MANHATTAN, Kansas — Oklahoma isn’t worried about the College Football Playoff.
Not any longer. Not after Saturday.
The No. 5-ranked Sooners’ undefeated season crashed on Saturday in a stunning 48-41 loss at Kansas State.
OU was not only undefeated, the Sooners were largely untested in their first seven games. And when the plucky Wildcats tested them — when K-State punched OU in the mouth — Oklahoma wilted.
Kansas State came in as a 23 ½-point underdog, but early in the fourth quarter led 48-23.
“Incredibly disappointed,” said OU head coach Lincoln Riley. “Didn’t play very good against a good football team in a hostile road environment.”
These Sooners, for a change, had looked worthy of competing for a national championship. A defense, constructed by Alex Grinch and practically willed to excellence this season, had played with pride, with passion, with gang-tackling and had succeeded largely by not allowing big plays and by taking the fight to their opponent.
But on this day, the OU defense reverted to a mopey bunch that missed tackles, couldn’t cover the pass, didn’t rush the quarterback and generally had no idea what plays would be coming at them — particularly on third-and-long.
The offense wasn’t much better, settling for field goals, turning the ball over and not converting third downs. In a stretch of six possessions from early in the second quarter to late in the third, OU produced just six points. The numbers eventually came, but only after K-State had the game in hand.
If it wasn’t before, this team’s attention is now firmly planted on one game at a time — first, an open date with lots and lots of practice, then a home game with Iowa State. From there, little else matters.
That’s the bed that Oklahoma has made, and Riley is OK with lying in it as it relates to the Sooners’ national championship hopes.
Asked about the team’s long-term title goals, Riley reminded everyone that both the 2017 and 2018 Sooners lost regular-season games to Big 12 opponents that didn’t prevent them from making the College Football Playoff.
“We’ve been through this road,” Riley said. “Everybody in the world’s gonna say we’re done. We know how this works. So we know what we’re capable of. We’ve got to all do a lot better — coaches, players, everybody. There’s everything out there left for us, and we know that. We can’t listen to all the noise. We’ve got to do a good job of getting ready for the next one and learn from this. We’ve always responded well when we’ve had a tough one like this, and I would fully expect that this team will do the same.”
He’s right, of course. Six weeks remain in the college football season. A lot can happen, and in November, usually does.
But that doesn’t make this loss any less alarming.
OU had won 22 consecutive road games, second-longest in major college history (behind the Sooners of the 1950s’ streak of 25 in a row). But on a cool, sunny day in Bill Snyder Family Stadium, in their first real road test of the season — small, apathetic crowds at UCLA and Kansas were no challenge — the Sooners failed.
The K-State faithful numbered 50,394, stayed loud and active throughout — and the Sooners couldn’t handle it.
Ironically, another quick start may have given the Sooners false confidence.
After opening with a field goal, the OU defense got a quick three-and-out, and Oklahoma responded with an efficient touchdown drive that made it 10-0.
Only, it wasn’t.
“We didn’t stress about that at all,” said defensive end Wyatt Hubert, who had a quarterback sack, two hurries and hit Jalen Hurts and others numerous times throughout the day.
“We were down 17-7 and offensively, we were cracking and winning the line of scrimmage,” said K-State coach Chris Klieman.
That belief turned into a purple swarm.
K-State quarterback Skylar Thompson threw for just 213 yards, but he was remarkably efficient on third down, converting third-and-9, third-and-10, fourth-and-6, third-and-10, third-and-15, third-and-13, third-and-5 and third-and-1 as the Wildcats built a 25-point fourth-quarter lead.
Thompson ran for four touchdowns, and five of K-State’s six rushing TDs were uncontested at the goal line.
“I was disappointed in the physicality,” Riley said, “there’s no question about it.”
Kansas State finished with 426 yards (408 by Houston was the previous high Oklahoma allowed this year), converted 6-of-13 third downs and held onto the football for more than 38 minutes.
James Gilbert led the Wildcats with 105 rushing yards, including several runs on which he ran through the Sooner front untouched, and also scored a touchdown. K-State outright dominated Oklahoma at the line of scrimmage.
And it wasn’t just the Kansas State defense that was more physical.
Jalen Hurts did complete 19-of-26 passes for 395 yards and threw a touchdown pass (CeeDee Lamb’s 70-yard zig-zag screen), but he was also sacked twice and hurried often behind an offensive line that looked more like it was playing its first game together, rather than its third in a row.
Hurts led OU with 96 rushing yards (he also scored three touchdowns) on 19 carries, but that was deleterious to Oklahoma’s dynamic tandem of Kennedy Brooks and Trey Sermon, who combined for 2,003 yards and 25 touchdowns last season but only had six total rushing attempts for 11 yards on Saturday.
Oklahoma had averaged 7.4 yards per rush in its first seven games, but averaged just 3.9 yards against the Wildcats.
Still, despite all that, the game wasn’t finished until officials ruled that OU failed to recover an onside kick with 1:49 to play.
Referee Reggie Smith referenced a rule interpretation about “forced touching” of the ball.
Brkic’s onside kick bounced off the ground and glanced off Trejan Bridges’ hip. The ball hit Bridges before it went 10 yards, which is an illegal touching penalty and awards Kansas State the football.
Bridges, however, was also being contacted — some might say blocked — by a K-State player inside the 10-yard area.
Smith conducted a lengthy replay review and concluded that the Kansas State players contact/block did not force Bridges to touch the football.
“We did consider all aspects of forced touching,” Smith told a pool reporter.
If Smith had made the opposite judgment call and decided Bridges’ illegal touch was in fact forced by the K-State player’s contact, then OU’s recovery of the kickoff would have stood and the Sooners would have taken over at the K-State 37 with 1:49 to play.
Overtime would have been the goal.
That sequence was controversial, but it wasn’t what lost this game for Oklahoma.
What lost Saturday for the Sooners was Kansas State’s fight and OU’s own unwillingness to play physical football.
“Nobody is going to feel sorry for you,” said defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. “We have to pick ourselves up. You want to crawl into a hole, but once you do, you have to pull yourself out.”
Formerly co-host of “Further Review” and “The Franchise Drive,” columnist John E. Hoover is a college football insider on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Hoover co-hosts The Franchise “Inside OU” Podcast with Brady Trantham and Rufus Alexander, and the Locked oN Sooners podcast on the Locked oN Podcast Network. He also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his YouTube channel at YouTube.com/c/JohnHoover, and his personal page at johnehoover.com.
Oklahoma’s losses as a double-digit favorite since 1999:
at Texas Tech (13) L 38-28
OSU (27) L 16-13
at Texas A&M (10) L 30-26
at OSU (15) L 38-28
Kansas State* (14) L 35-7
TCU (25) L 17-10
at Colorado (27) L 27-24
BYU+ (22) L 14-13
Texas Tech (30) L 41-34
at Baylor (15) L 45-38
Kansas State (15 ½) L 24-19
Notre Dame (11 ½) L 30-13
Texas^ (13 ½) L 36-20
OSU (19 ½) L 38-35
Texas^ (16 ½) L 24-17
Houston# (13 ½) L 33-23
Iowa State (30) L 24-17
Kansas State (23 ½) L 48-41
*Big 12 title game, Kansas City
+ Dallas Cowboys Stadium, Arlington
^ Cotton Bowl, Dallas
# NRG Stadium, Houston