Who says the 2019 college football season has been only chalk? For the third week in a row, a top-10 team was upset by an unranked underdog. In Week 9, it was No. 5Oklahoma’sturn. The Sooners, a 24-point favorite, were stunned byKansas Statein a 48-41 road loss that nearly became an epic comeback.
Ramifications for Oklahoma’s season aside — we’ll get to those later — this is a historic win for Kansas State and first-year coach Chris Klieman. It marks the first win for K-State over a top five team in the AP Top 25 since a 45-42 victory over No. 4Texasin 2006. It’s also K-State’s first home win over Oklahoma since 1996.
And while the win itself ended up being a nail-biter, this was a convincing beatdown for most of the second half. With just under 13 minutes to play in the game, Kansas State led 48-23. How did it get that lopsided? It starts with the Wildcats running right down the throat of Oklahoma’s overmatched defense with a heavy dose of quarterback Skyler Thompson and running back James Gilbert. The pair combined for 144 yards and five touchdowns with Thompson scoring four of those himself. In all, Thompson, Gilbert and Jordon Brown combined for 207 yards on the ground at nearly 5.5 yards per rush.
But the Sooners weren’t done, scoring 18 points in the fourth quarter and were a near-perfect onside kick away from having a chance to tie it. Seriously, this is as close as it gets:
What did we learn from Kansas State’s wild upset of Oklahoma? Here are four takeaways.
1. Oklahoma’s defense took a big step back:A “much-improved” defense for the Sooners had been the story of the 2019 season so far — and with good reason. Combine Oklahoma’s No. 1 offense with a defense capable of getting some stops, and you could put a whole new spin on this team’s national championship aspirations. But after Saturday’s loss, we need to look closer at the “much” part of “much-improved.”
First, a disclaimer: Oklahoma has depth problems on defense. Even if that side of the ball is playing better, that’s a precarious position to be in. Against Kansas State, Oklahoma lost cornerback Parnell Motley to an ejection and safety Delarrin Turner-Yell to an injury. There’s just not a lot of depth behind those players. New defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has done some truly great things with this defense, but he can’t build a perfect two-deep in a season.
That said, this looked like Oklahoma’s 2018 defense. It couldn’t get off the field and couldn’t stop what was obviously coming. There was no pass rush and linebacker Kenneth Murray, who is this defense’s best player, was a non-factor with four total tackles. Grinch is the right man to turn Oklahoma’s defense around, but there will be more days like today before it’s a completed product.
2. This was not Lincoln Riley’s best game, either:It’s easy to knock on the defense, but it’s not like Oklahoma’s offense played significantly better. Yes, it scored 18 fourth-quarter points to nearly cap off an epic comeback because you’re never going to stop this team forever. But this was not a well-managed game by Riley. First of all, where were running backs Trey Sermon and Kennedy Brooks? They combined for six touches and 11 yards. Wide receiver CeeDee Lamb eventually got his numbers (five catches for 135 yards and a touchdown), but he was absent for most of the game as well. Quarterback Jalen Hurts is an excellent player, but there’s too much talent elsewhere to have him be your only source of offense.
Some may think Riley got too cute with his play-calling, but ultimately, it goes down as a misuse of his best players. Riley also had questionable decisions regarding late-game clock management. He nearly had to use his last timeout to decide if he was going to kick a field goal in the fourth quarter to make it a one-possession game. That’s something that should have been ready to go the moment Oklahoma reached fourth down with just under two minutes remaining. Riley’s still a genius, but today wasn’t his best day. Happens to the best of them.
3. Kansas State has found its next Bill Snyder:You know who did have a great day? Klieman. It’s almost impossible to find a guy who could successfully navigate Kansas State in a post-Snyder era, but Klieman is looking more and more like the perfect choice. This is what he did at North Dakota State following Craig Bohl’s departure to Wyoming. All Klieman did was win four national championships. With November around the corner, he has Kansas State one win away from bowl eligibility, and honestly, this team should clear that hurdle by a comfortable margin. Saturday’s win evoked some classic Snyderisms. The Wildcats played good defense, took care of the ball while forcing two turnovers and controlled the game offensively. You’re not going to find another Snyder, but Kansas State found a guy who does one hell of an impression.
4. Who benefits from the Sooners’ upset? Eventually, everything comes back to theCollege FootballPlayoff. It’s the main talking point each season. So after Oklahoma’s loss, which other teams stand a little taller in the playoff race? There are still outcomes to be determined, but the SEC has to like its chances with possibly getting two teams in. No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 LSU are the first two teams that come to mind, but others aren’t completely out of the picture yet.
If we’re still opening up the floor to all possibilities, No. 11 Oregon is still on the periphery. Obviously, a lot of this is going to be determined by outcomes both today and down the road, but the more one-loss teams there are at the top of the list, the more space it opens up to other contenders.
Still, it’s possible Oklahoma gets a mulligan here. Anyone who watched the game knows the Sooners were mostly outclassed by the Wildcats, but that’s not what the score reflected. This looked like Ohio State’s huge losses to Purdue and Iowa of the past, but the scoreboard says otherwise. It’s possible the CFP Selection Committee gives the Sooners a pass for closing the gap.