AMES, Iowa — A notebook-style breakdown of Oklahoma’s 37-30 loss to Iowa State:
Fourth quarter failures
For the second week in a row, Oklahoma melted down in the fourth quarter.
“That’s obviously an issue,” OU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said Saturday night after the Sooners fell 37-30 to Iowa State. “It's a red flag waving in the wind.”
Last week it OU was outscored 17-0 in the fourth quarter in a 38-35 loss to Kansas State. This week, OU scored 10 points to open the fourth, but then was outscored 14-0 over the final eight minutes.
And for the second week in a row, the Sooners flailed in all three phases: The offense had two opportunities to tie the game, but delivered a punt and a game-ending interception. After gathering just its second turnover of the season, the defense couldn’t get a stop down the stretch. And after K-State blocked an OU punt last week, this week the Cyclones benefitted from an 85-yard kickoff return.
It may have been the result of having so few upperclassmen and so many younger players up and down the lineup. Or it maybe be that Iowa State just played clutch and Oklahoma didn’t.
“I don’t know exactly what it is,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said. “I mean yeah is it some young guys in key positions? Sure, but that’s not an excuse or a crutch. We feel like we have the players in there to continue to get better. We feel like we took some steps. Again, it’s hard to accept that when you look at the scoreboard at the end of the game. We’re so used to winning and we expect to win every time we touch the field. That’s not going to change.”
“Unfortunately,” said Grinch, “I’ve got to echo what I said maybe about a week ago, just failing to get these guys to play at a high level for four quarters. That falls on me. … The only quarter you can win a football game is in the fourth.
“You do so much to put yourself in that situation and you got to take advantage of it. This is two weeks in a row where we haven't. We have failed to do those things.”
Lincoln Riley is now 2-2 against Matt Campbell. But Riley did something on Saturday night that Bob Stoops, John Blake, Howard Schnellenberger, Gary Gibbs, Barry Switzer, Chuck Fairbanks, Jim McKenzie and Gomer Jones never did: he lost a football game in Ames.
The last time OU lost to the Cyclones on the road, Bud Wilkinson was still the Sooners’ coach, and Iowa State came away with a 10-6 win. The Sooners haven’t lost here in 60 years.
“A tough loss,” Riley said. “A very, very kind of gut-wrenching loss.
OU is 1-2 for the first time since 2016 (before that, the last time was 2005). The Sooners lost that year to Houston in the opener and to Ohio State, then went perfect in Big 12 play.
This year’s obviously a little different. The Sooners are 0-2 in Big 12 play for the first time since 1998.
“It’s hard to describe,” Riley said. “The frustration is so, it’s hard to explain to people how much it hurts. If you hadn’t been in it, it’s so difficult to explain. But … it’s balanced by — I know what this team can be. I know that we can get there. The only disappointment, the only failure in this thing, will be if we don’t find out how good we can be and we let this somehow take away from our growth as a team and our growth as a program. You’ve got a got a choice. These are tough times. You either back down or bow up, and we’ll find out what we’re all about.”
Riley thinks there’s enough talent and enough grit on the roster to work through this low spot and come out clean. There are only five seniors on the team (Caleb Kelly, Bryan Mead, Erik Swenson, Tanner Schafer, Jon-Michael Terry) who were here for the start of that rocky 2016 campaign.
“Obviously, our back's against the wall here as a football team. We know that,” Riley said. “Guys are hurt. Most of the guys in our room haven't experienced a start to a season like this. But it's still about how you respond. And I believe I know how this group will.
“Despite the sickening feeling in my stomach right now and how disappointed we all are, we still know there's the makings of a good football team in there and it's my job, our staff's job, our players' job to get to our best. And if we do that, this team can reel off a lot of wins. I'll continue to ride with this team.”
Red River Letdown
Forget showdown. Next week’s fistfight with Texas is a letdown.
The Longhorns are 2-1 after Saturday’s 33-31 loss to TCU, while the Sooners are 1-2. OU, ranked No. 18, will likely drop out of the polls. Texas, ranked No. 9, could be out of the top 15.
“We have to learn from these past two games, see what we’ve been doing wrong and work our asses off to fix it this next week,” said captain Creed Humphrey. “Texas is a tough team, it’s going to be a tough game and we need to come fully prepared for it.”
After five years of Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts, Spencer Rattler gets his first taste of the rivalry next week. Quarterbacks who haven’t played in it before don’t typically do well. Mayfield and Murray both lost their debut. So did Texas’ Sam Ehlinger.
“Just prepare like we do every week,” Rattler said. “We had a great week of practice this week. Our plan is to have the same mentality going into this week and just focus on what we need to focus on, get better on what we need to get better on overall as a team.”
Oklahoma forced its second takeaway of the season on Saturday — actually, it’s first, since Delarrin Turner-Yell’s interception against Missouri State was such a gift — when Isaiah Thomas sacked Brock Purdy and stripped the football, and Joshua Ellison recovered.
That happened early in the fourth quarter, and after OU cashed it into a touchdown and a 30-23 lead, it seemed the Sooners were finally turning takeaways into victories.
But that’s when Kene Nwangwu went 85 yards with the kickoff return, and the game was soon tied.
The problem is that OU once again missed other chances at takeaways — at least two dropped interceptions — and Iowa State either staved off disaster or cashed in for points.
“Complimentary football,” Grinch said. “You've got to hold up your end from a defensive standpoint. There's certainly opportunities that we didn't take advantage of tonight. … What you're seeing on film right now from a week ago and then what you saw tonight was just too much of the rollercoaster.
“The same guy that shows an ability to play elite coverages on particular snaps is the same guy that has a breakdown later in the game. The same guy that's making tackles and being a solid contributor for us defensively doesn't do so. Opportunities to get two hands on footballs in the pass game, again, have a tendency, right now, for us to not come down with it. Those things in the end, those missed opportunities, continue to hurt us.”
A missed tackle in space last week yielded a 77-yard pass play. This week it was a 65-yard pass play for a touchdown by Xavier Hutchinson. But nobody exploited the Sooners’ inability to wrap up and bring down a runner quite like the talented Breece Hall.
Hall spun and zipped and slammed through Oklahoma defender all night and finished with 139 yards and two touchdowns.
For Grinch, the missed tackles are unconscionable.
“I thought we didn’t hold up very well in that respect,” Grinch said. “… I certainly thought late, late in the game, just an inability to get the ballcarrier on the ground … I just saw diving at the ground, a (lack) of technique and fundamentals at that point. It goes back to us as coaches. We gotta do a better job at the tail end, falling off of tackles, that hasn’t been us. But obviously it was us tonight and we paid the price for it.”
“Obviously the ones in the back end, when you miss low, that's the one that's the one that shows up in terms of your explosive play. Disappointed with, especially, with guys who we have seen make those plays in the past. Whether that's experienced guys from a year ago or guys as you go through the fall camp, first couple games. I think it's the consistency aspect of things that we're not finding right now. Any individual guy on our defense is just a very inconsistent performance over the last two weeks. When you play that way, you're going to get punished for it.”
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