LAWRENCE, KS – Oklahoma beat Kansas in Lawrence Saturday 35-23. That was about the best that could be said about it. It was a win, albeit an ugly one, and ugly wins are infinitely better than the alternative. In this case, the alternative would have been losing to the five-plus touchdown underdog Jayhawks in what would have been one of the biggest upsets in modern college football history. And make no mistake, that was a very real possibility late into the fourth quarter of this one.
The Jayhawks took a page out of the Nebraska, Kansas State, and West Virginia playbooks – they tried to Snyder us. That is, they tried to hold the ball, shorten the game, and limit our offensive possessions. And they did a good job of it. The Sooners went to halftime down 10-0, shut out in a half for the first time since the second half of the Army game in 2018.
The Sooner defense, while it has been wracked with injuries, has nevertheless regressed. One of the worst teams in FBS basically had its way with the Sooner defense for most of the game. They couldn’t stop the run, and when the Jayhawks weren’t running, they had wide open receivers all over the field. We have gone from the early games this season when the defense was carrying the offense back to what we have been used to in prior years, with the offense carrying the defense.
This game was reminiscent of the 2013 game, when the Mike Stoops-led Sooner defense looked like a piece of Swiss cheese against the Jayhawks, who ran out to a 13-0 second quarter lead before the Sooners came to life. OU pulled that one out 34-19 in a contest that was still tight well into the fourth quarter.
Saturday in Lawrence, it took touchdowns on every one of the Sooners’ five second half possessions (and a couple of magical Caleb Williams plays, one of which I have literally never seen before) to make this a double-digit win. But make no mistake, the score was not indicative of how close this game was. The Kansas athletic department threw open the gates for free at halftime and put that fact out on social media, resulting in the crowd significantly increasing as the game went on. This included a group of KU students who came to sit directly in front of me. One of them clearly had his express purpose to antagonize anyone in Sooner red. He was eventually removed by security, but not before I admonished him to just not be an a**hole. Readers, sadly, he did not listen, and remained (and presumably remains) an a**hole.
In the interest of the good use of time and preserving everyone’s mental health, we will basically skip the first half of this game. Kansas had two drives in the first half that went for 9:11 and 6:36 and resulted in a TD and a field goal. Their other two first half possessions resulted in a missed field goal and running out the clock at the end of the half. They held the ball for exactly 22 minutes. For reference, Army held the ball for 22:01 of the first half in that 2018 game. This one felt a lot like that early. The Sooners had the ball for only eight minutes and three possessions in the first half. Those possessions resulted in a punt, an ill-advised interception on a deep ball by Williams when he had Brooks open underneath for a big gain, and a turnover on downs.
OU took the opening kickoff of the second half needing to score a TD in the very worst way. And it almost went sideways before they even picked up a first down. Facing third and five from the OU 30, Williams connected with Jeremiah Hall for an 11-yard gain and a first down, but Hall fumbled the ball. Fortunately, he managed to get on top of it and preserve the drive. Kennedy Brooks then ran for two yards, followed by consecutive completions of seven and 12 yards to Eric Gray. That gave the Sooners a first down at the KU 38. Three plays, later, the reliable Drake Stoops caught a 12-yard pass to convert a third and seven. The Sooners kept it on the ground for the next four plays, which ended with them facing third and three from the Jayhawk five-yard line. Williams hit Jadon Haselwood for the score from there, and OU was finally on the board for the first time. The TD made the score 10-7 KU with 7:57 to play in the third quarter.
The Jayhawks were undaunted by this, and immediately embarked on another clock-eating drive. This one went for 10 plays and 75 yards and ended in a TD on fourth and goal that made it 17-7 Jayhawks with only 1:30 to play in the third quarter. At that rate, the Sooners weren’t going to have the ball enough times to win. Something had to give, and it quickly did.
On the ensuing possession, the Sooners took over on their own 25 after a touchback. On the first play, Trevon West took a reverse 66 yards to the KU nine-yard line. Two plays later, Williams hit Hall for the score from eight yards out, and it was 17-14 KU with 14 seconds to play in the third.
The Sooner defense finally rose up and forced a three-and-out at the most opportune time on Kansas’ next possession, and Marvin Mims returned the punt 16 yards to give the Sooners excellent field position at the Jayhawk 48. After an incomplete pass, Williams connected with Brooks on a screen right for 24 yards, then hit Gray on a screen left for another 23 to the KU one-yard line. Brooks took it in on the next play, and the Sooners led for the first time all day at 21-17 with 12:35 to play in the game.
KU picked up two first downs on their next possession and moved into Sooner territory. However, Key Lawrence forced a fumble that Justin Broiles recovered at the KU 47 to give the Sooners a chance to extend their lead. Two Brooks runs netted seven yards, before Williams threw incomplete on third down. Facing fourth and three from the KU 40, the Sooners went for it. Just like he did on his first snap against Texas, Williams took the ball on a QB counter, looked like he was caught in the backfield, then made a move and broke free, this time going 40 yards for the TD and a 28-17 Sooner lead with 7:53 to play in the game.
Alas, the Jayhawks, and the porous Sooner defense, were not done. KU went through the OU secondary like you-know-what through a goose, ripping off pass plays of 28, 11, 19, and 14 yards on a five-play, 75-yard TD drive that, after a two-point conversion attempt failed miserably, made it 28-23 with 5:56 to play in the game. It seemed at that point that if OU failed to score again and let KU have the ball back with any significant time on the clock, the Sooners would go down to defeat.
Oklahoma responded as they needed to, although it would take a bizarre, heads-up play from Williams to make it happen. After Williams ran for 12 yards, Brooks carried for six and three, setting up third and one from the OU 46. After Brooks was stuffed, the Sooners went for it again, and rightly so, as nobody in the stadium would have given the Sooner defense much of a chance of preventing another KU touchdown. Brooks carried again and was stuffed again behind the line of scrimmage. As he spun away and was about to be tackled for a loss, Williams took the ball from him and ran for five yards and a first down. After a review, it was determined that Brooks had not crossed the line of scrimmage, and thus the forward handoff from Brooks to Williams was legal. The Sooners had a first down at the KU 46, and the Jayhawks were forced to start using their times out with just over three minutes to play.
Two plays later, Williams carried for 23 yards to the KU 25, then for another seven. As Kansas used up their times out, the Sooners methodically battered them with Brooks, who carried on the next four plays for seven, three, four, and four yards. The last of those carries ended in the end zone, and the Sooners could finally exhale. They led by what would become the final score of 35-23 with only 42 seconds to play, having run 5:14 off the clock on the game-sealing drive.
The statistical picture was predictably ugly, especially given that the Sooner offense basically did nothing in the first half of the game. Williams was 15-20 for 178 yards with two TDs and a pick. Gray led all OU receivers with three catches for 42 yards. Haselwood had three for 38 and a score, while Stoops added three for 30. Hall had three for 25 and a score, while Brooks had one for 24, Mims had one for 14, and Jalil Farooq had one for five.
Brooks carried 24 times for 79 yards and two scores, while Williams added 70 yards and a score on 8 carries. West had the one carry for 66 yards and Gray had one carry for five yards.
Next up for the Sooners, Texas Tech comes to town for a 2:30 kick next Saturday. After that, a well-deserved and much needed off week awaits before the brutal closing stretch of games at Baylor, Iowa State, and at OSU. Assuming we get past Tech (and nothing is a safe assumption at this point), those three games will determine the fate of the 2021 season. Despite all the issues, the Sooners are 8-0 for the first time since 2004. If some things don’t change, they aren’t likely to stay undefeated for long, but until they lose, they are alone in first place in the Big 12 and in control of their own destiny there and in the CFP race. See you in Norman Saturday afternoon.