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KSU’s upset win showed the Sooners how easy it is in football to undo a lot of good work.
The Kansas State Wildcats taught the Oklahoma Sooners an object lesson about football over the weekend: Some plays matter more than others.
In OU’s game against K-State, the balance of those high-impact plays leaned heavily in favor of the Wildcats:
OU quarterback Spencer Rattler threw three interceptions in the game;
KSU scooped up a fumble by running back Seth McGowan at midfield;
The Wildcats blocked an OU punt in Sooner territory.
Those kinds of plays matter a lot at the end of the day – much more than your garden-variety seven-yard completion. Note, for example, that ESPN advanced stats guru Bill Connelly estimates securing a turnover equates to roughly five points for a team. In the context of Saturday’s game, that works out to a swing of 20 points for the Wildcats. Similarly, a team’s chances of scoring increase significantly when it gains 50 yards in field position from a blocked punt.
Kansas State had 10 first downs (2-for-11 on third down) in the win against Oklahoma.
Fewest first downs by a winner against OU since Nebraska had 7 in 2009, and only time in the past decade someone has had fewer than 17 first downs and beaten OUhttps://t.co/oCAvZtyUm5
— Matt Brown (@MattBrownCFB) September 28, 2020
Unfortunately, all those outsized plays erased lots of solid ball by the Sooners from play to play. OU ended the game with a Success Rate on offense of 47%, versus 33% for KSU. The Wildcats hit the threshold for success on just 17 offensive plays, while OU had 36. OU rolled up 28 first downs to just 10 for K-State.
To be fair, KSU’s average gain of 7.84 yards per play reflects the damage inflicted by the Wildcats whenever they weren’t getting stuffed. The Sooners were gaining about a yard less per play. However, that also happens when you’re running 50% more plays than your opponent (76 for OU, 51 for the Wildcats).
This feels like a familiar story in these annual upsets – and a fair number of close shaves – since Lincoln Riley took charge of the program in 2017. Even when OU has fielded atrocious defenses, the Sooners hardly ever lose the cumulative battle from down to down. Things like turnovers and gaffes on special teams, though, tend to cost them dearly.
Other reactions from the weekend’s debacle:
*Of course, the Sooners could also benefit from making a few of those high-impact plays of their own.
Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has hammered home his emphasis on creating turnovers for two years now. Once again on Saturday, his D came away with zero. It marked the ninth such game out of the 16 OU has played since he arrived in Norman.
At some point, the Sooners have to start forcing more takeaways. They will be especially important if Rattler has more growing pains.
*Grinch also needs to prepare for more of the empty set looks that KSU burned the defense with in the second half. Count on some from Iowa State on Saturday, and definitely expect to see a bunch of it from Texas at the Cotton Bowl.
*Keep in mind that OU was up three touchdowns in this game deep into the fourth quarter. It was painful to watch that kind of collapse, but the Sooners did a whole lot well right up to that point. So many things had to go wrong in a short amount of time for OU to come out on the losing end.
The bigger concern than anything happening on the field for the Sooners should be their psyche. A lot can happen with eight games still left on the schedule, and an early loss can shine a spotlight on what needs fixing. But with all the COVID-19 chaos swirling around at the moment, maintaining the team’s focus seems like it could be the greatest challenge for Riley and his coaching staff.