LAWRENCE, Kansas — Oklahoma got what it wanted on Saturday, but was left wanting so much more.
The Sooners slogged through a strange first half, stomped on the gas for a brief stretch in the second and third quarters and didn’t finish like they wanted against the Kansas Jayhawks.
The final result was a 45-20 OU victory — and now both eyes on Dallas.
It was an odd day from the start: dampened by a morning rain, delayed by pregame lightning, lacking any fan enthusiasm from the home crowd, players hung out in the locker room during the storm, then were told to stay ready, then not told much of anything beyond that.
Instead of the usual 90-minute pregame warmup, both teams were given 35. The KU band played the anthem from their seats, a four-jet flyover came out of nowhere three minutes later, and then the pregame delay continued.
“Listen, this was a strange one from even before the opening kickoff,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said. “I think little league was maybe the last time I was a part of a football team that didn’t go in before halftime.”
“It was kind of awkward, not being able to go on the field early and warm up,” said defensive end Ronnie Perkins.
Add in the ominous intensity of the Texas game looming seven days hence and it’s not hard to figure out Oklahoma’s slow start.
The sixth-ranked Sooners and No. 11 Longhorns tussle at 11 a.m. next week in the Cotton Bowl, and the stakes will feel familiar: winner gets an inside track to the Big 12 Championship Game on Dec. 7, where a likely rematch awaits, with a trip to the College Football Playoff possible after that.
Plus there’s the whole bragging rights, trash talking, recruiting wars and just overall rivalry in play.
It would be only human nature to let one’s mind wander away from Lawrence and the Jayhawks, and let it instead daydream, if only a little, about Dallas and the Longhorns.
“I honestly did not feel that (looking ahead) with this team,” Riley said. “I’m not even gonna say that. We’ve gotta do better. I don’t think the Texas part was in any part a factor.”
“I don’t think anybody was really looking ahead today,” said center Creed Humphrey. “We all knew Kansas was a much improved team from what they’ve been. Have a great coach, knew they’d be organized and prepared. I don’t think anybody was looking ahead because we knew we had a big task this week.”
“We take it week by week,” said linebacker Kenneth Murray.
The Sooners did stay in their routine of committing too many penalties, 8 for 89 yards this time, including one that unnecessarily nullified a 72-yard punt return touchdown by CeeDee Lamb. Quarterback Jalen Hurts was not his usual near-perfect self, hitting just 16-of-24 passes for a season-low 228 yards and an interception to go with his two touchdowns. Hurts’ red flag came when he tried to dump a flat pass to Lamb, but KU safety Mike Lee jumped the route for an easy Pick-6—but then dropped the football.
“The penalties,” said Riley, “were really destructive early, no doubt.”
“We’re not proud of the penalties we had,” said linebacker Kenneth Murray. “Definitely too many penalties.”
Also, Hurts was frequently pressured behind an offensive line that saw its fifth personnel shuffle in five games, the OU defense allowed Pooka Williams 137 rushing yards (6 yards per carry) and Carter Stanley 230 passing yards (on 18-of-28 passing), and the Jayhawks converted 6-of-14 third downs.
“It’s just really disappointing, obviously early in a number of facets,” said defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, “but that was the most glaring thing.”
What Sooner Nation probably should be encouraged about is that there were no excuses in the postgame press conferences, no settling. Although a lack of focus was a common theme, nobody would acknowledge having an eye on Texas. Everybody said simply beating Kansas on the scoreboard was not good enough — not up to the standard this team has set for itself.
Riley, in particular, fell on his sword for some curious play calls.
One fast-paced sequence right before halftime took the Sooners from their own 9 to the KU 7, only to stumble backwards with penalties, poor execution and a wide receiver reverse just two plays after the Sooners had run a reverse pass. The latter trickery was blown up for a 23-yard loss and stuck OU with a third-and-goal from the Kansas 48-yard line. It ended with a fourth-and-goal punt.
“We should’ve had a pretty easy touchdown there,” Riley said, “and we jacked that up — me being the person who jacked it up the most. … Couple really, really dumb calls by me that set us back offensively.”
As Riley lamented his play calls, someone in the next room flushed a toilet.
“That’s what they thought of my play calls at the end of the half,” he said.
“We put ourselves in a bind,” said Hurts. “Regardless of what goes on we’ve got to execute.”
The Sooners did utilize their timeouts to get the football back, and a big punt return by Lamb and a KU penalty set the Sooners up with first-and-goal at the Jayhawk 10. On the next play, Hurts found Lamb for a touchdown.
That broke OU out of a 14-7 lead and started a streak of 21 unanswered points in a nine-minute stretch that extended the lead to 35-7.
When Rhamondre Stevenson took a handoff 61 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, the lead had ballooned to 42-7 and the Sooners put it in cruise control — which yielded two late KU touchdowns and plenty more for Grinch and Stoops to yell about as the team heads into Texas week.
Hurts said the problem wasn’t rain or lightning or Texas.
“I just think we’ve got to execute better and be more disciplined,” Hurts said. “Just going out there with the right approach and being decisive. The energy I have for myself leaks onto the team and the approach I have definitely affects the team and I need to make sure I’m on my Ps and Qs all the time so there’s no doubt.”
“We just had a slow start to the game,” said safety Delarrin Turner-Yell. “… We have to make sure that we don’t do that next week.”
Recent history shows dispatching inferior opponents the week ahead of the Red River Rivalry has been a challenge for OU.
- In 2017, OU lost to Iowa State 38-31.
- In 2016, OU beat TCU 52-46.
- In 2014, OU lost to TCU 37-33.
- In 2013, OU beat TCU 20-17.
The Sooners had relatively easy victories in 2018 (66-33 over Baylor) and 2015 (44-24 over West Virginia), but struggling the week before Texas is not uncommon.
Texas goes into next week with something the Sooners don’t have: a contest. Two actually.
UT lost its Week 2 showdown with LSU in Austin and then survived a close home game with Oklahoma State. Those games likely hardened the ‘Horns against next week’s fiery forge, while OU hasn’t really been tested once in its five games.
“I feel like we faced a little bit of adversity here and there, but I don’t feel like we’ve really been tested, in a way,” said running back Trey Sermon. “But we’re ready for it.”
“I feel like we’ve been tested a lot, but I wouldn’t say enough,” said Turner-Yell. “We still have to work on a few things but we’re also going to be ready for Texas.”
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.