- Associated Press - Friday, September 30, 2011

NORMAN, OKLA. (AP) - Bob Stoops didn’t need words to send the message to No. 2 Oklahoma that the intensity needs to pick up.

When his players arrived for practice this week, it wasn’t for the usual light-hitting session that usually comes when players are still recovering from one game and not yet ramping it up for the next. He called for them to wear the upper half of their pads, a message that it was time to get back to a more physical brand of football.

The Sooners (3-0) were riding high after a win at then-No. 5 Florida State but got off to a sluggish start in their Big 12 opener against Missouri that wound up being an unsatisfying 38-28 win.

The Sooners looked ordinary at times, a contrast to the hard-hitting approach they had taken against the Seminoles.

So, with Ball State (3-1) visiting Owen Field this Saturday night, it’s time for Oklahoma to get its game back in top form. It’s the last tuneup before the Red River Rivalry against No. 17 Texas next week in Dallas, but now is no time to focus on the future.

“We just need to get that revved up again, no matter who we play,” running back Brennan Clay said.

Stoops was displeased with how his team came out, falling behind Missouri 14-3 in the first quarter _ the first time the Sooners had trailed on their home field in 21 games. And he didn’t like how they finished, either, giving up two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

He presented the example of the 2000 national championship team and others who have made it through the regular season unbeaten to earn the chance to play for the title. And he told them he was disappointed this team hadn’t lived up to that standard so far.

“They just had one way to practice and one way to play and it was always pushing themselves to make improvement. If we’re going to have any kind of year here, we’re going to have to do that,” Stoops said.

“It’s a long road and the better teams get better as you work through the year. Hopefully, we’ll make some strides as we get through the week.”

Stoops‘ staff saw it coming, getting on players in the hotel even before the game started for lacking focus. That carried over onto the field, until the Sooners snapped out of it by scoring 28 consecutive points.

This week has been about getting that focus back _ for an improving Ball State team, and for the Big 12 games beyond.

“It’s a good time to re-establish what we’re trying to get done this year,” defensive end David King said. “We can’t come out and have another week like we did last week, or else we’ll get beat.”

The only blemish so far for Ball State under first-year coach Pete Lembo came at South Florida, now ranked No. 16. He believes his players got carried away with the opponent that week and he is trying to take a simple approach to facing the Sooners.

“I believe that our guys have to just go out and play,” Lembo said. “We’ve talked a lot about focusing on the process. We don’t talk a lot about winning.”

Winning hasn’t been good enough for Oklahoma, though. The Sooners dropped from No. 1 this week for the first time this season despite winning, getting passed by LSU for the top spot.

It was a small change but symbolic of a drop-off from the preseason goal to play like the best team in the country every single game.

“If we execute like we can offensively and defensively, I don’t think anyone in the nation can beat us. I have that kind of confidence in our team,” King said. “But if we come out and play like we did last week, we won’t be able to go undefeated and win a national championship. There are just too many talented teams out there.”

“A lot of us are frustrated,” Clay added. “We all know what our potential is, and we definitely didn’t play up to it.”

Stoops said any reasons suggested for why the Sooners didn’t play at their best last week were merely excuses. Making it more strange was all the pregame buildup surrounding Oklahoma’s chance at avenging a loss at Missouri last year.

“You can talk about it. It’s just are you going to be about it,” King said. “Are you going to talk the talk, or can you walk the walk? I think last week we just did a lot of talking and nobody was walking. This week, everybody has to step up and play better than they did last week.”



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