NORMAN, Okla. – The Sooners are squeaking a bit these days and that's just fine with linebacker Travis Lewis.
No. 8 Oklahoma (4-0) isn't regularly demolishing opponents, but Lewis says it's better than losing.
"All I care about is we're 4-0," said Lewis, a team captain. "Last year, we were 2-2 at this time and we lost two games by one point. Right now, we're 4-0 and we're winning the close games."
Three of Oklahoma's four wins this season have come by less than a touchdown, with the opponent each time mounting a late comeback from a double-digit deficit that came up short.
Realistically, the Sooners know they're flirting with disaster. It took a muffed punt by Cincinnati and an onside kick recovery in the fourth quarter for Oklahoma to escape with a 31-29 win last week. Before that, Utah State and Air Force both provided late scares before the Sooners escaped.
"We're a long way away and we're 4-0," safety Quinton Carter said. "With that being said, you can't be disappointed. We only can get better."
Opponents have outscored Oklahoma 41-10 in the fourth quarter, and only a few timely plays have kept the Sooners unbeaten. It took a late interception to secure the victory over Utah State; against Air Force, the defense never came up with a late stop and the offense ran out the clock after back-to-back scoring drives by the Falcons.
"It's a good thing at the time, but we can't rely on bending and not breaking because one day it will break," safety Jonathan Nelson said.
"We have to realize that for a defense, you can't rely on turnovers to win the game. Even though football is huge about turnover margin, you can't rely on turnovers and get your butt kicked throughout the whole game ... because turnovers aren't automatic. They don't always happen."
The Sooners have led by at least 15 points in each of their games this season, but only showed a killer instinct in a 47-17 rout of Florida State in Week 2. Coach Bob Stoops admitted his team may be letting up after it builds a substantial lead.
"I think that's an excuse. It's a poor one in my eyes," he said. "If that's the case, you get to feeling comfortable, 'Now, we're good,' then that's a pure setup for someone to come back."
So far, the Sooners have been able to get by without playing their best. That may change Saturday when they face No. 21 Texas (3-1, 1-0 Big 12) at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. The Longhorns are coming off a 34-12 loss to UCLA but have beaten Oklahoma four of the last five years.
"We're not playing near our best, and we need to pick it up, especially on the defensive side of the ball," Nelson said. "The offense, they're putting up 31 points and we're still making it close. That's not a good sign at all. We have to give the offense more of a cushion and not put so much pressure on them."
The positive side is that the Sooners have reversed a trend of losing close games. Last year, they had four losses by a combined 12 points and finished 8-5, settling for a victory in the Sun Bowl after going to three straight BCS bowls.
"Though I'm not at all pleased in the manner in which we did win, I still recognize as a team there's a big difference between winning by two and losing by one or two," Stoops said. "I again am positive, I feel good about the team that that we are making the plays necessary to be on the other side of that."
Of late, the rivalry has been getting more competitive. In the early years of Stoops vs. Mack Brown, there were scores like 63-14, 65-13 and 45-12. But the last three years, the game has been decided by 10 points or less and seen the winning team take the lead in the fourth quarter.
"In a game like this, you're going to need to be able to make those big plays because it's the team that creates the most turnovers, that holds the ball the longest, that controls the clock that wins this game," Lewis said. We may give up some big plays sometimes, but we play hard and we make plays. That's what you need in a game like this."