Jenni Carlson: Even before the clouds and the rain rolled into Lawrence, there were signs of storms ahead for the Sooners.
LAWRENCE, Kansas — Even before the rain rolled in, there were storm clouds over the Sooners.
OU started poorly against Kansas and never really recovered.
Jayhawks 38, Sooners 33.
OU’s first two possessions: pick-six, turnover on downs.
Kansas’ first two: turnover on downs, touchdown.
That gave the Jayhawks a 14-point head start. Even though the Sooners rallied back, such a poor start on the road against an upset-minded (and upset-capable) team was a bad sign, especially a week after discipline and execution were so suspect against UCF. Surely, the Sooners would’ve been better against the Jayhawks. Surely, OU would’ve learned its lesson.
It was one of several bad things that reared their ugly heads Saturday in Lawrence:
Best pregame moment: This game kicked off in full sunshine. Hard to believe with the nearly hour weather delay that followed. But that blue sky allowed for an F-16 flyover. The pair of jets buzzed the stadium during pregame, then flew in formation after the national anthem. And if things couldn’t get any better, they came back over the stadium one at a time. I know I geek out over pretty much every flyover, but this was next-level cool.
Best offensive player: I’m sure there’s a reason OU keeps giving the ball to other tailbacks. But I don’t know what it could be. Tawee Walker is clearly the best Sooner tailback. The OU run game was stuck in neutral early (again) when Walker was called on to try to save the day (again). The offense might have been able to build some momentum had Walker gotten the ball earlier. He finished the day with a career-high 146 yards on 23 carries. The only thing that slowed him was an apparent ankle injury in the second half. He was used sparingly in the fourth quarter, to the Sooners’ detriment.
Best defensive player: Danny Stutsman went down with an injury late in the first half, and while he is clearly the leader of the OU defense, the Sooners didn’t miss him as badly as you’d have feared. Kip Lewis played pretty darn well in Stutsman’s absence. Lewis had five tackles, all of them solo. Would OU have been better off with Stutsman on the field? Of course. But I’m not sure his absence was the difference.
Best play: Ethan Downs’ interception with less than 3 minutes remaining was the defensive stop the Sooners needed. And remember, Downs is a defensive end. He made a super athletic play on the ball and even made a nice return. All the offense had to do was get one first down to run out the clock. You know the rest.
Worst play: An unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty on the OU bench? Are you kidding me? At that point, the Sooners were clinging to a lead. The defense needed all the help it could get. Instead, a coach was barking so much at an official that a penalty was called. OU coach Brent Venables indicated after the game, he wasn’t the culprit, but whoever it was, it was a horrendous lapse in judgment.
Best under-the-radar play: Dillon Gabriel’s 1-yard touchdown run to give OU a 33-32 lead late in the fourth quarter was nearly an absolute disaster. The Sooner quarterback kept the ball and was nearly tackled for a 3- or 4-yard loss. Somehow, he muscled his way through the contact and scooted into the end zone. If second-and-goal from the 1 had become third-and-goal from the 5, things could’ve gotten dicey. Gabriel made sure that didn’t happen.
Worst under-the-radar play: Not sure a fumble is under the radar, but why Jalil Farooq had the ball in his hands in the first place might be. Even though Walker was having a career game, when OU got the ball back with 4:03 left in the third quarter, the Sooners ran three consecutive plays with receivers lined up in the backfield. Farooq and Gavin Freeman on first down. Farooq on the next two. On the second of those plays, he got the handoff, was hit and fumbled. There have been times when lining up a receiver in the backfield has been perfectly acceptable, but doing so when Walker was playing great? It didn’t make any sense. Give the ball to the guys who are used to running up the gut, not a receiver.
Best stat: The defense’s three takeaways, two interceptions and one fumble recovery.
Worst stat: The offense’s three turnovers, two fumbles lost and one pick-six.
Biggest offensive concern: Walker’s health. He said after the game, he thought his injured ankle would be fine after getting treatment. But clearly, he’s the Sooners’ best running back. He needs to be healthy.
Biggest defensive concern: Missed tackles. Woof. The Sooners missed a ton of tackles. While they haven’t had great tackling games since conference play began, they haven’t been as bad as they were Saturday all season.
Best reason to feel good about this team: OU still has a path to the Big 12 Championship Game, which seems a world away from last season’s 6-7 season.
Best reason to want to pack it in: Kansas’ defense is suspect, at best, and an OU offense with a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback turned the ball over three times, then failed to get a first down late in the game that would’ve allowed the Sooners to run out the clock.