Unfortunately for the Oklahoma Sooners, their undefeated season came screeching to a halt after an ugly, 38-33 loss to the Kansas Jayhawks. Everything broke right for Kansas, and while the Sooners had multiple chances to seize control of the game, they struggled on both sides of the ball and couldn’t get out of their own way at times.
The Sooners committed three turnovers and were penalized for more than 100 yards, in a dreary game that was suspended due to lightning during the second quarter. The stoppage in play could not have come at a worse time than for Oklahoma: they were down 14-7 but had just forced a punt and were putting together their best drive of the day. The Sooners did score on that possession after play resumed, but the offense remained inconsistent the rest of the way.
Oklahoma Drops Ugly Game to Kansas
What Happened to Oklahoma’s Offense?
Oklahoma has not struggled to score this season, they even put up 33 against Kansas, but the team lacks a true identity on offense at times. For example, Dillon Gabriel, who led the Big 12 in passing coming into the game, only attempted 19 passes and seven of those came on the Sooners’ final drive! Granted, part of Gabriel’s lack of passes could be attributed to the rainy weather in Lawrence. But that didn’t stop Kansas from throwing 32 passes, and Jason Bean is certainly not as talented a passer as Gabriel.
Now, Oklahoma did fully commit to running the ball, and they ran it effectively, finishing with 269 rushing yards. Tawee Walker averaged 6.3 yards per carry and the offensive line opened up good running lanes for all of the backs. But with all of that rushing success, and Gabriel’s aptitude for throwing off of play-action passes, it would seem like the Sooners should have called a lot more play-action plays. However offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby hardly called any, opting instead to continuously run up the middle.
OU’s receivers also could not find any space to work, and it seems like they miss Andrel Anthony more than they realized. The majority of Gabriel’s completions came within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, and many of them were simple throws into the flat for Drake Stoops and Gavin Freeman.
Even for all of their inconsistency, Oklahoma just couldn’t score points when they needed them most. Gabriel was sacked on fourth down on the Kansas 20-yard line in the first quarter on the first drive after he threw a pick-six. After Kansas missed a field goal and OU trailed 32-27 in the 4th quarter, they were forced to punt following just a four-play drive.
Then, with OU leading 33-32 late in the 4th, Ethan Downs intercepted Bean and all the Sooners had to do was get a first down and the game would have been nearly over. But three consecutive run plays resulted in negative two yards, and the Sooners had to punt after taking just 24 seconds off the clock. Oklahoma’s offense was inept in clutch situations, and it cost them a win and control of the Big 12.
Is the Sooners’ Defense Returning to Its Old Ways?
Over their last three games, the Oklahoma defense is allowing an average of 32.3 points and 455.67 yards of offense. Those are pretty astonishing numbers, and if it wasn’t for the fact that the calendar says 2023, one might think they were watching last year’s defense.
Now that OU is in the thick of Bis 12 competition, it seems like the cracks are showing in Brent Venables’ unit. The secondary may have forced Bean to throw two interceptions, but Bean also threw for 218 yards, with 54 of those coming on the game-winning drive that he led with less than two minutes left in the game. The secondary also allowed 248 passing yards to UCF and 371 to Texas. These types of performances are not becoming of a national championship contender or even a playoff hopeful.
Danny Stutsman, who has been the unquestioned leader of the defense and a probable All-American linebacker, left the game in the third quarter and didn’t return. His absence forced redshirt freshman, Kip Lewis into action, and while he played well, Stutsman’s leadership was sorely missed in the second half. Hopefully, he can return quickly and remain healthy while this Sooners defense attempts to revive itself.
In a game that came down to the final possession, Oklahoma shot itself in the foot too often. They had one pick-six, two fumbles, and 11 penalties for 101 yards. Two of those were back-to-back 15-yard penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct and unnecessary roughness that helped Kansas score to take a 32-27 lead.
Turnovers haven’t been a problem for OU this season, but they reared their head against the Jayhawks, and Kansas scored 14 points off of those turnovers.
While turnovers can’t always be helped, penalties are an area Brent Venables has to focus on for the rest of the season. OU is now averaging nearly 60 yards per game in penalties, and they lead the Big 12 in both number of penalties and penalty yardage. Disciplined teams always have a leg up on their opponents, and OU needs to find every advantage they can at the moment.
Where Does Oklahoma Go From Here?
Well, next week is Bedlam, and Oklahoma State will be raring to go in what could be the last matchup between these two in-state rivals for the foreseeable future. Boone Pickens Stadium will throw everything it can to hand OU its second loss in a row, and the Sooners still have a lot to prove.
Oklahoma fell to 10th in the AP Poll but still controls its own destiny. However, the margin for error just became zero. As long as they finish the season with one loss, they’ll probably play Texas again in the Big 12 Championship Game. The winner of that game also has a great shot of making the College Football Playoff.
But truthfully, Oklahoma should not be looking that far ahead. They need to reset themselves and focus on their next game against Oklahoma State.