NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Coach Bob Stoops has a message for anyone considering the panic button after Oklahoma's closer-than-expected victory in the season opener: What's more important, starting fast or finishing strong?
The Sooners (1-0) were less than impressive in their 24-7 win at UTEP last week, getting bumped down a spot to No. 5 in this week's polls. The struggle left plenty to work on in practice, and Saturday night's home opener against Florida A&M (0-1) of the Football Championship Subdivision could provide a chance to iron out some of the kinks.
"We all had something to improve. Missed assignments, missed blocks, missed reads. That's what this week is about, preparing for the game and practicing all the little things," said running back Damien Williams, who ran for 103 yards in his debut. "I'm sure everybody is ready to fix those little mistakes. I feel like we're all going to come together as a team and everybody's going to see what Oklahoma is about for real."
Under Stoops, Oklahoma has won its three previous games against FCS competition by a combined score of 170-2. Anything less than a blowout in this one could leave the Sooners and their fans some real reasons for concern.
There are already questions being raised about a running game that was averaging only 3.4 per carry deep into the fourth quarter at UTEP, until Williams broke off a 65-yard run for a touchdown. The pass blocking was subpar, too, allowing quarterback Landry Jones to get sacked three times — as many times as he was downed in the first eight games last season.
On third downs, Oklahoma was a meager 2-for-13 except when backup quarterback Blake Bell converted three times in the Sooners' power-running "Belldozer" package. Dominique Whaley fumbled twice and was seen the next day with a ball literally strapped to his arm.
"When everyone is a little off, it looks pretty bad out there," Jones said. "But we'll get better and we'll move on down the road."
Perhaps the struggles can be blamed on heavy turnover on the offensive side, where the offensive line was shuffled because of injuries, all but one receiver was a newcomer and Whaley was making his return after a broken ankle ended his 2011 season early.
"You obviously expect everybody to be right on, you expect to play well, you expect to do all these different things but sometimes it just doesn't work like that," Jones said. "You can expect one thing, and then you've got to go out there and play. That's why you go out there. At the end of the day, we won the game. We're 1-0 and we've still got a chance to go after this thing."
Or perhaps you can blame them on a lackluster game plan.
"We didn't run too much, we were pretty vanilla with our offense," said receiver Kenny Stills, who had a 68-yard TD catch in the opener. "It kind of reminds of 'Remember the Titans' where they had those five or six plays they ran and they wanted to run them well. I felt like that's what we did on Saturday and we didn't run them as well as we wanted to."
The Rattlers are out for a mammoth upset and a $650,000 payday. Florida A&M is shorthanded after suspending top receiver Lenworth Lennon, along with three other players. FAMU is 0-13 against FBS teams since 1996, losing by an average score of 50-9.
Stoops isn't ready to pass judgment on his team after only one outing. He remembers how the Sooners "started like gangbusters a year ago," carrying the No. 1 ranking after wins against Tulsa and Florida State to open the season.
But it all ended without a Big 12 championship, making it a disappointing year in Norman.
"We've had other years we've won championships and we've played pretty average in the first game or two and got better as the year goes," Stoops said. "My concern is that we get better, that we make improvement, learn from some of the things we weren't quite as efficient at. ... It's one game and we've got a long year in front of us.
"How you start doesn't always have anything to do with how you finish."