OKLAHOMA CITY — Defensive coordinator Brent Venables opened a folder with notes about the last time Oklahoma faced Missouri, and three words jumped off the page: Must tackle better.
Heading into this week’s Big 12 Conference championship game against the top-ranked Tigers, there’s plenty of preparing to do to get ready for the Chase Daniel-led offense that ranks fifth in the nation in total offense and sixth in scoring.
“Obviously they haven’t really been slowed down much. They’ve had success up ‘til our game and since,” Venables said.
The No. 9 Sooners (10-2, 6-2) come in with an air of confidence, though, as the only team that’s been able to knock off Missouri this season. Oklahoma capitalized on two fourth-quarter turnovers to score 18 straight points in a 41-31 victory in Norman in mid-October. The Tigers (11-1, 7-1 Big 12) have won six in a row since then, including a 36-28 decision over then-No. 2 Kansas on Saturday.
“It’s another big challenge, just excited about it. They’re a good team, we recognize that, but we feel that we match up well with them obviously in all parts of the game,” Sooners coach Bob Stoops said. “That makes it exciting.”
Oklahoma locked up a chance at a rematch with a 49-17 win against Oklahoma State on Saturday, a week after a 34-27 loss at Texas Tech ended any hopes for a national championship. Now the Sooners will have a chance to play spoiler for the Missouri’s BCS title hopes and earn their second straight trip to the Fiesta Bowl.
Stoops said he didn’t buy into the belief that it’s more difficult for a team to beat an opponent a second time in the same season. When asked separately about the challenges presented by Daniel and Missouri’s tight end tandem of Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman, he had similar responses: “We’ve dealt with that the last two years with them. Right?”
Stoops is 3-0 against Gary Pinkel’s Tigers, including a 26-10 win last season in Columbia. While Missouri will be playing in the Big 12 title game for the first time, Oklahoma is in the conference championship game for the sixth time in the past eight years.
“There’s a lot of pride in that. I think it’s obvious when you look at what everyone else is doing anywhere that it’s not easy to do,” Stoops said. “Winning your conference championships, they’re always exciting and they’re special. I think as a program, there’s a lot of pride there to be able to do it and to have a chance again.”
Oklahoma won the Big 12 title game each of the past four even-numbered years — in 2000, 2002, 2004 and last season.
“That’s one of our main goals is to be able to win the Big 12 South and get in to play for a Big 12 championship,” said tight end Joe Jon Finley, who caught two touchdown passes against Oklahoma State. “The Big 12 Conference is one of the best in the nation, and anytime you’re in that championship game with an opportunity to win it, it’s a special season.”
Stoops was pleased that Oklahoma played a “clean” game against their in-state rival, going without any turnovers and few penalties, and said his confidence is built on the fact that the Sooners “haven’t had a lot of bad quarters” this season. A turnover-plagued fourth quarter proved costly in a loss at Colorado, and the Sooners were off-kilter the entire first half when quarterback Sam Bradford suffered a concussion in the Texas Tech loss.
The team looked entirely different in the Bedlam rivalry.
“We came out and played with some emotion,” Finley said. “We felt like we hadn’t been playing as hard and with as much emotion the past couple of weeks, and I think you could tell by the way we were running around on and off the field out there that we were having fun out there.”
With another emotional effort, Oklahoma will have a chance to win its league-best fifth Big 12 title and play in its sixth BCS bowl in the past eight years.
“The South trophy is nice, but we want the other one,” Stoops said. “To us, that’s what matters is the championship.
“It’s out there for us, and we’ve got to have a big week getting ready for it.”