MANHATTAN, Kan. — Oklahoma dropped a spot to No. 10 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll on Sunday. If there were a poll for the most perplexing teams in college football, the Sooners would get the nod over the rest.
Oklahoma’s 42-35 victory over Kansas State on Saturday was the Sooners’ fourth consecutive game that was settled on he final possession. They went 3-1 in those games, but those wins — over Baylor, Texas and the Wildcats — all came against teams with losing records.
“It’s cool to see your team bounce back and show resiliency because you know everyone is leaving it all out on the field,” cornerback Jordan Thomas said. “The games are exciting, but I’d rather it not come down to that (the final possession).”
The Sooners (6-1, 3-1 Big 12) had their chance to build momentum at Kansas State. Their trips to Snyder Family Stadium hadn’t looked anything like that in recent years. Oklahoma tended to knock out the Wildcats early in those games.
Thomas’ description was accurate on Saturday. Oklahoma managed to stay buoyant when it could’ve drowned after Kansas State built a 21-7 lead early in the second quarter. It did enough to get an exciting win against the Wildcats. But the goal isn’t to keep fans entertained for 4 hours.
Oklahoma offered up good, bad and ugly against Kansas State
Defensively, the Sooners got it together in the second quarter and played at a high level until the final 5 minutes. It was another Jekyll-and-Hyde performance by Oklahoma’s defense. Mike Stoops was the subject of another Twitter roast by Oklahoma fans on Saturday afternoon.
Stoops learned to live with the fan’s ire long ago. The inconsistent play of his unit is the issue.
“It’s always an issue with us. It’s concerning, certainly, but we had to overcome a lot today and we’ve got to keep working,” Stoops said. “We’re not a team that’s going to overwhelm you anywhere. We have to play well as a group. We have to do certain things.”
What improved in the second half was the Sooners’ energy. Riley admitted he lit into his team for the first time this season at halftime. Oklahoma’s passion didn’t arrive until after halftime. The Wildcats rushed for 268 yards Saturday. Only 12 of those yards came in the second half.
Offensively, the Sooners woke up from a slumber, too. Statistically, it was another impressive performance. Quarterback Baker Mayfield threw for a season-high 410 yards and accounted for 4 touchdowns (2 passing and 2 running). He led the Sooners to scoring drives on 5 of their final 6 possessions.
“It shouldn’t take a team going up on us to get us into that mode. I think we should always have that intensity to want to go do our job at a high level,” Mayfield said. “The defense I think saw that they need to have that energy and that juice. If you were on the sideline you could just feel the electricity that we had. I think going forward that’s something that we made that change last week on the sidelines, so I think we’re making the right turn. You never want to peak too early, but right now this team hadn’t even scratched the surface how good we can be.”
College Football Playoff teams become dominant in October and November
If Oklahoma’s anywhere near its peak, then it can kiss those College Football Playoff hopes goodbye. The toughest stretch of its conference schedule begins when it plays host to Texas Tech (4-3, 1-3) at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday. The Sooners face No. 11 Oklahoma State, No. 4 TCU, Kansas and No. 22 West Virginia to close the regular season.
That victory over No. 6 Ohio State in September won’t mean much if the Sooners continue to stagger. That’s how they looked against Kansas State, Texas, Iowa State and Baylor. Dominating stretches are smothered by prolonged stints of malaise.
At some point, one or the other has to win out. The Sooners think they can be a dominant team.
“There’s a desire with this team to get there,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said. “They want to play better more often. They know we’ve got more in the tank. But if we can learn those lessons while we’re winning and fighting and continuing to grow, that’s kind of been our m.o.”