NORMAN, Okla. -- All week, Tony Jefferson and the Oklahoma defense were focused on rebounding from a subpar showing against Missouri.
By the third quarter, such focus began to shift. Enough of Ball State. Bring on Texas.
"I started thinking, 'All right, now it's time to move on,'" he admitted. "'We're up big. We got a big game next week.'"
With the Red River Rivalry on deck, Texas might have made a statement, dispatching Iowa State 37-14 in Ames to improve to 4-0.
But the second-ranked Sooners countered with their own statement, blasting Ball State 62-6 at Owen Field and setting up the first OU-Texas battle of unbeatens since 2008.
"We definitely knew we needed to do that," Jefferson said. "It was a big confidence builder for our defense. If we hadn't done that, it wouldn't have been a good situation going into Texas."
Instead, the Sooners ride into the Cotton Bowl overflowing with conviction in their defense, which was spearheaded by Jefferson's memorable second quarter.
The sophomore nickelback ended three consecutive Ball State drives with interceptions, including a highlight-for-the-ages, airborne, one-handed stab along the sidelines. The other two picks were set up via tips at the line by ends R.J. Washington and Frank Alexander.
Jefferson nearly corralled a fourth consecutive interception the next series but bobbled the ball and couldn't hang on.
"He should have had four," said defensive coordinator Brent Venables. "That would have been insane."
Three, which tied the all-time OU record since World War II, was more than enough to put away the Cardinals by halftime. OU scored touchdowns off all three Jefferson picks, building a 38-6 halftime lead. The Sooners opened the third quarter with another three touchdowns in 4 minutes, capped by Tom Wort's 22-yard touchdown return of a fumble, caused by fellow linebacker Travis Lewis. By that point, the Sooners led 59-6.
"We had a chip on our shoulder coming off of last week," Jefferson said of the Sooners defense, which surrendered 532 yards and four touchdowns last weekend to Missouri. "We didn't play very good, and they just ran right through us, passing and throwing. Our defense practiced really hard this week -- we knew what we had to do. We were out there flying around, making plays."
Mostly at the expense of Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning, who before Saturday hadn't thrown a pick all year.
Up next is the Texas quarterbacking duo of Case McCoy and David Ash, who have been sharp since taking the job from Garrett Gilbert. In the win over Iowa State, each of them completed 7 of 12 passes for a combined 255 yards and two scores with no picks.
"We know they're a different team, we know they're going to give us their all," Jefferson said. "They've gotten better. But we're better also."
Championship stakes return to the Cotton Bowl. And the Sooners enter playing championship defense.
"To come out here and play like this leading up to Texas, this was huge," Lewis said. "Undefeated teams, Texas-OU. ... it doesn't get any bigger than this."
Jake Trotter covers University of Oklahoma football for SoonerNation.