FORT WORTH, Texas — Air thickens on fourth down and victory to go. Heartbeats quicken.
Do or die fourth downs feel different. When one play means game lost or game won, emotions revolt while concentrations crystallize.
Pressure, the internal kind, sets up shop.
Two straight weeks, in the final minute of play, the Sooners came to the line of scrimmage with the game on the line.
Football's version of the six-foot putt on the 18th Sunday hole. Or two foul shots, down one with one second left.
Two straight weeks, the Sooners faced a fourth down in which failure meant defeat.
Fourth-and-3 from the West Virginia 5-yard line, 26 seconds left, OU down 49-44.
Fourth-and-1 from the OSU 4-yard line, 10 seconds left, OU down 45-38.
The Sooners play at TCU on Saturday, still with a chance at an outright Big 12 championship, because they stared down the pressure of those fourth downs.
“It's hard to describe the feeling,” said OU quarterback Landry Jones, who at West Virginia fired a touchdown strike to Kenny Stills that gave the Sooners a 50-49 victory.
“There's an excitement that goes into it. There is a lot of pressure. There's some weight, just the heaviness of feeling that this is an important play or an important drive. Whenever you're successful, feels like everything is lifted off. It's really fun.”
Just two weeks ago, Bob Stoops and his QB were considered successful at their crafts but not so great in pressure situations. Nobody makes that claim now.
Four Big 12 games this season have been won by teams that faced a do or die fourth down. Texas also has done it twice, against Kansas and OSU.
No reason or rhyme to the results. Four quarterbacks have executed the four survival plays: Landry vs. West Virginia, Blake Bell last week in Bedlam, Texas' David Ash against OSU and Texas' Case McCoy against Kansas.
Reverse those four plays, simple stops by a defense in pressure situations, and look how the Big 12 differs.
OU is 7-4 and the season is a disaster.
Texas is 6-5 and Mack Brown is out the door.
OSU is 9-2, tied for the Big 12 lead and perhaps headed for the Sugar Bowl.
But the truth about big-time football, when talent is equitable and games are close, is that a play here or there determines whether you bowl in New Orleans or San Antone, whether your trip to the desert is for the Fiesta or the Buffalo Wild Wings.
Teams are defined by answering the bell when the pressure mounts.
“You practice for moments like that,” said OU receiver Justin Brown. “That's why you have camp, why you have winter conditioning, summer conditioning. You always have that in the back of your mind. When everything's on the line, what are you going to do?
“I think we responded to those situations pretty good this year. When it's fourth down, win or lose, definitely a little bit more pressure. But once you practice that situation and run that back in your mind when you're practicing, when the situation actually comes, it's way more easy to convert.”
And easier still when you've done it in a game. The Sooners have produced two straight weeks. If a third opportunity arises, OU will be ready.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.
Big 12 play this season has produced seven do-or-die fourth downs:
* Texas-OSU: The Longhorns faced 4th-and-6 from their 29-yard line, less than two minutes left, down 36-34. David Ash completed a pass to D.J. Grant for 29 yards, and Texas scored four plays later to win 41-36.
* Texas-Kansas: The Longhorns faced 4th-and-6 from their 34-yard line, less than two minutes left, down 17-14. Case McCoy completed a pass to Jaxon Shipley for 18 yards, and Texas scored five plays later to win 21-17.
* OU-West Virginia: The Sooners faced 4th-and-3 from the West Virginia 5-yard line, 26 seconds left, down 49-44. Landry Jones threw a touchdown pass to Kenny Stills.
* OU-OSU: The Sooners faced 4th-and-1 from the OSU 4-yard line, 10 seconds left, down 45-38. Blake Bell ran for a touchdown.
* Iowa State-Kansas State: The Cyclones faced 4th-and-5 from the ISU 8-yard line, minute and a half left, down 27-21. Jared Barnett threw incomplete.
* Kansas-Texas Tech: The Jayhawks faced 4th-and-9 from the Tech 24-yard line in overtime, down 41-34. Michael Cummings threw incomplete.
* Texas Tech-Baylor: The Red Raiders faced 4th-and-5 from the Baylor 20-yard line in overtime, down 52-45. Seth Doege threw incomplete.