NORMAN — Yes, we know. It was Kansas. It was just the lowly Jayhawks.
But pitiful as KU is at the game of football, if you didn’t see marked improvement by the Oklahoma defense on Saturday at Owen Field, then you just weren’t looking.
Hey, anything’s better than 854 yards and 59 points.
Oklahoma routed KU 56-3 on a warm homecoming night in front of 86,301 fans still agitated over last week’s defensive debacle at Texas Tech.
And while beating up on one of major college football’s worst programs isn’t going to win over many of the Sooner Nation skeptics seething over a record-smashing display of football futility, Saturday was, at its core, improvement.
And isn’t that what the Sooners really needed after last week? Just some sign of being better?
“It’s one week,” said OU coach Bob Stoops. “Next week will be another journey. In our world, you live week to week. Right now, the guys responded and really played well in all parts.”
“It felt great,” said linebacker Jordan Evans, who was in the crosshairs after last week’s debacle and responded against Kansas with 10 tackles and a 33-yard interception return for a touchdown. “Coming off last week, it’s in the past, so we put behind us. But it definitely was some motivation to get back out there and show what our defense can do.”
The Jayhawks (1-7 overall, 0-5 in Big 12 Conference play this year and now on a 17-game Big 12 losing streak) managed only 170 yards total offense and just 1.8 yards per rush. The Sooners (6-2, 5-0) had two interceptions, three sacks, 10 tackles for loss, four quarterback hurries and three passes broken up.
Sure, it’s KU. But it’s progress.
OU’s defense even faced a goal line situation where freshman linebacker Kapri Doucet came off injured, didn’t tell anyone and left his team with just 10 players on the field.
Kansas still couldn’t score.
“We couldn’t have even stopped Tech with 12 last week,” said defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, “and we stopped these guys with 10.”
It was Mike Stoops who was really under fire after getting roughed up four 4 ½ hours at Tech. Stoops had no answers after one of the worst defensive performances in the history of the game, and Saturday was, at least, a temporary salve.
“We’ve been through a lot this past week,” Mike Stoops said. “Guys played with a lot more energy and focus. Obviously, we got embarrassed a week ago. That’s what’ll happen. Guys practiced well and prepared well and went out executed. It’s not that difficult.”
And here’s the kicker: the Oklahoma defense absorbed even more personnel losses on Saturday, with dynamic pass rusher Obo Okoronkwo out with undisclosed injury. Saturday’s total also included a new, indefinite suspension for freshman defensive end Amani Bledsoe. Defensive linemen Matt Romar, Charles Walker and Matt Dimon remained out, and cornerback Parrish Cobb was also unavailable. (So were running back Samaje Perine and wideout Jarvis Baxter on offense.) Offensive tackle Dwayne Orso, recently returned from a six-game suspension, was switched late this week to defensive end.
So yes, Saturday was a sign of improvement.
“We gotta let this go tomorrow just like we did last week,” Mike Stoops said. “That sting of Tech lasted longer than you wanted. But, really pleased with our players and the way they responded.”
OU, a 40-point favorite, got everything it needed for the win early on when Dede Westbrook returned a punt 71 yards for a touchdown. After KU’s field goal made it 7-3, Westbrook returned the kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, though it was brought back by an unnecessary penalty.
Westbrook finished with 230 all-purpose yards, including 105 yards and a touchdown on five receptions.
“He’s just lightning,” said Bob Stoops, “in everything he does.”
Baker Mayfield was an economical 16-of-24 for 236 yards and four TD throws to Westbrook, Geno Lewis, Mark Andrews and Dimitri Flowers.
And after carrying the load last week at Tech, Joe Mixon had just nine rushes (for 77 yards) and two receptions (for 35 yards) and scored another touchdown.
Backups like Abdul Adams (13 rushes, 91 yards), Austin Kendall (4-of-7 for 35 yards passing and three carries for 26 yards rushing) and even walk-on Devin Montgomery (five rushes, 16 yards and a touchdown) were able to close it out.
“All our wins haven’t been pretty,” said offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, “but we’re on a pretty nice little five-game win streak right now, and we’re doing it different ways.”
The Sooners have a short week coming up as they travel to Iowa State Wednesday for a Thursday night game in Ames.
Iowa State’s offense isn’t much better than Kansas. It’ll be another week for the OU defense to get things right — or, at least, better. The Texas Tech game set an incredibly low standard, and fallout from all the criticism will resonate for a while.
“I took that very personally,” Evans said. “All that stuff that was being said had a lot of truth behind it. You gotta look at yourself, look at the man in the mirror.”
“Tonight,” said Mike Stoops, “we built some momentum. … We’ve got a ways to go, but at least we’re climbing back in a positive direction.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard on The Franchise Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. every weekday with co-host Lauren Rew and most mornings on The Franchise in Oklahoma City. Listen on fm107.9, am1270 on the 107.7 Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.