NORMAN — Football coaches regularly stress the importance of “attention to detail” during news conferences and media interviews.
It came as no surprise, then, when Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops and his brother Mike sermonized this week on the urgency of minding details Saturday, when their No. 6 Sooners open Big 12 play against No. 15 Kansas State on Owen Field.
“Attention to detail” is usually just a catchall, a popular phrase in coachspeak that states the obvious: Every single cog — no matter how small — must fulfill its role for the whole team to be successful.
But against this coaching staff, quarterback and program, the old adage represents a deep-seated lesson from Bill Snyder, who taught both Stoops brothers many things, but nothing more enduring than the simple importance of being detail oriented.
“All the little things matter,” Bob Stoops said when asked about Snyder's most impactful guidance.
“I think evaluation and developing your team and to be methodical and constant about it. I guess that's the best way to put it.”
Minor details have cost the Sooners in the early 2012 season; not in the win-loss column — yet — but in yards, points and turnovers surrendered to UTEP and Florida A&M.
When OU opened the season in El Paso, the Miners grabbed an early 7-0 lead when OU's punt protection broke down and allowed Tress Way's kick to be blocked and returned for a touchdown. UTEP also blocked a field goal.
Kansas State has blocked six kicks since the beginning of the 2011 season.
OU signal callers have been sacked six times in just two games; the Wildcats have recorded eight sacks so far this year, with three of them coming via defensive end Adam Davis, who's forced fumbles on each one.
And, of course, there is the not-so-small task of slowing the Kansas State rushing attack, led by quarterback Collin Klein.
The Sooners' defense allowed UTEP running back Nathan Jeffery to rack up 177 yards in three quarters, and it was largely due to botched assignments on zone-reads, a bread-and-butter part of Kansas State's attack.
If Klein hands off to tailback John Hubert, he's more than capable of busting a long run if players are out of position.
And if Klein keeps the ball and runs himself, Sooner defenders had better take the right angle and tackle with technique in mind, or the 6-foot-5, 226 pounder will have little problem breaking away or just running people over.
“He's a big, physical presence, so you're not going to arm tackle him,” Bob Stoops said of Klein. “So, if you don't have a good square shot on him, he's going to run through it.”
With both Stoops brothers on his staffs in the 1990s, Snyder orchestrated college football's greatest turnaround by intensely focusing on little things.
On paper, his Wildcats have no business beating the Sooners, who are 14-0 — by an average 43-16 score — at home against ranked teams during the Stoops era.
One team has kept such a game's final margin in single digits: Kansas State in 2001, when it lost 38-37.
“It's a very disciplined game,” Mike Stoops said. “You've got to play 11 on 11. ... That's gonna come into play on Saturday night. They're gonna make you execute every single play.”
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops stressed attention to detail as vital to success Saturday, when his No. 6 Sooners host No. 15 Kansas State. Here is a checklist of OU's most important tasks that must be successfully fulfilled to stay unbeaten and knock off the 'Cats.
1. Tackling: The Sooners tackled poorly in the first half last year vs. K-State and led by 6. When tackling improved after halftime, the Sooners shut KSU down and won in a rout.
2. Staying mindful of assignments: Against UTEP, the Sooners defensive ends busted assignment after assignment, and OU nearly lost. KSU's unique and changing blocking schemes can't confuse OU's defensive front or it won't ever get off the field.
3. Blocking, inside and outside: It goes beyond the pass protection that's plagued OU thus far; the Sooner linemen and outside receivers must get on — and stay on — their man until the play is over.
4. Get 3-and-outs: If Oklahoma's defense allows Klein and KSU to pick up first downs and keep the Sooner offense on the sidelines, OU could be in for a long day. The Wildcats can make big plays, but are also capable of four-yarding you into oblivion.
5. Special teams matter: KSU's Tyler Lockett is always a threat to return kicks for touchdowns, and the Wildcats are kick-blocking fiends. Little things like the holder messing up the snap-to-kick transition could be critical in a game like this.