense still under repair, an historically depleted roster and a shortened work week, another Sooner championship is in sight.
“Yeah, just doing all we can to put ourselves in the best position to go to Ames and win a game on Thursday,” Stoops said. “That’s what I can do something about. That’s what our focus is. That’s what we can control and (need to) be at our best Thursday night.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard on The Franchise Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. every weekday with co-host Lauren Rew and most mornings on The Franchise in Oklahoma City. Listen on fm107.9, am1270 on the 107.7 Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.