In the end, it all came down to the referee staring into a View-Master like a third-grader.
With the game possibly on the line, after Oklahoma was ruled on the field to have recovered a desperate onside kick, the booth had a crucially important decision to make: had Oklahoma freshman Trejan Bridges touched the ball at the Oklahoma 44? If so, it would be a penalty for illegal touching, and Kansas State would have the ball with 1:43 to go and with no timeouts for Oklahoma. If not, the Sooners would have a chance.
The play was overturned, and K-State (5-2, 2-2) was able to step into victory formation, closing out a thrilling 48-41 win over the fifth-ranked Sooners (7-1, 4-1) at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. But don’t let the score fool you: K-State beat Oklahoma black and purple this afternoon.
That Oklahoma was even in position to try an onside kick to give themselves an opportunity to tie the game was the result of K-State letting off the gas and trying to preserve a win, rather than continuing to do what they’d already been doing for 47 minutes. With 12:48 to go, the Wildcats led by an absurd 48-23 score, and that was not a fluke. Heading into the fourth quarter, K-State had outgained the Sooners 377-277, had 22 first downs to Oklahoma’s 10, and led in time of possession — rounded off — 30-15.
The Wildcats, simply put, beat the crap out of the Sooners for 48 minutes, and then held on.
K-State punted after their first drive, and Oklahoma took a 10-0 lead. Devin Anctil did not step on the field again until the 9-minute mark of the fourth quarter, a span of over 47 minutes. In between, the formerly-sputtering Wildcat offense scored on eight straight drives, six by touchdown, and kept the Oklahoma offense in check.
When AJ Parker snagged a deflection off Charleston Rambo on a trick play and set up the go-ahead touchdown for K-State late in the first half, the momentum shifted; when K-State began the second half with a field goal drive and then forced Oklahoma into a three-and-out before driving for a touchdown, the game seemed all but over. From 1:58 in the first quarter to 12:48 in the fourth, K-State outscored the Sooner 41-6.
Yes, you read that right. 41-6.
Seeing the offense finally work again was a thing of beauty. After four games of wondering if K-State could score enough points to even get to a bowl game, the offense we saw early in the season suddenly reared its head against the allegedly improved Sooner defense. K-State finished with 426 yards of offense — exactly 213 yards on both the ground and through the air. Skylar Thompson was not perfect — 18-28, did not throw a touchdown, and ate a sack — but he was finding receivers in critical moments when he needed to. Six times Thompson was able to extend a drive on third down, more than once on long yardage.
James Gilbert passed the 500-yard mark on the season, averaging over eight yards a touch in running for 105 yards on 13 carries with a touchdown. Jordon Brown ran for 63 yards on 12 carries and added a huge 23-yard reception which extended a drive. Thompson himself added 39 on the ground, which would have been 56 if not for the big sack he ate — and scored four touchdowns himself. The sixth touchdown was courtesy of Joshua Youngblood on an end-around.
Dalton Schoen continued his resurrection from the early-season blues, hauling in five balls for 68 yards. Malik Knowles had two big catches for 34, Youngblood had three catches, Sammy Wheeler and Wykeen Gill each had a pair, and four other players had a catch.
Defensively, as noted, K-State held Oklahoma to only 277 yards through the first 45 minutes. The Sooners racked up 220 yards in the fourth quarter, but with the exception of a 70-yard catch-and-run from Jalen Hurts to CeeDee Lamb which was as terrible a play as the Max Duggan touchdown last week against TCU Horned Frogs, the remaining 150 yards of Oklahoma offense in the quarter can be chalked up to playing prevent. The Sooners did score another touchdown, and got a field goal, but there were no big plays involved; K-State made them chip away downfield to get there.
Indeed, Hurts was Oklahoma’s entire offense. The former national champion had 395 yards passing and 96 yards rushing. That’s 491 yards. Oklahoma had 497 total. Trey Sermon was Oklahoma’s second-leading rusher... with 9 yards. Counting sack yardage, K-State held the Sooners to 102 yards on the ground, which is a big part of the story today.
And we would, of course, be remiss in not mentioning Devin Anctil. Anctil only had to punt three times. Two of those punts were for 55 yards or more. The third only went for 46 yards. It was downed at the Oklahoma 10 yard line. Give him the Ray Guy Award already.
The one truly horrible thing that happened today: Eric Gallon II was carted off the field after a knee injury which was so horrific visually that Bob Wischusen announced to the viewing audience that there would be no replay. It was extremely gut-wrenching because it happened on the kickoff following K-State’s touchdown drive which put the Wildcats up 34-23, in which Gallon helped to force a fumble which the Cats recovered (and went on to score again). Worse, the previous Sooner drive had ended as a result of a brilliant defensive play by Gallon, so he’d just made two consecutive great plays before being wheeled off on a stretcher.
The Gallon name is an important one in Manhattan. As a senior, Eric II is probably done as a football player, and that’s heartbreaking. We hope he at least recovers quickly enough to enjoy a trip to a bowl game, even if he can’t play.
What did we learn?
1) The offense actually works, maybe.
This goes without saying, given the above comments. But for the first time all season against a Power 5 opponent — the fifth-best team in the country until today, no less — the offense was firing on all cylinders. The Cats were only forced into a three-and-out twice, on their very first possession of the game and on their last real one.
That last one, of course, is problematic for all sorts of reasons. With only 5:36 on the clock and a 10-point lead, K-State needed to do better than running three plays and punting after only taking 66 seconds off the clock; that failure led to the drama which concluded the contest. But no team is perfect, and after running seven straight scoring drives it’s reasonable to expect that the team — especially playing conservatively to preserve a lead in a huge upset bid — sputtered a bit.
2) The defense is really for real.
Oklahoma had a ton of plays where they simply got nothing. The defensive line was in the Sooner backfield all day long. The Sooners had a few big pass plays, but there were only two which did not result in an almost immediate tackle by the Wildcat defense, and if you don’t understand how huge that was let’s just assure you it’s a big thing. Running the ball, Hurts had one carry of 15 yards, and was otherwise kept entirely in check on the ground.
The only downside is the same downside we’ve been complaining about for years:
3) Tacking still needs work.
We only point it out because it directly resulted in two Oklahoma touchdowns, but that’s still two Oklahoma touchdowns. It’s a minor gripe, because if we’re completely honest we have to say the tacking has improved 100% since the Baylor game. Again, only two plays were breakdowns, and that’s a dramatic improvement. When you improve that much in three weeks, it’s a sign you can still keep improving and probably will.
4) The coaching staff is learning and adjusting.
First, hats off to the game plan today. It was nearly perfect, and while you obviously can’t put the also near-perfect execution of that game plan entirely on the coaches, they also obviously played a part in preparing the players to execute.
Second, there were really only two head-scratcher moments for the staff today, and neither were critical. With 1:17 to go in the first half, K-State could have gone for it on 4th-and-6 at the Oklahoma 17, especially trailing 20-14. But since the Cats were getting the ball to start the second half, kicking the field goal was not a terrible call. Of course, Parker’s interception two plays later made the point moot as K-State went ahead and added another seven to the scoreboard.
The other moment was in the fourth quarter, leading 48-30 with nine minutes left. Facing 4th-and-1 at their own 44, K-State opted to punt despite having gained more than a yard on three of the previous four carries — including a two-yard run by Harry Trotter on 3rd-and-3. A first down would have all but ended the game right then and there, but it’s hard to fault Chris Klieman for trusting his defense.
The exciting part, however, was watching the play-calling on offense. Thompson ran a ton of play-action. There were several quarterback draws called. Youngblood was active in multiple roles. The offensive line suddenly found ways to open holes for Gilbert.
It was simply a great show all the way around, and you have to give the staff credit for designing it.
5) All of a sudden, ten wins is back on the radar.
Coming into today — and do not lie about this, dear reader — we expected to leave this game with K-State sitting at 4-3 and still unsure about whether two more wins were available.
Now? K-State just manhandled Oklahoma. There is no game left which the Wildcats have no shot. The three “we can probably win this but I’m nervous” games all just flipped to “we’re going to win those”. The only real questions left are Texas and Iowa State, and I can tell you from watching Twitter today that they’re a little scared now.
If the team that took the field today shows up for the rest of the season, K-State is very capable of finishing 10-2, and possibly even stumbling into the Big 12 Championship Game. That’s unlikely, of course. But if I’d told you this morning K-State was going to finish the season 9-4 you’d be ecstatic, and you know it.
And now we prepare for a trip down the river next Saturday for a game which suddenly looks like a beatdown in the making. The road is clear, friends. All the Wildcats need to do is not run into a guard rail. Let’s see if they can pull that off.