Oklahoma report card: Rising defense helps pass Kansas test
LAWRENCE, Kan. — No matter what happened on the sideline, Oklahoma improved to 10-1 and 7-1 in the Big 12 Conference with a 41-3 victory against Kansas on Saturday.
The Sooners (No. 4, College Football Playoff) are going to play for the Big 12 championship. Two more victories likely places Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff for the second time in three seasons and earns them a third consecutive Big 12 title.
But the 38-point victory differed from any Oklahoma victory this season. It wasn’t the dominant offensive team that it has been all season. The Sooners punted on half of their possessions and only averaged 4.4 yards per tote. Quarterback Baker Mayfield had an off day on the field until late in the first half.
The Sooners defense carried the day. Kansas (1-10, 0-8) is bad. It averaged 2.5 yards per play, and the Sooners forced 2 turnovers. Leaving Memorial Stadium early Saturday night, there were reasons to feel good about Oklahoma’s defense.
But Oklahoma left a lot to be desired. It still looks like a playoff team, just not one playing at peak level late in the season.
The grades from the Kansas game reflect that unreached potential:
Who would have thought the one team that could frustrate Oklahoma’s offense was Kansas? The offensive line that pushed around Ohio State and obliterated TCU a week earlier needed a half to get on track.
Maybe it was the trash talk that flowed throughout the game. The cheap shots Mayfield took on the field might have thrown him off. Perhaps the howling wind affected the passes more than Oklahoma admitted.
But there was a lot off on Saturday. Going 3 of 14 on third down will get them beat most of the time. The Sooners did not consistently run the ball. Mayfield missed throws he usually hits. Receivers dropped balls they typically catch.
It was an off day for them. And it was a bad sign for a group that tends to play its best late in the season. The Sooners were average on Saturday. This isn’t the time of year to be average.
Holding any Big 12 team out of the end zone gets an excellent grade. Kansas reached field-goal range twice in 15 drives. The Sooners forced 10 punts and notched 2 turnovers. It was the most consistent defensive performance of the season.
There were two positive signs. Parnell Motley returned to the starting lineup and played focused for the entire game. He looked like the guy who played like a potential star in September. When the Sooners get injured senior Jordan Thomas back, they’ll have four healthy cornerbacks who can push one another for playing time.
The other was the play of the defensive line and linebacker. Oklahoma’s front seven dominated the game. They came up with the turnovers and held the Jayhawks to 32 rushing yards, their second-lowest total of the season.
If you felt good about Oklahoma on Saturday night, it was because of the defense.
Special Teams: B
The wind created special teams havoc in the first half. Kicking into it was like kicking into a net. The ball went up and then just seemed to stop.
Austin Seibert made a pair of fourth-quarter field goals into the gale. He averaged 41.1 yards per punt, with two downed inside the Kansas 20-yard line. Seibert played like one of the best special teams player in the Big 12 on Saturday.
CeeDee Lamb returned 3 punts and had a 21-yard return. But it was a pedestrian day in the return game. The coverage teams were solid.
It was an average day for the special teams. Because of the elements, you have to grade on a curve, moving the Sooners up a grade.
At least on offense, the Sooners were not ready to play on Saturday. Maybe they were until the rebuffed handshake at the coin flip. That’s unlikely.
The Sooners played like a championship team going through the motions on Saturday. The defensive effort bailed them out — at least in the first half.
Give a lot of credit to defensive coordinator Mike Stoops and his staff. They finally have created a competitive atmosphere, and it seems to be growing. That group played well and is getting better.
Offensively, the Sooners looked content for the first time this season.