Guerin Emig: The Sooners were chaotic for most of the previous four hours. They played a quagmire of a game to match the dreary weather. They dropped kickoff returns and interceptions. They threw pick-sixes and tantrums. They made strange plays and stranger decisions.
LAWRENCE, Kan. — In the end there was chaos, a field flooded with Kansas students and fans with one thing on their delirious minds — dumping the south end zone goal post in walking-distance Potter Lake to celebrate this 38-33 upset of Oklahoma.
It was the proper scene for both the winners and losers.
Kansas played heartily. Quarterback Jason Bean was as heroic down the stretch as counterpart Dillon Gabriel was against Texas Oct. 7. Good for the Jayhawks, 6-2 and bowl eligible earlier than they’ve been since Mark Mangino won the 2007 Orange.
But the Sooners… Lord…
The Sooners were chaotic for most of the previous four hours. They played a quagmire of a game to match the dreary weather. They dropped kickoff returns and interceptions. They threw pick-6s and tantrums. They made strange plays and stranger decisions.
“This one hurts. It stings,” Brent Venables said in losing for the first time in 10 months. “We got punished for a lack of details and discipline, just me having our guys not ready to play at a high level.”
This one’s on Venables and his coaches, a reminder that as flowery as this team’s 7-0 start was, the fact is they’re all still figuring this out less than two years into construction.
Not every brand new head coach can assemble a staff and roster, then run the table and win a national championship in two years time.
We can dispense with the 2000 vs. 2023 comparisons now. Venables doesn’t have Bob Stoops’ Sooner Magic touch.
He’s doing fine. He still might be ahead of schedule, depending on whether OU regroups and plays for a Big 12 Championship in five weeks.
It’s just there is still plenty of learning in store. Saturday made that clear.
Venables copped to this strategic failure right before Bean hit Lawrence Arnold for 37 yards on fourth-and-6 with 1:09 remaining: “Should’ve called a timeout there and put our guys in… let them get settled down, and I didn’t. So I blew it.”
Devin Neal scored on the next play for a 38-33 lead, leaving OU just 55 seconds to retaliate. This wouldn’t be the Cotton Bowl for Gabriel, try as he did in driving his offense to the Kansas 23 before throwing incomplete into end zone coverage at the gun.
Offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby copped to this misstep on Gabriel’s pick-6 two passes into the game: “That was one where I could have taken the throw option off of it. It was third-and-three.”
Four hours later, Lebby ran when he might have at least considered a pass.
After Ethan Downs’ interception gave OU’s offense a chance to ice a 33-32 lead in the final 2:29, the Sooners ran three straight times and punted.
“We wanted to make sure they used all three (timeouts) but we were trying like heck to get a first down,” he said. “Gotta execute better.”
Lebby opened himself to second-guessing on a day Gabriel wasn’t in sync throwing, the weather was foul and OU’s most effective method was running Tawee Walker (a career-high 146 yards) between the tackles.
Walker carried 23 times before limping out of the game late in the third quarter. He should have handled it 33 times at least. He should have taken the select carries that went to receivers Gavin Freeman and Jalil Farooq.
Lebby had a lousy day, emblematic of the staff’s.
The Sooners seemed ill-prepared in falling behind 14-0. They were frenetic from there, even in rallying to take the lead three different times. They missed numerous tackles. They committed unnecessary roughness penalties, including one that gifted Kansas 15 yards on a go-ahead touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.
That seemed an ideal time to settle players. Instead, OU’s bench was hit with unsportsmanlike conduct to advance the ball ANOTHER 15 yards.
Was it a verbal altercation?
“He said a coach was barking at the ref and he didn’t like it,” Venables said of the flag-throwing official.
Was it Venables barking?
“No,” the head coach said.
Was it an unforgivable loss of control regardless of the guilty party? By one of the adults Venables counts on to manage a kid caught up in a bad moment? By an adult who made the bad moment worse?
“Can’t talk that way to the officials,” Venables said during a separate passage of his press conference.
Can’t go about your business that way. Not against a dangerous opponent in difficult weather. That calls for steady heads, hands and vibes.
All of that went missing on a chaotic Sooners game day.