Oklahoma football: What we learned from K-State tale of two halves

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 09: Rodney Anderson
COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 09: Rodney Anderson /

The last three Oklahoma football games, the Sooners have built up big first-half leads, only to find themselves behind in the second half. Against Kansas State on Saturday, it was the exact opposite.

The Sooners went to the locker room at halftime on Saturday down by 11 points, 21-10, after perhaps their worst first-half performance of the season. Oklahoma’s off-on switch appeared to be stuck in the off position.

Oklahoma seemed powerless to contain the Kansas State running game in the opening 30 minutes, while on offense the Sooners had trouble converting on third down and fizzled on a couple of trips inside the red zone.

The game wasn’t a minute old when K-State running back Alex Barnes burst up the middle and outraced the Sooner secondary on a 75-yard touchdown run that brought the capacity crowd at Bill Snyder Family Stadium to its feet in a frenzy. The Wildcats scored on three of their first four first-half possession, and they might have scored on all four were in not for a fumble forced by OU safety Steven Parker at the Sooner 12-yard line that ended a 63-yard Kansas State drive.

Kansas State rushed for 256 yard in the first half, almost double their per-game average through the first seven games, and had 316 yards of total offense by halftime.

The Sooners definitely had some adjustments to make at the intermission if they were going to stay in this game, let alone come back and win it.

We all know the rest of the story in what turned out to be a tale of two different halves. Fortunately for Lincoln Riley and the Sooners, the OU second half was better than Kansas State’s dominant opening half.

Which leads us into our main takeaways from a game — let’s be perfectly honest — that Oklahoma was extremely fortunate to win. We seem to be saying that far too much for comfort this season.

The Sooners still are unable to put full game together

The Oklahoma team that came out for the second half resembled the Sooner unit that we have seen start practically every other game this season. The defensive effort — at least against K-State’s run game — was aggressive and assignment sound, and quarterback Baker Mayfield, as one sportswriter put it, “sliced through the Kansas State defense like a butcher.”

The Sooner offense produced 390 of its 619 total yards of offense and 32 of its 42 points in the second half. This is a complete role reversal from OU’s previous four Big 12 games in which they jumped out fast and furious in the opening two quarters, only to let up on the gas and let their opponents all the way back in games in the second half.

With its most important games of the season (Oklahoma State and TCU) coming up in a couple of weeks, Oklahoma must find a way, and fast, to put a complete game together in all three facets of the game: offensively, defensively and on special teams.

Pass defense remains a problem

The Sooners allowed just 144 passing yards on Saturday, but that came on just 12 completed passes against a team that doesn’t put the ball in the air that much and with a backup quarterback that isn’t that good a passer to begin with.

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The Sooner secondary gave up pass completions of 40 and 30 yards on a critical Kansas State possession late in the game, putting the Wildcats in position to score and tie the game with just over two minutes remaining.

On another occasion in the game, their was a coverage breakdown in the Sooner defense leaving K-State sophomore wide receiver Dalton Schoen wide open down the field for a 39-yard completion, setting up the Wildcats’ second first-quarter touchdown.

While the Sooners were able to overcome the long pass plays against Kansas State, this will not be the case against the teams they are going to face over the next three weeks, all of which are loaded with receiving weapons and throw the ball often and extremely well.

Untimely, unnecessary and costly penalties

Oklahoma was penalized 81 yards against Texas and has averaged 90 yards in penalties in its four Big 12 games. A number of the penalties have been personal fouls or unsportsmanlike conduct infractions that have come at untimely and costly points in the game and could easily have been avoided by doing a better job of holding emotions in check.

The Sooners were flagged five times for 37 penalty yards in the Kansas State game, but two of them were holding calls that negated big plays on offense.

OU’s Big 12 opponents have shown considerably better discipline in minimizing penalties. Through four conference games, the teams the Sooners have played have averaged just 26 yards in penalties. This is an area that Oklahoma needs to improve on offensively as well as defensively and on special teams.

Sooner run game is alive and thriving

At the beginning of the season, their was widespread concern everywhere outside of Norman, Oklahoma, about how the Sooners would replace the production of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, both of whom are now in the NFL.

The answer to that question came right from the start of the 2017 season. Sophomore Abdul Adams was the big gun on the ground in early games. Against Baylor, Adams and true freshman Trey Sermon both rushed for more than 150 yards. When Adams suffered an injured ankle against Iowa State, Sermon become OU’s lead running back.

Rodney Anderson had seen limited action in the Sooners first six games, but he had a breakout performance against Kansas State, producing 147 rushing yards, averaging 7.7 yards per carry and scoring Oklahoma’s game-winning touchdown on a 22-yard TD run with just seven seconds remaining in the game. Prior to Saturday, Anderson had just 91 rushing yards for the season.

Oklahoma leads the Big 12 in rushing, averaging almost 200 yards per game. When Adams is ready to return, the Sooners will have a three speedy, strong running backs to share the load. And a fourth, JUCO transfer Marcelias Sutton, who is equally capable but is having trouble getting on the field.