MANHATTAN, Kan. — The celebration after the 42-35 victory over Kansas State was significant. The Sooners pulled one out on Saturday and had the feeling of a team that knows how to get out of tight spots.
If that emotion and focus would’ve been there when the game began, the celebration could’ve started much earlier. The Sooners got themselves in a dogfight with a lesser opponent — again.
For the fourth time in four games, Oklahoma needed to win on the final possession to escape. The pressure doesn’t seem to bother the players, but it shouldn’t be there. Saturday was another game in which Oklahoma’s inconsistent play turned a potential dominant performance into a nail-biter.
Put up 619 yards of total offense, 5 touchdowns and score with 7 seconds left to end a shootout, and the offense played pretty well. But there was enough to drop the Sooners below the top grade.
The biggest issue was the red-zone offense. The Sooners went 6 for 8 with 4 touchdowns and 2 field goals. The interception in the second quarter was a phenomenal play by Kansas State’s Denzel Goolsby. The inability to run the ball in the red zone was the problem. All the direct-snap plays to fullback Dimitri Flowers were a bust. There wasn’t anywhere to go and Flowers isn’t the ball carrier you want if the play has to be bounced outside.
Still, the Sooners scored on 6 of their final 7 possessions. Quarterback Baker Mayfield threw for 410 yards and completed passes to 10 different receivers. Marquise Brown topped 100 yards with 6 receptions for 166 yards. It was a diverse passing attack.
Oklahoma averaged 5.5 yards per carry with Rodney Anderson setting a career mark with 147 yards on 19 carries and the game-winning touchdown. Mayfield put together his best rushing day of the season with 69 yards on 9 carries.
The Sooners’ offense was as good as it needed to be.
When you look back on it, Oklahoma’s defense played well for its longest stretch of the season. From midway through the second quarter until Kansas State’s final offensive possession, the Sooners played well.
The group forced 2 turnovers. The fumble Steven Parker forced on Kansas State’s second drive and the pick from Jordan Thomas that set up the second-quarter field goal were plays the Sooners lacked most of the season.
But Kansas State scored touchdowns on 3 of its first 4 possessions. The unit lacked focus until the second quarter and passion until the the third quarter. Once again, the Sooners played well enough for long enough to make you think they’re talented. But they rebuked that notion with a long stretch of mediocrity.
Special teams: C
The special teams played fine until the fumbled punt snap late in the fourth quarter. When one play almost costs a team a victory, it drops down a couple letter grades. The snap from Wesley Horkey was high, but Austin Seibert should’ve caught it.
Outside of that play, the special teams were fine. Oklahoma used squib kicks on all kickoffs from the south end (going right to left on television) due to the heavy wind and wanting to eliminate the Wildcats’ return game.
One positive was Seibert went 2 for 2 on field goals and wanted a crack for a third in the final seconds. The junior wasn’t afraid of the moment. You could tell on that on the sideline.
Coach Lincoln Riley admitted the flea-flicker call that started the 4-play sequence that ended with the botched punt was a “dumb” call. There were more play calls that didn’t make sense. The Sooners’ use of gimmick plays — direct snaps to Flowers, the use of backup quarterback Kyler Murray — seemed to hurt the Sooners more than they helped.
Wanting to use Flowers in a short-yardage situation is understandable. But why take a Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterback out of the play or off the field?
Defensively, play-calling wasn’t the issue. Rotten tackling and abysmal execution in the first quarter was the problem. Then again, it is a coach’s job to have players ready to play. The Sooners didn’t act as if they were under duress until the second quarter.
Talent and backbone by the players allowed the Sooners to get out of Manhattan, Kan., with a victory. Coaches get some credit for that. Riley had his worst game as a play-caller and defensive coordinator Mike Stoops spent another afternoon getting roasted on social media.
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