Norman, Okla. For more than six years, Oklahoma won every single time it played at home and usually won big.
That air of invincibility is gone.
For the first time in their careers, this group of Sooners will play on Owen Field knowing what it feels like to lose at home. A 39-game home winning streak that was the longest in the nation was snapped by Texas Tech during their last game in Norman, and Texas A&M (5-3, 3-2 Big 12) comes to town with a task that may not seem as ominous anymore.
“On Saturday, we’re going to go out there and we’re going to play ball. We’ll see what it turns out — if the mystique’s still there or if it’s not,” said Sooners quarterback Landry Jones, the nation’s second-most prolific passer. “We’re going to see on Saturday.”
Texas Tech, which was unranked and coming off consecutive home losses at the time, completely controlled Oklahoma while opening a 31-7 third-quarter lead two weeks ago. It was easily the worst home performance by the Sooners in Bob Stoops’ 13 seasons as head coach with failures on offense, defense and special teams.
“You can’t just roll your helmet out there and expect to win,” receiver Jaz Reynolds said. “Doing that got us beat pretty good.”
Still, the seventh-ranked Sooners (7-1, 4-1) have never lost back-to-back home games under Stoops, who is 75-3 on Owen Field. Before Tech’s 41-38 victory, he hadn’t lost a home games since the 2005 season opener against TCU.
And none of his current players had ever experienced defeat at home. Some had never trailed until earlier this year, when the Sooners fell behind for the first time in 21 home games.
“It’s less pressure,” said running back Roy Finch, who could carry a bigger load with starter Dominique Whaley out for the season with a broken ankle. “Instead of worrying about not losing at home and keeping that streak alive, keeping that history alive that all of the old Sooner players had built, we can just go out there and play and start our own record again.”
Texas A&M will be trying for back-to-back wins against the Sooners, after claiming a 33-19 triumph last season in College Station. But for the third time this season, the Aggies are also trying to do away with the bad memories of a second-half collapse.
All three of the team’s losses this season have come after double-digit leads slipped away in the second half.
“We have a phenomenal challenge this week up in Norman,” coach Mike Sherman said. “It’s easy to lay down on that mat. I tell them all the time it’s not easy to play football. Football is a game of 1-on-1 matchups, and 11 guys winning their matchups. Our ability to win our matchups in the upcoming game is going to be huge.
“Oklahoma bounced back (from the Texas Tech loss) against a very good Kansas State team, and our ability to bounce back is a true measure of who we are.”
A&M followed a midseason swoon last year — losing to the same three teams — by reeling off six straight victories to earn a trip to the Cotton Bowl. With four games left, there’s still time for another strong finish.
“We have the type of guys on this team that can do it, the type of players that are capable of making plays. Does that mean that’s how it’s going to happen? No,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. “It’s up to us and how we respond. I’m going to do everything in my power to get this team ready to play. I think the guys will respond.”
Considering its performance the last time on Owen Field, Oklahoma is in no position to throw stones at A&M for its second-half struggles.
“Those kind of things happen to the best of us. It happened to us, so it can happen to anybody,” Reynolds said. “Who am I to say that A&M won’t come out on edge and bust us in the mouth in the first and second half? We have to come out on edge and play like our hair’s on fire.”
If not, the Sooners will have a much more dubious streak on their hands.
“It’s a home game, so we all know how it is playing on the road. It just takes a little extra focus, a little extra effort,” Jones said. “But Texas A&M’s a great team. If we don’t play our best football, they’re going to beat us. They’ve shown they can play great football. We have to prepare and we’ve got to be on our toes and we’ve got to be ready to play.”