🔟 Takes: Oklahoma 35, Kansas 23
...what did we all just watch?
For a program that’s monopolized its conference, Oklahoma always seems good for one or two major letdowns per season. A game it shouldn’t lose but does, because the Sooners aren’t in a place as a program where they can guarantee they will easily beat the teams their favored heavily against for whatever reason.
This season, that letdown game has felt inevitable. The Sooners have somehow avoided it to this point, however, and are off to an 8-0 start for the first time since 2004. But of those victories, six of them felt in question until about the final minute.
For a team trying to win its program’s eighth national title, call me crazy but that doesn’t seem promising. Perhaps the Sooners’ fighting hope is the craziness of this particular college football season — and the fact its true freshman quarterback might will it to happen.
So, about Oklahoma’s unappetizing 35-23 victory over Kansas…
OU’s defense remains down bad. For all that was expected of Alex Grinch’s unit, the Sooner defense has yet to live up anywhere close to it and has seemingly regressed as the season’s went along. Of course, injuries are a part of it. But injuries don’t cause missed tackles, nor do they allow the Jayhawks to convert nine of 13 third-down attempts and their only fourth-down play. Keep in mind, even with Saturday's outlier, the Jayhawks rank No. 114 nationally in third-down conversion percentage. For those unaware, there are 130 FBS teams and there are only four Power 5 schools that rank worse in Kansas in that category. So, this was a particularly bad performance, and there’s no other way to put it.
The bright spot of OU’s defense on Saturday? Key Lawrence. The Tennessee transfer didn’t step in Week 1 and make an instant impact on OU’s secondary. But he’s gradually improved week to week and had his best game in an Oklahoma uniform against Kansas. He led the team in three categories on Saturday — tackles (8), tackles for loss (2) and forced the lone fumble OU recovered. This might sound like hyperbole but I really don’t know if OU wins on Saturday if not for Lawrence’s performance. He looked like a guy that Kansas players didn’t belong on the same field with and instilled some hope that maybe this OU secondary can get better if/when Delarrin Turner-Yell, Woodi Washington and DJ Graham get healthy. The depth behind those players, however, remains shaky at best.
Caleb Williams is a magician. The true freshman made his first mistake, forcing a ball downfield that was intercepted when a wide-open Kennedy Brooks was in his view. Williams bounced back from the early mistake and helped OU score all 35 of its points in the second half, including a 40-yard rushing touchdown on a fourth-down attempt. It’s hard to not feel like Williams is the heart and soul of this team. It wasn’t his best overall effort, but when it mattered, Williams delivered.
More Trevon West. It’s wild to think the OU sophomore receiver entered his name into the transfer portal earlier this calendar year. He was a spark plug for the Sooners on Saturday, picking up a 66-yard gain on his lone carry that sparked a touchdown drive that helped OU cut Kansas’ lead to 17-14 in the second half. The week before, he had a 35-yard reception that set the Sooners up to go ahead 14-0. While the Sooners are loaded at receiver, getting the likes of Jadon Haselwood and Marvin Mims has been difficult this season. West has to be more involved if that continues to be the case.
Time of possession kills the Sooners … again. So, the bad news for Oklahoma right now? Teams know they have a shot to beat the Sooners if they can shorten the game and win the time-of-possession battle.The good news? OU’s undefeated, despite their opponents’ efforts to play keep away. The Sooners' struggles on Saturday, however, had to be a low point for the season. Kansas had the ball for 35:30, while OU maintained possession for 24:30. That’s not just ugly … that’s alarming and falls on OU’s inability to get off the field on third down.
Brooks cools off. OU's star running back, Kennedy Brooks, has been a workhorse this entire month. He carried the ball 60 times for 461 yards (7.7 yards per carry) in OU’s three games leading up to Kansas. So, he was due for a clunker, providing just 79 yards on 24 carries against the Jayhawks. OU’s off week on Nov. 6 will do him some good. Eric Gray getting more involved, even if it was more in the passing game, is a positive sign as OU readies for November. The big loser on Saturday? OU not being able to put in Marcus Major for an extended period because the game was never not in question.
Where is the pass rush? Yes, Kansas quarterback Jason Bean rolled out of the pocket plenty on Saturday. But how did OU’s pass rush, which features NFL talent such as Nik Bonitto, Isaiah Thomas and Perrion Winfrey, only muster one sack against KU? The Jayhawks sacked Caleb Williams three times. OU’s lone sack, courtesy of Bonitto, came with 23 seconds to spare in the fourth quarter. It’s unfair to blame OU’s pass coverage issues solely on the defensive front, but it would make life a helluva lot easier on OU’s young defensive backs if it forces Bean into more bad throws. But also, you can’t blame Oklahoma’s pass rush for Kansas receivers essentially getting whatever they wanted without much pressure. It’s an alarming trend with the Big 12’s best passing offense behind Oklahoma’s league-leading unit coming to Norman this Saturday.
I want you to look at OU’s drive chart and tell me if it looks familiar.
Is this OU team still capable of winning the Big 12? Believe it or not, the Sooners are still capable of doing everything they set their sights on in the offseason. Winning is hard, Lincoln Riley has once or twice said. Perhaps it shouldn’t be this hard, but OU is finding ways to win without playing the best football. Maybe Oklahoma is a sleeping giant that’s waiting for injuries to diminish, so it can become the national championship contender it was thought to be before the season. I don’t know how anyone could be that optimistic about this group after what they showed on Saturday. But also, the Sooners are 8-0, which, for this program, is probably worth more of a celebration than it’s been given. Because what’s the point of the journey, if there is no joy in it?
I’ll say what the mainstream media won’t…
…holy fucking shit this play was awesome.
And they’re doing it with ease!
I wonder how life in Boca Rotan, Florida, is.