By John Shinn
CNHI News Service
LAWRENCE, Kan. — Oklahoma seemed like a boat adrift at sea with the search party going from rescue to recovery mode midway through the second quarter. It trailed Kansas by 13 points and looked listless and lost on both sides of the ball.
Desperate times called for desperate measures. The decision to take some risks is what turned the tide in No. 18 OU’s 34-19 victory over the Jayhawks Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
The risks came in rapid succession starting midway through the second quarter.
Quarterback Blake Bell rifled a slant pass to wide receiver Jaz Reynolds to finally get the Sooners on the scoreboard. It came on a third-and-13 play where playing for a field goal and not taking the risk of an interception was the more conservative – and less dicey – move.
Five snaps later, OU gambled, calling for a punt block with Kansas backed up at its own 14-yard line. Defensive linemen Matt Dimon came up the middle and got his hand on it, resulting in a safety.
After the ensuing kickoff, wide receiver Lacoltan Bester took a reverse pitch, took about two more strides, and threw a perfectly arced pass to Sterling Shepard for a 49-yard touchdown.
In less than three minutes, OU had erased 22 minutes of horrendous play.
“When things happen like that, turnovers or touchdowns, those are momentum shifts for either side. It depends on who gets them. I was glad those were on our side today,” Bester said.
The fact OU (6-1, 3-1 Big 12) had to have them shows how fragile its situation has become.
For the Sooners’ third straight game and in all of their conference games, they’ve shown a limited ability to put drives together.
Quarterback Blake Bell was 15 for 25 for 131 yards with two touchdown passes and one interception. It was an improvement from last week’s performance against Texas, but the poise he showed in his September starts against Tulsa and Notre Dame remained absent.
Defensively, OU gave up 201 yards. It would seem like a great afternoon except it allowed 136 yards in the first quarter. The real improvement the Sooners made throughout the game was figuring Kansas (2-4, 0-3) had as much interest in throwing the ball as a 5-year-old has in eating his vegetables. Jayhawk quarterback Jake Heaps was just 5 for 13 for 16 yards. He had a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jimmay Mundine to give his team a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
Kansas wanted to feed the ball to running backs James Sims and Darrian Miller as much as possible. Sims finished with 129 yard and Miller added 67.
“It’s the best we’ve had in a while and running against a good defense too,” Kansas coach Charlie Weis said. “Going in, we had to try to control the ball.”
How good OU’s defense is is debatable. Through seven games, it’s allowed 1,006 yards. After Saturday, foes are averaging 4.3 yards per carry.
But OU coach Bob Stoops was adamant the problems halting the run are more mental than physical.
“When we got in position, we were in good shape. Some of the inside runs, we’ve just gotta keep getting it so our backers … I’m not … at times we’re over pursuing, getting too wide and we need to stay tight in some of those plays,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “When it happened, we knew exactly what happened. Then they settled down, and were where they needed to be, and we played them well.”
The Sooners dominated the second half in the sense that Kansas never seriously threatened to win the game.
Bell hit Shepard, who had a team-high seven receptions for a 82 yards, for a 10-yard touchdown pass on OU’s opening drive of the third quarter. From that point on OU maintained at least an eight-point lead, and the absolute disaster of a loss was no longer a possibility.
The closest Kansas came to getting back into it was when Josh Ford returned the punt blocking favor when he got his hand one of Jed Barnett’s boots early in the fourth quarter. One play later Sims scored on a 6-yard touchdown run.
However, the Sooners responded with an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive capped by Damien Williams’ 6-yard touchdown run.
The Sooners rushed for 235 yards on the day. Williams led the way with 56. Roy Finch added 53, Brennan Clay tossed in 20 and Keith Ford added 19. Although, Ford was benched after a second-quarter fumble.
“We made some adjustments this week and ran some more power run game,” center Gabe Ikard said. “It shows a lot about this offense being able to adjust from week to week. We prepared well this week. We started slow in the first half, but finally got it rolling.”
And got back to winning because the Sooners were willing to take some risks in the second quarter. Then again, it’s hard to call it gambling when someone tries something out of the box when faced with a dire situation.
“I feel like we needed to do anything possible to get back into the game and get the momentum shifted back to our side,” Shepard said.
The Sooners did and were able to escape with a win.