NORMAN — Tony Jefferson's mind wandered in the second quarter. Three interceptions on three straight possessions could have been four in four.
Four picks — a season's worth of interceptions for even a great player — could have been Jefferson's in barely six minutes of game clock Saturday night against Ball State.
Keith Wenning's pass bounced off receiver Torieal Gibson — don't ask why Wenning at that point would throw a pass within two zip codes of the OU safety — and Jefferson had his hands on the ball.
But he was thinking touchdown.
“My eyes, my mind was stuck on getting six,” Jefferson said. “But my hands … I don't know, man. I dropped it. Should have had it. My mind was thinking end zone. I knew if I got the ball, I'm scoring.”
By the third quarter, Jefferson's mind wandered again. Bob Stoops still had Jefferson patrolling Owen Field, despite a massive lead that eventually would become a 62-6 Sooner victory, but Jefferson already was thinking Cotton Bowl, and Dallas, and the atmosphere like no other.
Tony Jefferson was thinking Texas.
“OK,” Jefferson said to himself, “now it's time to move on.”
I'd say so. October is no time for a scrimmage. No offense to Ball State, but this one had all the relevance of a spring game. The overmatched Cardinals provided nothing of what the Longhorns will present next Saturday.
And the Sooners know it.
“Our guys are very aware that as we move forward, there's going to be a lot bigger challenges out there,” Stoops said. “I sense in the locker room, there isn't anyone jumping up and down. Already, there's a lot of anticipation for next week.”
Texas always has OU's attention, but the Longhorns' 37-14 rout at Iowa State punctuates just how improved the ‘Horns are over their 2010 debacle of a season.
Speaking of improvement, the Sooners painted the Ball State waltz as tonic for their shaky defensive performance against Missouri from a week ago.
“Definitely a confidence-builder,” said Jefferson said. “We played really hard. Had a chip on our shoulder.”
Linebacker Travis Lewis swore that OU didn't talk Texas at all during the week, “not with the way we played last week. We weren't thinking about anything but Ball State.”
Maybe so. But this game was no test. No sign that the Sooners have fixed whatever ailed them against Mizzou. Not that a 10-point win over Missouri should be dismissed as lowly.
That game against the fighting Tigers prepped OU much more than this laugher.
This game quickly boiled down to a few mysteries.
How many touchdown passes could Landry Jones throw to receivers running completely free? (Three, of his five total.)
Could Michael Hunnicut's kicking give Stoops field-goal confidence in the Cotton Bowl? (No way; Hunnicut missed a 30-yarder and made a 44-yarder by ricochet off the left upright.)
Could Gabe Ikard, subbing for injured center Ben Habern, snap without flaw? (Yes.)
And could Jefferson keep making interceptions?
Tips by defensive ends Frank Alexander and R.J. Washington gave Jefferson picks two minutes apart — “I give all glory to my line,” Jefferson said — but interception No. 3 was a one-man show. Jefferson, backpedaling on a deep out pattern, leaped and speared the ball with one hand, then dragged his foot inbounds. You won't see a more athletic play by anyone in crimson all season.
On the OU bench, the offense was stunned. “We just looked up,” Ikard said. “Wait, it was Tony again?”
Then came the chance for Interception No. 4. But Jefferson was a little hard on himself. He actually was falling backward as the ball floated toward his hands. No way he would have scored, and if he had caught the ball, it would have been Heckuva Catch No. 2.
But a guy can dream. Just so long as that wandering mind gets around to what's really important.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.