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Big 12 Roundup: Turning the corner

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One team took a big step forward, while another stumbled but held on.

NCAA Football: Big 12 Media Days Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

There are no moral victories in college football. They don't put a loss in paranthesis. It doesn't happen. But if we can't hold our head high and learn from all the good that came from this game...

These words came from Tom Herman as he tried to wrap his head around his team’s overtime loss to USC a week ago. But it’s an appropriate segue into Week 4 in the Big 12 as well.

West Virginia beats Kansas 56-34

For Kansas, no kind of victory—moral or otherwise—seemed likely after West Virginia burned the Jayhawks for four touchdowns (each on passes of 80 yards or more) and led 28-3 midway through the second quarter. The slow start appeared to doom Kansas much as it did in the Jayhawks’ two other losses this season.

Then, something happened. Kansas woke up and discovered offense. Sophomore Khalil Herbert ran all over, to the tune of 291 yards and two scores. It was the third-best rushing day for any Kansas player ever, surpassing even one Mr. Gale Sayers.

Peyton Bender too had a banner day, adding a touchdown and nearly 200 yards of his own through the air. All in all, Kansas had 564 yards of offense, and late in the second half, the Jayhawks found themselves just one score behind.

Alas, it was not to be. As good as Kansas’ offense was on the day, the defense was terrible, about as stiff as tissue paper in a gentle breeze.*

WIll Grier and the West Virginia air attack had a field day late in the game, adding three touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Grier finished with a stat line of 25/39 for 347 yards, a clip of almost nine yards per attempt. On top of that, the ‘Eers also had 288 yards on the ground for a total of 635 yards. But the offense did stall out in the third quarter, and the West Virginia defense resembled nothing more than Swiss cheese for the most part. The ‘Eers were pushed around by the Kansas offensive line, and gave up 7.3 yards per rushing attempt in what may be the team’s worst defensive performance since 2013.

So what did we learn from all this? Every team in the Big 12 has offense, but for the most part, the defenses still look like this:

[*Ironic aside: Kansas has a player on defense named Defense.]

Oklahoma beats Baylor 49-41

This was supposed to be a romp for the Sooners, four touchdown-favorites over the hapless Baylor Bears. Certainly Baker Mayfield thought so, and made sure the Baylor players knew it too.

By the end of the first quarter, Oklahoma had run off three touchdowns and just over 200 yards, and it looked like the rout was on. By the end of the first half, the Sooners were in clear command with a 28-17 lead and no real sign of competition from the opponent.

But you can only poke the bear so many times before it wakes up, and so it was with Baylor. Determined not to be rolled, the Bears came out firing on all cylinders in the second half. A quick 72-yard strike from Zach Smith to Chris Platt brought Baylor within three, and two series later, the Bears had taken the lead 31-28.

Faced with a possible loss to the Big 12’s worst team though, the Sooners turned on the afterburners. With the help of some terrific running from Trey Sermon, Mayfield put together a nine play, 75-yard touchdown drive that took 4:25 off the clock and put Oklahoma ahead for good. A 60-yard scamper from Sermon on the next series was just the icing on the cake. Baylor would threaten again late in the game, but it was too little, too late.

After the game, a contrite Mayfield appeared to regret his pre-game comments. Somehow, inexplicably and unexpectedly, winless Baylor had put together the sort of second half that gave the Sooners fits and earned Mayfield’s respect.

The Sooners have now won 14 straight games and 17 consecutive Big 12 games. Oklahoma looked shaky here, but until some other teams steps up, the Sooners are the conference’s best team.

The Bears, on the other hand, are still winless, but maybe Baylor is back? Just our luck.

TCU beats Oklahoma State 44-31

If Oklahoma stumbled but picked itself up to a win, the Sooners’ in-state rivals were far less fortunate. Or maybe the Pokes were just less capable?

Whatever the reason, the Horned Frogs took it right to Oklahoma State from the get go. Except for a brief moment in the first quarter when the Pokes led the game 7-6, it was all TCU.

It’s tempting to think that TCU managed to control the line of scrimmage, or that Oklahoma State simply wasn’t up to the physical challenge presented by real competition. But really, the Horned Frogs did nothing more than capitalize on a lot of sloppy play from Oklahoma State that left fans feeling very much like this:

Mason Rudolph (22/41, 398 yards, 2 TD) threw two interceptions and lost a fumble. The Pokes’ vaunted rushing attack was held to a season-low 101 yards total. The team gave up almost a football field in penalties. Finally. Oklahoma State’s defense—so stingy through three non-conference games—had no answers for TCU’s Darius Anderson.

He ran for 160 yards and three scores, and quarterback Kenny Hill added 228 yards and another score through the air. TCU ran a total of 85 plays and only punted twice in the entire game.

Afterwards, Mike Gundy admitted he’d been outcoached by TCU’s Gary Patterson. Defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer added:

The highs aren’t high enough in what we do, and the lows are way too low.

If that’s not the worst sort of post-game indictment...

Texas Tech beats Houston 27-24

As the Red Raiders wrapped up non-conference action, here’s three things worth noting:

— Houston was favored to win this game, and it was not supposed to be close.

— The Tech offense was meant to struggle without Patrick Mahomes.

— Texas Tech was supposed to be 1-2 at this point in the season.

What do we know after this game? Well...

— Texas Tech not only beat Houston,. but ended the Cougars 16-game home winning streak and Houston’s seven-game winning streak against Power 5 teams in the process. The Red Raiders took an early 6-0 lead and never looked back. The game was a struggle for the Houston offense, with quarterback Kyle Allen being replaced midway through the second half, and the ground game managing 110 yards at a subpar 3.5 yards per carry.

— Meanwhile, Texas Tech’s Nic Shimonek was 29-of-45 for 321 yards and two scores. These aren’t exactly Mahomes’ numbers, but they’re plenty good enough for Big 12 play, especially with wide receiver Keke Coutee. The Red Raiders also added 200 yards on the ground, with Justin Stockton rushing for 102 yards on just 10 attempts. Also, the defense forced five turnovers and tackled well in the open field, stifling Houston’s rushing attack.

— Texas Tech is now 3-0 and if Kliff Kingsbury is on the hot seat, he seems pretty comfortable with it.

Bring on Week 5!