NORMAN, Okla. --- One bad play can change a football game.
Oklahoma has learned that lesson on more than one occasion this season, as the Sooners' struggles with big plays contributed to losses to Texas Tech and Baylor, thus knocking OU out of the BCS championship conversation.
The Sooners often will have stretches of great defensive play, then slip up for one play that costs them dearly.
Oklahoma has allowed 16 plays of 40 yards or more this season which ranks last in the Big 12 and No. 105 nationally.
"It only takes one play to change a game," safety Sam Proctor said. "On defense, you have to live with that fear of, 'This one play can change the whole game.' It's something we have to be more conscious of."
Oklahoma's tendency to give up big plays was never more apparent than in its loss to Baylor last weekend. Bears receivers repeatedly got behind OU's secondary and made big plays. The Sooners allowed passes of 87, 69, 55 and 50 yards in the 45-38 loss, with all four long passes leading to Baylor touchdowns.
Against Texas Tech, the Sooners allowed passes of 48, 44 and 40 yards in their 41-38 loss. Alex Torres' 44-yard first-quarter touchdown gave the Red Raiders an early lead and, more importantly, the confidence that they could make big plays against OU. And Marcus Kennard's 40-yard catch set up another Torres touchdown, which gave the Red Raiders a 31-7 lead early in the third quarter. Both long passes were momentum-altering big plays in the upset loss.
As OU looks to right the ship and win its final two games to become Big 12 champions, Sooners defenders point to one thing as the overriding cause of opponent's big plays: A lack of focus.
"We just have to stay focused," senior defensive end Frank Alexander said. "Just read your keys instead of trying to be Superman. Just do your job, and trust the man next to you will do his job; that's what this game is about."
Five different Sooners defenders pointed to wavering focus as the reason for their defensive letdowns.
"If you don't trust the next man, you're going to feel like, 'I gotta make his play,' " Alexander said. "And next thing you know, you're giving up something, because you're trying to do too many jobs."
Trying to do too much and being out of position has been a consistent culprit for the Sooners' defense. Safeties out of position, linebackers in the wrong coverage area and defensive linemen in the wrong gap are the mental mistakes and lack of focus that have plagued OU in its losses, and even in its wins.
Dealing with the uptempo offenses of the Big 12 has added to the Sooners struggle with focus. Being mentally dialed in on every play with teams rushing to the line to get a snap off while you're trying to forget the previous play and get the defensive call is a tough task.
"It's a challenge out there mentally," Hurst said. "We might dwell on the play before, and it kind of takes an effect on us. We have to have that short memory mentality. It's a challenge for the whole defense, especially in the secondary."
Said linebacker Corey Nelson: "It's pretty difficult. You have to have a sound mind and stay focused."
Lack of focus can be an difficult issue to try to correct, particularly with opponents averaging 73.4 plays per game. A Sooners defender might be mentally focused for 70 of those 73 snaps, but those other three plays could prove very costly.
"With tempo there is a lot of stuff going on," Alexander said of playing uptempo, no-huddle offenses. "Sometimes you might lose focus for that one play. And that one play could be the one play that gives up a touchdown or a big play.
"We have to get better at training ourselves to just lock in, don't let one play carry over to the next and move on."
Brandon Chatmon covers University of Oklahoma sports and recruiting for SoonerNation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.