NORMAN â€” Whatever happens the rest of the season, this Oklahoma defense will go down as one of the worst statistically in the Bob Stoops era.
Despite shutting down Texas Tech on Saturday, the Sooners rank No. 60 nationally in total defense. Under Stoops, only the 2008 defense finished a season ranked lower.
But with two regular-season games to go, this defense still has the opportunity to be remembered for something very different.
As a defense that propelled the Sooners to another Big 12 Championship.
â€œIt's time to man up or shut up, that's what I say,â€ said linebacker Travis Lewis. â€œEnough with, we don't play well on the road and everything. We win out, we'll be in the Big 12 Championship.
â€œWe'll see how much this team wants it. How bad the players individually want it.â€
Reaching the national championship is an impossibility.
But every other goal the Sooners set out to achieve at the beginning of the season is within reach. Despite losing two games, OU can still win the Big 12 South, win the Big 12 Championship and play in a BCS bowl.
Getting there, however, won't be easy.
Waiting for this defense will be Baylor, Oklahoma State and potentially Nebraska â€” three offenses that average 33, 45 and 35 points per game.
â€œExplosive offenses, with great skill players all over the field,â€ said safety Quinton Carter. â€œIt's a huge challenge.â€
To meet the challenge those teams will present, OU can't afford another no-show from its defense in the fourth quarter.
Nor can the Sooners be content to play good defense four plays, then surrender a huge gain on the fifth.
â€œPeople are going to make some plays and they'll score here and there,â€ said defensive coordinator Brent Venables. â€œBut you have to make people earn it and not give up cheap scores.â€
Giving up cheap scores and big plays have been the Achilles heel of this OU defense most of the season.
Especially on the road.
In three away games â€” Cincinnati, Missouri and Texas A&M â€” the Sooners allowed a total of 18 plays that went for 20 yards or more. Those 18 plays comprised close to half of the 1,329 total yards OU gave up in those games.
Permit that trend to continue against the likes of Baylor, OSU and Nebraska, and the Sooners not only won't run the table, they'll risk being run out of the stadium.
â€œThose offenses have got the kind of skill that, when you give up a crease, you get your eyes in the wrong place and let a guy behind you, they're hitting their head on the goal posts,â€ Venables said. â€œIt'll be incredibly important that we can keep the ball inside and in front of us. We've got to get that corrected obviously the next two weeks.â€
OU's defense, however, showed signs of turning a corner against Tech in probably its best outing of the season. After the Red Raiders scored their opening drive with the help of some gimmick plays, OU dominated, holding Tech to its lowest scoring output in four years. Even more encouraging, after that first drive the Sooners relinquished only two plays of 20 yards or more: a pair of Baron Batch runs.
â€œHopefully our guys use this to get some momentum from playing well against a quality Tech offense that's done well all year,â€ Venables said
Keep it going in Waco and in Stillwater and beyond, and this Sooner defense won't be remembered for capitulating in Columbia. Or crumbling in the fourth quarter in College Station.
Instead, it will be recalled as one that spearheaded the Sooners to another Big 12 Championship.