Oklahoma football: Three takeaways from game OU almost gave away

Oct 23, 2021; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Trevon West (81) runs against the Kansas Jayhawks during the second half at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 23, 2021; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Trevon West (81) runs against the Kansas Jayhawks during the second half at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports /

Sitting high in the national rankings and Big 12 standings, not to mention a perfect 8-0 record, it would appear that all is well with the Oklahoma football Sooners in the 2021 college football season.

“You are what your record says you are.” Isn’t that how the saying goes? Well, if you’re talking about what we’ve seen from the Sooners over and over and over again this season, the answer is: Are you kidding me?

Oklahoma continues to be one of the biggest enigmas in all of college football this season. Sooner fans don’t want to hear this, but OU’s perfect 8-0 record, the team’s best start in 17 seasons, could just as easily be 2-6 at this point in the 2021 season.

Outside of decisive wins over Western Carolina and TCU, Oklahoma’s six other wins have been by a combined 34 points. And five of those by seven points or less.

23. 821. Final. 35. 815

That is not the kind of resume you would expect from a team with national championship expectations.

The Sooners have come from behind in the fourth quarter in three of their last five games. That is clearly not a formula for continued success. At some point, the odds eventually catch up with you.

Head coach Lincoln Riley came right out with a blinding flash of the obvious in his postgame interview session, saying,

"“We played poor football in the first half. We couldn’t get Kansas off the field and missed several opportunities.“I give our team credit for rising up. Kansas deserves a lot of credit, and they did a few things that gave us trouble.”"

After being shut out in opening half for the first time since 2014 and held to under 100 yards of offense, Oklahoma finally woke up in the second half, outscoring Kansas 35-13 and outgaining the Jayhawks 320 yards to 217.

The Sooners took their first lead in the game, 21-17, three minutes into the fourth quarter and held on from there to escape with a 35-23 win. But it was far from pretty and hardly satisfying.

OU continues to play down to their competition. Saturday’s game was a prime example of that. Unfortunately, that’s another way of saying Kansas was better prepared for this game than the Sooners. And that’s on the Oklahoma coaching staff.

Deplorable defensive performance almost cost the Sooners this game

Alex Grinch’s Sooner defense wasn’t able to get out of its own way most of the afternoon against a Kansas team with the worst offense in the Big 12. From the get-go, Oklahoma appeared confused, catatonic and contemptible in execution. In the first half alone, Kansas was continually in second- and third-and-short situations, mostly pounding the ball right up the gut against the usually sound Sooner defensive front.

The Jayhawks gained 132 rushing yards in the opening half against an OU defense that had held all but two teams to 100 or fewer yards on the ground. On Saturday, KU running back Devin Neal had 100 rushing yards by himself.

Kansas outgained Oklahoma, the Big 12’s No. 1 offensive team, 412 to 398. That, in itself, is extremely disturbing, especially considering that the most difficult part of the Sooners’ 2021 season is straight ahead of them.

Kansas junior quarterback Jason Bean came into the game with the Sooners completing just 55 percent of his pass attempts. Against the depleted OU secondary, Bean completed 74 percent of his throws, which was not surprising considering that a good number of his completions were to wide-open receivers who didn’t have a Sooner defender within five yards of them.

The Sooners hurt their own cause by committing eight penalties costing 55 lost yards in the first 30 minutes. Three of those were offsides calls on the defensive line that helped extend Kansas drives and time of possession. The Jayhawks held the ball for 22 minutes in the first half to just eight minutes for Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma pass defense is seriously broken, and I can see the offensive coordinators at Baylor, Iowa State and Oklahoma State licking their chops.

Caleb Williams, a first-half no-show, put Sooners on his shoulders in second half

Caleb Williams’ performance in the first half was very pedestrian. The Sooners had just 78 yards of offense in the first half, running 17 total plays in three possessions, one of which ended on an interception thrown by Williams, the first of his collegiate career.

The young freshman came alive in the second half, leading Oklahoma touchdown drives on all five second-half possessions. Williams accounted for 240 of OU’s 398 yards of offense in the game, including three touchdowns.

His 40-yard touchdown run on a fourth-down play in the fourth quarter stretched the Oklahoma lead to 28-17 and ended up being the deciding score in the game. Williams was also involved in another critical fourth-down on the Sooners’ next possession that, had it gone the other way, might have resulted in a different final outcome.

Faced with a fourth-and one at the Oklahoma 46-yard line, Lincoln Riley elected to go for it. Kennedy Brooks took a handoff from Williams and appeared to be stopped behind the line of scrimmage. That’s when Williams made a heads-up play that ended up being the play of the game.

The OU quarterback ran up to Brooks while he was fighting for extra yardage, took the ball away from him, and ran for three yards, picking up the pivotal first down. The play was reviewed, and it was ruled to be a legal forward handoff.

There was three and a half minutes to play in the game when that play occurred. Three minutes later, Brooks ran it into the end zone from three yards out to cap Oklahoma’s second-half comeback.

OU continues to live on the edge of disaster

Oklahoma trailed by 11 points entering the fourth quarter against Texas, The week before that, the Sooners were down by three points going into the final quarter at home against West Virginia. And again on Saturday, they trailed the lowly Jayhawks 17-14 in the fourth quarter.

To illustrate how bad it got against Kansas, against the five FBS opponents the Jayhawks had faced this season heading into the Oklahoma game, Kansas had trailed by an average of 28 points entering the final 15 minutes of play.

QB Caleb Williams led a 25-point OU fourth quarter in the comeback win over Texas, and he led a 21-point fourth-quarter surge to take the Sooner out of the hole they had dug for themselves at Kansas.

Over the final three weeks of the regular-season schedule, the Sooners face the top three teams in the Big 12 not named Oklahoma. I can assure you that against those opponents the Sooners won’t be able to wait until the fourth quarter to make their move.

The final three games will all be played in November, a month in which Oklahoma has won 23 straight games. The last time OU lost a game in the month of November was in 2014, to Baylor.

If it is to stay that way, the Sooners are going to need to find a way to seize control of the game early and avoid the cardiac finishes.