Oklahoma-Kansas State: Five quick takes
For the first 40 minutes of play on Saturday, Kansas State looked shorthanded, erratic and downright overmatched.
For the final 20 minutes, the Wildcats turned that narrative on its head in stunning fashion, scoring 24 unanswered points to erase a 35-14 hole and stun Oklahoma 38-35 in Norman.
It's the Sooners' first home loss since Baker Mayfield's squad fell to Iowa State in 2017, and it's the second consecutive year that Oklahoma has come up short against Chris Klieman and the Wildcats.
Here are five takeaways from the Sooners' shocking collapse.
1) Lincoln Riley played conservative, and paid the price. Why on earth did Riley elect to punt the ball away on fourth-and-7 with 2:56 to play? That decision earned well-deserved boos from the home crowd, as the Sooners had just one timeout remaining and had given absolutely no indication that they could stop Skylar Thompson and the Kansas State offense. It was a noncompetitive decision, plain and simple. The best-case scenario would have given Oklahoma the ball with under a minute to play, no timeouts, and most of the field to cover. That's exactly what happened, and it took Spencer Rattler all of two plays to throw a game-sealing interception.
But even if Rattler hadn't tossed the pick, he still had roughly 30 seconds to cover at least 40 yards to set Gabe Brkic up for a game-tying field goal. That's a lot to put on the shoulders of a quarterback making his second career start, no matter how ballyhooed he is. Rattler made the mistake, but Riley didn't put him in a fair position.
2) Rattler lacks poise under duress. The redshirt freshman is spectacular from a clean pocket, and has uncanny arm talent that often covers up his mental shortcomings. But when the pocket isn't clean, Rattler struggles to make decisions, and that was evident today as Kansas State brought constant pressure off the edge. Erik Swenson and Adrian Ealy struggled in pass protection, and it exposed Rattler's propensity to make risky throws when the play breaks down. None of those risky throws proved particularly costly until the Sooners' final drive, and Rattler still threw for 387 yards and four touchdowns on the day. But three interceptions will cost you most football games.
3) Speed D still has a long, long way to go. Kansas State had plays of 75-plus yards on consecutive drives. Breakdowns in pass coverage became an unflattering theme. The Wildcats scored on five straight possessions.
Alex Grinch's defense looked rock solid over its first six quarters of play in 2020, and then it all unraveled. Tackling issues bit the Sooners, and they couldn't get pressure on Thompson when he dropped back to pass. OU managed a single sack on the afternoon, that coming courtesy of DaShaun White. Thompson went 18-of-25 for 334 yards and four total touchdowns, three via the ground game. This isn't the same defense that shut out Missouri State two weeks ago, unless Missouri State is just that bad.
Safety Patrick Fields offered a damning indictment of the Sooners' defensive mentality.
"The first half, we were on attack mode, and then the second half, we were defending the lead," he said.
Grinch has to quash that mindset immediately.
4) The Sooners have to learn to control and reverse momentum. To surrender 24 unanswered points to a clearly inferior team—and one playing in a hostile road environment, at that—is inexcusable. Quite frankly, Kansas State does not have talent on par with that of Oklahoma. However, once the Wildcats seized the momentum, it looked as if the Sooners were content to lay down and die, especially on the defensive side of the football. A big chunk gain, a sack, or even a flashy trick play might have been enough to shift the tempo and break the Wildcats' confidence. But Oklahoma simply couldn't get it.
"Really, we just quit attacking," said Creed Humphrey. "We quit playing hard. And we can't let that happen. They took advantage of mistakes that we made."
Meanwhile, Kansas State played like a team with nothing to lose, going all-out to block a Reeves Mundschau punt in the early stages of the fourth quarter and consistently dialing up blitzes to flush Rattler. One of Oklahoma's primary issues throughout the Lincoln Riley era is that it seems to lack that gung-ho mentality, especially once it jumps out to a comfortable lead. That can't happen, and it starts at the top with Riley. He can't afford to take the foot off the gas like he's done so many times before (see last year's games against Iowa State and TCU).
5) Marvin Mims and Seth McGowan have the talent to be the Sooners' primary offensive playmakers this year. If there's a positive to be drawn from the loss, it's two phenomenal performances from true freshmen. Though McGowan lost a crucial fumble, he also turned 13 carries into 73 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, Mims reeled in five catches for 31 yards and found the end zone twice.
Physically, it's pretty evident that both players have the tools to contribute in the here and now for the Sooners. McGowan appears to have seized the bull by the horns in the OU backfield, as Marcus Major didn't earn a single snap and T.J. Pledger managed just 41 yards on 13 totes. Meanwhile, Mims' five receptions tied for the team lead, and he continues to earn reps in the return game. The season is already at a crossroads for Oklahoma after the loss, and a depth chart shake-up wouldn't come as a shock. Don't be surprised if both players earn starts next week in Ames.
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