The sixth game of Oklahoma’s season was different than most of its precursors. Outside of the Week 2 scheduled cakewalk against Louisiana-Monroe, the Sooners faced a deficit in every game.
They climbed out of them against Texas and TCU and languished against Houston and Ohio State.
It was a different scenario in Saturday’s 38-17 victory over Kansas State. OU (4-2, 3-0 Big 12) scored on its opening drive and put another touchdown on the board 6 1/2 minutes later.
A team that has played well in spurts did it at the beginning. It made the end look more comfortable than any game OU has played thus far.
“We’ve been trying to push forward and keep progressing. We finally did that, consistently, today,” quarterback Baker Mayfield said. "There’s a couple drives we had three-and-outs that we’d like to have back. Other than that, we had continual movement of the ball and big plays. That helped and it’s good to see guys playing well. If we keep moving the ball like, eventually the whole team — all three sides of the ball — will put it together and we’ll have a great game.”
Saturday wasn’t OU at its apex. The running game broke down when Samaje Perine left the game with what head coach Bob Stoops describe as a muscle pull. OU averaged 4.2 yards per carry, which was its lowest total in a Big 12 Conference game since the 2015 loss to Texas.
Defensively, there was that 17-play touchdown drive Kansas State pieced together in the first quarter and the drive late in the third where the Wildcats converted a third-and-22 and cornerback Jordan Thomas lost Dominique Heath on a scramble, resulting in a 55-yard touchdown for the Wildcats early in the fourth quarter.
Plays like that happen. The Sooners allowed several of them in prior weeks against TCU and Texas. Those games were shootouts. The Wildcats aren’t built in that manner. Their game plan centers on controlling the ball with their running game and limiting the defense’s exposure.
The Sooners play in the opening minutes took that way. When Heath got behind the defense, OU had a 21-point. The regained the three-touchdown with 6 1/2 minutes left. Mayfield hit wide receiver Dede Westbrook for an 88-yard touchdown, removing any doubt about the outcome.
The Sooners spent the final minutes celebrating on Saturday. They could do that until there only zeroes on the scoreboard in previous weeks.
“We’re getting to the mid-point of the year. People are getting more comfortable,” outside linebacker Obo Okoronkwo said. “There are less nerves out there. People are just playing free now, and it shows.”
Perhaps it is getting into the thick of Big 12 play that’s created the sense of calm. Saturday’s win was OU’s 10th straight in conference play. They’ve gone a calendar year without a Big 12 loss.
Despite the injury situation, the Sooners are improving. Westbrook’s upswing gives them the deep threat they lacked in September. Mixon, who caught a touchdown pass, rushed for 88 yards and threw for one Saturday, is the league’s most dynamic offensive player.
Defensively, even without defensive ends Charles Walker and Matt Dimon out with injuries, OU still controlled Kansas State’s running game.
“We’re getting better,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “We’re starting to build a little more consistency in what we’re doing, but we’ve got a ways to go and gotta keep pushing and start building some consistency with our lineups. Hopefully, that will continue here. I don’t think we got anyone banged up. We’ll see if we get any more players back next week.”
The challenge will be different when the Sooners face Texas Tech (3-3, 1-2) at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. The Red Raiders want an offensive track meet. Each game offers a different challenge. The Sooners are passing theirs on a more consistent basis.
“I still think we’ve got more,” Bob Stoops said. “We’re getting closer to playing to our potential. That’s what we’ve got to keep fighting for.”
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