NORMAN — Travis Lewis called it a reality check coming at the perfect time. And Oklahoma's senior linebacker and captain nailed it.
The 38-28 victory against Missouri has shoved the Sooners into a position of late-September self-examination. Yes, a 10-point win has done that.
*Center and captain Ben Habern is out for the next month or two after breaking his forearm. Buddy Gabe Ikard will fill in, but will there be a drop-off?
*The Sooners slipped from the top spot in The Associated Press poll, falling to No. 2 behind Louisiana State. LSU took it away more than OU lost it. But, still. Play well enough, you don't drop.
*And then there's the defense. Which was the aberration for the Sooners?
Was it the suffocating, physical attack that restricted Florida State to one fluky touchdown and 27 rushing yards?
Or was it the careless, mistake-ridden effort Saturday against Missouri that allowed the Tigers to finish with 532 total yards, including 263 on the ground.
Henry Josey rushed for 133 yards and a score. Quarterback James Franklin added 103 yards and two scores. When's the last time you recall an OU defense letting two players rush for 100-plus yards in the same game? (OU is still looking that one up.)
It was bad. It wasn't costly; the game was never in doubt. But it was bad. Lewis and his boss, defensive coordinator Brent Venables, did not mind saying as much afterward.
I walked up to Lewis expecting him to be honest, but also put a positive spin on the night. Quite the opposite. Venables was the same way. He said he was “embarrassed to be associated” with the performance.
Like I said, it's not as if OU's miscues ever caused the game to get all that close. Missouri closed the lead to 10 — two scores — with 6:44 to play. But the Sooners responded right back with a touchdown drive.
That was partly what had Lewis in a foul mood, though. He felt as if the offense had to bail out the defense. Maybe that's true. Maybe that's how it goes, though. Perhaps one week the offense needs a pick-me-up, the next week it's the defense. As a coach, you just pray it's not both at the same time — like the fourth quarter at Mizzou last year?
What irked Lewis and Venables, too, was the fact that they saw it coming and, as leaders, could not figure out a way to stop it. Practices during the week were, well, weak. Venables said he tried to talk with his guys, but nothing seemed to take. Perhaps it took Saturday's outcome to get the defense's attention. That's the sort of reality check Lewis was referring to.
Those guys know a similar effort against a better team, and it's as good as an ‘L.'
The issues? More assignment football than anything. It was discipline, focus — intelligence.
The examples were plentiful: Biting on Franklin's sales job running the option, both on run plays and fakes to set up the deep ball to T.J. Moe and others. Taking bad angles to tackle Josey. Losing track of receivers.
The Sooners see the spread so much that you'd think they would be ready for it. Let's be honest: Missouri's talent level surprised OU. It did me, too. I'd seen Franklin on TV a couple of times this year. Looked all right, but also like a quarterback still learning. He was really pretty polished Saturday night. No turnovers. Missed a couple of open guys, but took care of the ball. Ran well. Made some nice passes.
Many of Oklahoma's defenders thought they could just show up to the park and handle Mizzou. It does not work like that. A lesson learned. A reality checked.
Ball State could not come at a better time for Lewis and Venables to correct things, including attitudes. It's the ideal time for a tuneup entering Texas week.