Oklahoma football: Four downs on a giant Sooner rebound win over No. 19 KU

Oct 15, 2022; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners running back Eric Gray (0) runs for a touchdown during the first half against the Kansas Jayhawks at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 15, 2022; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners running back Eric Gray (0) runs for a touchdown during the first half against the Kansas Jayhawks at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s over! After three consecutive Oklahoma football losses, the Sooners are back in the win column.

Led by the return of starting quarterback Dillon Gabriel, Oklahoma (4-3, 1-3) put together its biggest offensive display of the season and also made some big plays on defense in a 52-42 win over Kansas that wasn’t as close as the final score would indicate.

Both teams scored abused the opposing defenses in the early going, scoring touchdowns on their first two possessions. The first quarter came to a close with the Sooners and Jayhawks knotted at 14 apiece.

Oklahoma went up 21-14 early in the second quarter on a 41-yard pass from Gabriel to Gavin Freeman for a first down and the Kansas six-yard line and freshman running back Jovantae Barnes ran in it for a touchdown on the very next play. The Sooners took advantage of a phenomenal one-handed interception by C.J. Coldon that interrupted a Kansas drive in OU territory. The interception set up a seven-play, 65-yard touchdown drive that stretched the Oklahoma lead to 28-14.

The Sooners would add another second-quarter touchdown and could have had another except the Jayhawks were successful in stopping OU on 4th-and-1 at the KU one-yard line as the half ended.  OU took a 35-21 lead into halftime, and the Jayhawks were only able to reduce the margin to 10 points with a touchdown with 3:31 to go in the game.

It was a giant win for the Sooners, snapping the three-game losing skid but, more importantly, restoring some confidence in a proud football team that over the past three games frankly looked as bad as the Sooner football program has looked in close to a quarter-century.

The win extends the Sooners’ mastery over Kansas to 18 consecutive games and also improves OU’s season record to above .500 heading into a much-needed bye week.

Here is a four-down summary of the key takeaways from the win over Kansas:

First down

It’s very clear that Oklahoma needs Dillon Gabriel at quarterback for the offense to operate on all cylinders. After being out for two games after taking a hard hit to the head while sliding in the TCU game, Gabriel took control of the Oklahoma offense on its very first possession against Kansas. He marched the Sooners 70 yards on 10 plays to get OU on the board first 7-0. That opening touchdown marked the first time in three games, or 12 quarters, that Oklahoma had held a lead.

The 52 points scored by Oklahoma in the win over Kansas is the most by the Sooners this season. Gabriel’s stat line for the game, also impressive, was 29 for 42 throwing the football for 403 yards and two touchdowns. He also added a rushing touchdown.

The Sooners were pretty much able to do anything they wanted against a Kansas defense that forced just one OU punt the entire game. Oklahoma rolled up 701 yards of total offense, including 298 on the ground to complement the Sooners’ passing offense. In the first half alone, Oklahoma had 486 yards of offense, the most by Oklahoma in the first half since 1986 against Missouri.

In 13 possessions in the game, the Sooners scored seven touchdowns, and three of the 13 possessions ended in an OU turnover.

This was the prolific Oklahoma offense we have grown accustomed to seeing, and this is not the bad Kansas team we have seen the past dozen years. This is a good Kansas team as evidenced by its 5-2 season record.

Second down

The Oklahoma defensive issues are far from corrected, but the Sooners actually looked much better than they have since the win over Nebraska in Week 3, particularly in defending the run. The Oklahoma defense came into the Kansas game ranked 122nd in the country in rushing defense. In losses to TCU and Texas the past two weekends, the Sooners allowed 361 and 296 rushing yards, respectively.

On the other side of the coin, Kansas was tied for 18th nationally running the football. The Sooner defense held the Jayhawks to 165 total rushing yards and just 4.7 yards per rush on Saturday. An outstanding performance by the Oklahoma defensive line.

Third down

In addition to Dillon Gabriel, senior running back Eric Gray also deserves a game ball in leading an Oklahoma rushing attack that put up two yards shy of 300 yards on the ground, five rushing touchdowns, two by Gray, and averaged 5.2 yards per rush. Gray toted the ball 20 times for 176 net rushing yards and an average of 8.8 yards per carry. He also scored two rushing touchdowns. That is the highest rushing total of the season for Gray and the second best in his career. It is the Tennessee transfer’s fourth 100-yard game in seven starts this season.

Fourth down

As effective and efficient as Gabriel was running the Sooner offense in the win over Kansas, he was also responsible for three Oklahoma turnovers. Otherwise, Oklahoma might have put over 60 points on the board. The Sooner quarterback mishandled a pitch in the opening quarter after Oklahoma had crossed midfield into Kansas territory with the game tied 14-14. That could have been costly for the Sooners, but the defense stiffened and forced a Kansas three-and-out after the fumble recovery.

With Oklahoma leading 42-21 midway through the third quarter and marching again in Kansas territory, Gabriel threw an interception on a first-down play that was returned back across the 50-yard line in Sooner territory. That turnover was costly and led to a Jayhawk touchdown, cutting the OU lead back to 14 points at 42-28 and a quarter and a half still to go.

It’s not often that a team loses the turnover battle (Kansas +1) and is still able to win the game. OU was fortunate in this regard.