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Big 12 Roundup: Silver linings

Most conference teams showed improvement in Week 3. Kansas? Not so much.

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NCAA Football: East Carolina at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

It’s much harder to indulge in that shady-fruity emotion with the German name after a Kansas State loss. But here’s giving it the ol’ college try.

Let’s start with Kansas, because it’s best to rip the bandage off right away. The Jayhawks actually traveled all the way to Athens, Ohio, just for the privilege of being schooled 42-30 by Frank Solich and his particular brand of #MACtion.

How total was Ohio’s domination of its hapless Big 12 opponent? Kansas never led at any point in the game, and in fact, the BobCats were actually up 39-14 at one point. The Jayhawks did narrow the lead late in the game, but it was too little too late.

If the offense seemed inept for much of the game, the defense was no better. The Jayhawks struggled mightily, giving up 450 total yards at a clip of about seven yards per play.

Kansas’ road losing streak is now up to 42 games, and I think this play from the game about sums up what’s going on with Kansas football:

Kansas was not alone in the loss column. Baylor dropped a 34-20 decision to Duke, but in falling to 0-3, the Bears may have discovered a silver lining or two. (Also, the rest of us could stand to take some lessons in the power of positive thinking from the folks at Our Daily Bears for sure).

First, quarterback Zach Smith had three long touchdown plays of the sort last dialed up in Waco in 2015. He finished the game with 263 yards and three scores. Second, the defense was much better than in the first two games of the season, throwing a bunch of new and confusing looks at Duke, and repeatedly harassing Blue Devils quarterback Daniel Jones. The defense also managed to stave off two scores with impressive goal line stands.

So why did Baylor lose the game? Well, take away the three long touchdown plays, and Smith had 67 yards off 9-of-31 passing. He also had three interceptions to go with his three scores. The Baylor running game never got untracked, with the entire team rushing for just 57 yards total. Baylor’s defense also had no answer for patient running from Duke, as the Blue Devils ultimately ran roughshod all over the Bears. Duke’s Shawn Wilson had a banner day, averaging nearly 10 yards per carry.

And now for your moment of Baylor zen:

Texas was the only other Big 12 team to lose on Saturday. (This is not true. I live my own reality, ok?!).

But where the Longhorns’ Week 1 loss to Maryland was everything Texas football has been recently, the 27-24 (2OT) loss to USC was vintage for completely different reasons. In fact, this game might have put people in mind of that famous 2006 Rose Bowl encounter between these two teams, but it didn’t look like it for most of the game.

With Vince Young and Matt Leinart watching from the sidelines, their 2017 counterparts didn’t quite manage the lyrical brilliance Texas and USC had shown in their famous national championship matchup. This was more of an error-prone slugfest with both teams matching each other in general offensive ineptitude.

For much of regulation, the Texas offense did nothing. In the first half, the Longhorns offensive possessions went like this: turnover on downs, interception, fumble, punt, punt, punt, punt. Late in the half, a pick six helped level the game at 7-7 before USC scored to take a 14-7 halftime lead.

In the second half, a field goal helped Texas narrow the margin, but after that, the next four offensive series ended with punt, punt, punt, and an interception. Suddenly though, with just under five minutes to play, quarterback Sam Ehlinger came alive. He drove the team 92 yards with his legs and his arm, and with a lot of help from wide receiver Armanti Foreman.

The drive put Texas up 17-14, and it looked like the game was over, but a late field goal from USC pushed this contest to overtime. Overtime was all fireworks, the perfect antidote to the first four quarters of this game. The two teams traded touchdowns in the first overtime sequence, but in the second, Ehlinger fumbled the ball, and the Trojans recovered. That was all she wrote, so to speak.

This game left Texas fans with mixed feelings. There was well-warranted pride in the team for the fantastic effort, for leaving it all on the field. There was also the much less-warranted prediction that Texas might win the Big 12 in Tom Herman’s first year.

In short, Texas fans have reason to be hopeful. Ehlinger, a true freshman playing a true road game against high quality competition, acquitted himself well. He finished with 298 yards off 21-of-40 passing and two scores. Plus, the Longhorns almost took out a Top 5 team on the road. The defense has already pitched a shutout this season, and has yet to give up a fourth-down conversion.

But any optimism should be of the very cautious variety. The Texas running game looked awful, the entire team rushing for a paltry 68 yards. Chris Warren III only got four carries the entire game, for a grand total of 15 yards and that was the best individual rushing performance for the Horns. The defense gave up 397 yards through the air, a stat that will probably get worse against the potent passing attacks common in the Big 12.

The question is of course whether Texas is indeed back. Well...

The remnants of the Big 12 North did not have a banner weekend, but Iowa State won anyway, beating hapless Akron team 41-14. Because Iowa State is contrary like that. When you are a Power 5 team and you play a MAC team at their house, it’s a good idea to put your foot to the gas pedal and never let up.

The Cyclones faltered a bit at the end of the first half, letting Akron score twice on long drives to close the gap. But in the second half, it was all Iowa State. Jacob Park is a wild thing and plays like it. He also doesn’t really care what anyone thinks. He finished the game 24/33 for 317 yards and two touchdowns. He added another score on the ground. Iowa State can run the ball a bit too, with David Montgomery rushing for 127 yards and a score on the day.

This win was the perfect antidote for last week’s heartbreaking loss to Iowa, and now the Cyclones get a week off before hosting Texas. The Cyclones like their chances. Remember the last time Texas played at Iowa State? Yeah, that was a 24-0 win for Iowa State.

(Yes, I’m going to keep using this GIF until I figure out what it is, and maybe even then!)

Texas Tech beat Arizona State 52-45 in a contest featuring almost no defense. Tech’s Nic Shimonek threw for six touchdowns (five in the first half alone!) and 543 yards and targeted five different receivers for scores. He’s the real deal, even if he’s not quite Patrick Mahomes.

On the other hand, consider this: Arizona State is not that good, and Texas Tech needed nearly 600 yards of offense to put them away. That should be cause for concern rather than excitement.

Although the Red Raiders did well to contain Arizona State’s Kalen Ballage, the defense still gave up 168 yards on the ground. The Sun Devils also burned Tech’s secondary to the tune of 326 yards at the rate of about eight yards per play.

Still, a win is a win. Texas Tech is still undefeated and Kliff Kingsbury still has a job. It’s all good.

TCU beat crosstown arch rival SMU 56-36 and took home The Skillet. Although the Horned Frogs ultimately cruised to victory, this game was a bit of a struggle at first.

SMU scored first and was actually leading for much of the half. TCU drove 56 yards for a touchdown in the last 0:10 of the half to lead 28-22 and the Frogs never looked back. After that, it was nearly all TCU. Our purple brethren from Fort Worth added four touchdowns in the second half to put the game well out of reach.

TCU’s success had much to do with finally finding a ground game. The Frogs rushed for 254 yards with Kyle Hicks and Darius Anderson getting most of the carries. Hicks averaged nearly 8 yards a carry. In addition, the SMU secondary didn’t offer much resistance, so quarterback Kenny Hill also had a terrific day. He went 24/30 for 365 yards and four touchdowns and didn’t turn the ball over once.

On the other hand, this game was too close for comfort for a good long time. The Frogs’ vaunted defense—so effective against Arkansas—gave up 463 total yards including 339 yards through the air, a stat that will not hold up well against Big 12 offenses. Turnovers were also a problem, with the Frogs putting the ball on the ground three times in the game.

So TCU is 3-0 and ready for Big 12 action, but playing like the Frogs did against SMU probably won’t cut it.

West Virginia played a football game. West Virginia did West Virginia things. West Virginia beat Delaware 59-16.

Here’s what we learned from this game. When the ‘Eers are good, they’re fantastic. West Virginia scored touchdowns off six of its first 10 possessions of the game and led 45-10 at the half. Will Grier had over 300 yards passing and three scores, while running back Justin Crawford has 102 yards on 15 carries.

But when the ‘Eers are bad, nobody can make any sense of it all. Grier threw an interception in the first half, and in another offensive series, he also fumbled the ball twice. He missed on a bunch of short throws, and when he passed well, his typically sure-handed receivers dropped the ball.

(Aside: WVU beat writers, we need to talk about this: “WVU, which travels to Manhattan next Saturday to open Big 12 play against the Jayhawks of the University of Kansas, needed only four plays and 53 seconds to take the lead for good against their guests.” YOU ARE DOING THIS WRONG!)

The defense was sloppy too. Delaware State managed 301 yards of total offense, the best the team has done all season. West Virginia gave up several long runs and the secondary was repeatedly burned on pass plays for big yardage.

It may have been a case of the ‘Eers playing down to the competition. As Grier noted after the game, West Virginia just wasn’t ready.

I don't think as a whole we were ready to play. I think we kind of took it lightly and that's something that we've got to work on.

Better get ready, Will, or it’s going to get ugly.

Oklahoma beat Tulane 56-14 in fairly routine fashion. The Sooners, maybe still in celebratory mode after the big win over Ohio State, started out slow, fumbling the ball on the first series to set up a go-ahead score for Tulane. The two teams then exchanged scores to tie up the game, but it was all Oklahoma after that.

Baker Mayfield, currently leading the Heisman race, did nothing to hamper his chances. He played a little over three quarters, threw for 331 yards, and scored four touchdowns. All in a day’s work.

If there was anything revealing about this matchup at all, it was that Oklahoma’s defense either can’t stop the run or thinks that’s an unnecessary wrinkle. Tulane rushed for 237 yards total and both touchdowns came on the ground. A good offense will mask a bad defense, but only for so long.

Still, Oklahoma is pretty great and right where everyone expected them to be.

Now...from pretty great to absolutely terrifying, i.e. the only term I can think of to describe Oklahoma State right now.

The Pokes beat up on Pitt 59-21, and it wasn’t even that close. This was meant to be a test for Oklahoma State, a road game against a decent opponent that would help answer questions. Well, we got answers all right. Mason Rudolph is scary good (even if NFL scouts don’t think so), and with him at the helm, the Pokes might be unstoppable.

Rudolph only played the first half, but he finished with 497 yards and five touchdowns. He even distributed the ball, allowing four different wide receivers to each have 100-yard games.

Oklahoma State scored at will, including on the first seven possessions, setting a school record for most yards in a half in the process. The Pokes have outscored opponents 59-0 in the first quarter so far this season. That includes some help from the defense, which has also managed to score at least once in each game so far.

There is nothing this team can’t do on offense, and the Big 12—indeed all of college football—is on notice.