DALLAS (AP) — The wide grins came naturally for Oklahoma's players as they passed around the Golden Hat trophy, celebrating a third straight victory over rival Texas.
Their heads filled with fresh memories of a dominating 63-21 victory against a Longhorns team thought to be better than the mediocre squads of the past two seasons, the Sooners couldn't help but think the grandest thoughts for a season that hit a bump three weeks ago with a loss to Kansas State.
"If we can just harness this game and build on this momentum, take it into practice and realize what we're capable of," quarterback Landry Jones said, "we can go however far we want to go."
Indeed, the Sooners (4-1, 2-1 Big 12) were at their very best on Saturday at the Cotton Bowl. The defense forced three-and-out after three-and-out as the Texas offense went nowhere for the better part of the day. Jones and the offense clicked, too, unleashing Damien Williams and a potent running game that was all but forgotten in the loss to the Wildcats and piling up 677 yards.
Since that surprising loss at Owen Field, the change is crystal clear. Last week, the Sooners wiped away nearly a decade of frustrations by winning at Texas Tech — a victory that seems even more impressive after the Red Raiders' upset of then-No. 5 West Virginia on Saturday — and doubled down on domination against the Longhorns.
The early season question marks are fading away rapidly, even in the minds of the Sooners' players.
Jones said this game felt different than facing K-State in part because of positive thinking. Instead of worrying about what could go wrong, he thought Oklahoma was able to just play.
"It's as simple as that," he said. "That's what this game is supposed to be played like. No mind, just going out there and cutting loose."
The Sooners were rewarded for their victory on Sunday, jumping up three spots to No. 10 in The Associated Press Top 25 heading into this week's game against last-place Kansas (1-5, 0-3). Oklahoma is situated third among teams with one loss, behind No. 6 LSU and No. 9 South Carolina.
"There's still a lot of things available for us. Unfortunately we do have one loss and there's a lot of different undefeated teams, so we've got to have something happen for us," Jones said. "But every year something is going to happen. Something's going to go."
Cornerback Aaron Colvin, who nabbed an interception for the second straight week, said he's viewing "every game as an elimination game" at this point because the ultimate prize is the national championship.
That means taking no game lightly.
"It's great. Any time you can beat Texas, and especially in the fashion that we beat them in, it's only an energy-booster," Colvin said. "But it all stops on Monday. Just like Texas Tech, we came back Monday and we forgot about that game. I honestly felt like all our focus was on Texas. That's the same thing we're going to do about Kansas.
"Regardless of who we're playing, we're going out there Monday ready to go into battle."
Just as he was eager to tamp down criticism after the 24-19 loss to Kansas State last month, coach Bob Stoops doesn't want anyone getting too carried away by how impressive the Sooners were in their latest game. He refuses to put any greater meaning into one victory.
"We're a team that's 4-1 right now. We beat Texas, we beat Texas Tech in the league. That's it," Stoops said. "We've got a long road to travel. This game, for my 14 years, has never been the end-all on our season. It's a part of it, but we've got a long road still in front of us. We've got to keep getting better. I think we will."
One driving force will be the memory of what can go wrong. Three turnovers played a role in the Kansas State loss, and a sturdy defense couldn't come up with third-down stops when it mattered most in the fourth quarter.
"It's not miles, it's inches of building blocks on top of each game," Jones said. "We're capable of doing, I think, whatever we want to do. We're capable of being this type of offense and being dominant and then we're also capable of a Kansas State-type of offense and not playing very well."
Going forward, the Sooners will try to duplicate the approach that proved so successful against the Longhorns. Not every game will be a rivalry game but there are a slew of challenges, including a visit by No. 5 Notre Dame on Oct. 27, a trip to No. 17 West Virginia on Nov. 17 and the Bedlam showdown against Oklahoma State.
"We're going to attack," Jones said. "We're going to be the people that are going to push the pace and we're going to set the tempo. We're not going to wait around for anybody to tell us what we're going to do.
"We're going to go out there and we're going to play hard, we're going to play tough and we're going to play Sooner football."