NORMAN — As Oklahoma lined up to try and keep Baylor from notching a two-point conversion and pulling to within one score late in Saturday's game, a cheer went up from the top of Section 32.
Nothing had happened on the field.
But something had on another one.
The Sooner fans sitting high in that lower-bowl section could see televisions in the suites above them, televisions that were tuned to the Alabama-Texas A&M game. When the Aggies intercepted the Crimson Tide and scored the season's biggest upset, folks erupted.
The national title picture continues to come into focus, and it looks more and more like the Big 12 is going to have two teams in the BCS bowls. But on a night that OU won 42-34 and struggled to put away Baylor — the Sooners didn't keep the Bears from converting that two-point try and needed to recover an onside kick in the game's final minutes — you have to wonder if OU is going to get one of those BCS spots.
The assumption has been that OU would win out.
Play again like it did Saturday, though, and that isn't the foregone conclusion that we thought.
“I feel like we just need to push,” Sooner tailback Damien Williams said. “Everybody just keep pushing as a team.”
OU didn't seem to do that Saturday. There was no sizzle. There was no spark.
Sooner coach Bob Stoops called it a good solid win.
I can buy that.
But against a Baylor team that lost to TCU by four touchdowns and Iowa State by two touchdowns, OU was expected to have more than a good solid win.
It was supposed to blow the Bears' doors off.
That didn't happen.
It was primarily because of the Sooner defense, which as been spectacular all season. Even though the Sooners held the Bears to a season-low 424 yards of offense, they gave up 252 yards rushing. That's a big number for any defense to surrender, but for a defense that's been as good as OU's, it's big and shocking.
“The way we had to defend them with the pass,” Stoops said, “we knew we'd pay for it on the run.”
And the Sooners did.
Even though Bob tried to explain the rushing numbers as a necessary evil of defending Baylor's passing game, Brother Mike and his marauding horde of defenders said the total was unacceptable.
Only Texas and Kansas allowed Baylor more rushing yards this season, and I'm pretty sure no one in crimson and cream wants their defense compared to those two.
The big rushing number wasn't the only problem for the Sooners. There were wide open receivers running behind the secondary. There were five red-zone scores on five red-zone opportunities. There were 11 of 20 third-down conversions.
“Bottom line, guys just couldn't tackle tonight,” Sooner defensive lineman David King said. “We've done a poorer and poorer job tackling as the season's progressed. Either we've gotta fix it or we're gonna start getting beat.”
Mike Stoops said, “We need to play better defense if we want to go the places we want to go.”
The defense wasn't alone in culpability for this lackluster performance. The offense had its struggles, too.
The Baylor defense stinks, but the OU offense failed to dominate. It was methodical but not explosive. It managed only three plays of more than 20 yards. It committed two turnovers, a fumble and an interception.
All was not gloom and doom, of course.
The Sooners, for example, played with an extremely thin offensive line, stretched even thinner by an injury that sidelined anchor Gabe Ikard. Yet, they allowed just one sack and opened some gaping holes for Damien Williams and Co.
Still, Saturday was not the kind of easy victory that could've catapulted the Sooners into these final weeks of the season. Games at West Virginia, against Oklahoma State and at TCU remain. OU will be favored in all of them, but you know those games be tough. Morgantown and Fort Worth will be rocking, and Bedlam will be Bedlam.
But with Alabama going down and Kansas State continuing to roll, OU is on a collision course with a BCS bowl.
The Wildcats will likely ascend to the top spot in the nation when the new rankings come out Sunday, and with only two games remaining against Baylor and Texas, K-State seems destined to play in the national championship game. That opens the door for OU to represent the Big 12 in the BCS, likely in the Fiesta Bowl.
“You never know what's going to happen at the end of the year,” Sooner safety Javon Harris said. “We just have to continue to get better.”
Not sure the Sooners did that Saturday, and yet, the road back to the BCS continues to open wide.
The opportunity is there, but the Sooners have to seize it.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. You can also like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.