Oklahoma football fans have grown accustomed to this season, but by no means accepting of, becoming increasingly nervous and concerned in the second half of games.
On Saturday in Manhattan, Kansas, though, their concern about the outcome of the game took hold like a hard punch to the midsection just moments after the opening kickoff.
It has happened very infrequently in recent seasons that someone has scored on the Sooners before the Oklahoma offense has had the opportunity to take the field. On Saturday, it took just two plays and less than a minute for Kansas State to go the length of the field for an opening touchdown. And K-State did it again on its second possession.
After one quarter, Kansas State led 14-7, and five minutes into the second quarter the home team had stretched its advantage to 21-7, the largest lead by an Oklahoma opponent this season.
The Sooners had won the last six times they had played at Kansas State. In fact, they had not lost a game in the place they call the Little Apple since 1996, the very first year of the Big 12 Conference. But it appeared very early on Saturday that OU’s success on the road at K-State was destined to emphatically come to an end.
If the ninth-ranked Sooners were going to survive in Manhattan on Saturday, it was Oklahoma that was going to have mount a second-half comeback, just as OU’s previous three opponents this season had done.
Because Kansas State is just 3-4 overall this season, it is easy to overlook the fact that they are a fundamentally sound, extremely well-coached team, and when playing at home in front of their fired-up fans, those factors are even more pronounced.
Trailing at halftime for the first time this season, you might have expected the Sooners to go to the locker room down on themselves and second-guessing the game plan. But that wasn’t the case, not with this bunch.
“Our guys at halftime had a great look in their eyes,” said head coach Lincoln Riley. “They were determined to come out and play a lot better, and the mentality really went to a different level there.
“We knew this was going to be a tough game, a tough environment.” he said. “Bill Snyder (the Kansas State head coach) is on the other sideline, so we know that team is going to be ready to roll, and they certainly were.”
Oklahoma came out an dominated the second half, unlike they have in any other game this season except for the giant win at Ohio State. Offensively, Baker Mayfield and the Sooner offense played up to its full capability in the second half at K-State. And with the exception of one Kansas State offensive series and the muffed punt sequence by OU in the fourth quarter, the Sooner defense and special teams unit played a solid second half, as well.
Outside of the Ohio State game, Oklahoma has yet to put a full game together in all facets of the game this season. The OU coaches and players need to go back and seriously review the game tapes from the win over Ohio State.
Against Oklahoma State and TCU, teams the Sooners must beat if they want to ensure themselves a spot in the Big 12 Championship six weeks from now in Arlington, Texas, OU probably isn’t going to be able to jump out to a big lead early, nor can the Sooners afford to fall behind early and make a dramatic second-half comeback.
Those two Big 12 teams are too good on both sides of the ball for Oklahoma to be able to beat if the Sooners play only half or three-quarters of a game. Oklahoma is going to have to play its best for a full 60 minutes – on offense, defense and special teams – to stay in the game, let along win, against those teams.
That is not something the Sooners have shown they are capable of doing since the big win over Ohio State in Week 2 of the season.
“We haven’t put together a full game on offense, but having those highlight points (from all the games) shows our full potential of what we can do,” said Sooner senior fullback Dimitri Flowers in Saturday’s postgame press conference.
Oklahoma can not afford to continue operating with a short circuit in its on-off switch on offense and defense. They’ve paid the price once already, in the loss to Iowa State, and it’s been too close for comfort three other conference games. In may ways, the Sooners are fortunate to be 6-1 right now and not 3-4.
This has to change, and fast, or Oklahoma football and the Sooner Nation are going to be in for a very rocky and unrewarding month of November.