Adrian Martinez responded to a week of criticism with the game of his life, racking up 382 yards of offense himself as he led Kansas State to a decisive 41-34 win over the Oklahoma Sooners Saturday night at Memorial Stadium in Norman.
Martinez, after three weeks of being overly conservative, came out of the gate throwing the ball downfield. On the first two Wildcat drives the offense moved effortlessly, aided by three big catches by Ben Sinnott; K-State (3-1, 1-0) cashed in twice on six-yard touchdown plays, one on a keeper by Martinez and the other on a pass to Malik Knowles.
The defense, meanwhile, stopped Oklahoma (3-1, 0-1) cold on their first two possessions, and it looked like things were getting out of hand as K-State took possession with a 14-0 lead.
But the Sooners forced a three-and-out, and after a questionable penalty for kick catch interference on a ball which was 10 yards behind Marvin Mims, Dillon Gabriel launched a 56-yard touchdown pass to Theo Wease to restore some semblance of order for Oklahoma.
The teams traded three-and-outs, but Oklahoma won the position game when Phillip Brooks called a fair catch on a punt at his own four yard line rather than letting it go into the end zone. The drive ended when Kade Warner dropped a deep ball which Martinez dropped right into his hands, and Oklahoma had great field position after the punt.
Four plays later, Gabriel hit Mims from 50 yards out and the game was tied at 14. But Knowles busted a huge kickoff return into Sooner territory, Martinez used his legs to convert a big third down and later a big fourth down at the Sooner four before plunging in from three yards out to regain the lead.
Gabriel marched the Sooners downfield again with a couple of big completions, but the Wildcat defense stood up deep in their own territory and forced Oklahoma to settle for a 41-yard field goal from Zach Schmit and K-State clung to a 21-17 lead.
The offense churned mercilessly as the half wound down, but the Sooners managed to stop the Cats on third down inside the five yard line with 30 seconds left. Chris Klieman opted to take the easy three, and K-State went into half with a 24-17 lead as Chris Tennant split the uprights from 24 yards out with zeroes on the clock.
On the opening drive of the second half, K-State simply couldn’t seem to stop Eric Gray. But a holding penalty interrupted the proceedings, and after a near-fight broke out when Braylen Willis tried to run Brendan Mott into the brick retaining wall, the Wildcat defense managed to force the Sooners to settle for a 44-yarder from Schmit.
K-State was unable to capitalize on the minor victory, however. For the second time in the game, Warner dropped a deep ball that was right in his breadbasket, and K-State ended up having to punt. Gray immediately broke off 35 yards on two carries, but the Cats managed force a fourth down which Oklahoma initially chose to go for, but got called for delay of game and were forced to punt.
The Cats got on the move again, with Vaughn starting a new 100-yard game streak, and almost cashed in on a pass to Sammy Wheeler which only a great play by Billy Bowman prevented. Tennant was accurate from 29, and K-State extended the lead to 27-20.
The Sooners got into K-State territory on the next drive, but Gabriel misfired on a pass attempt trying to convert fourth down and K-State took over. They couldn’t get anything done after a false start, so opted for field position, and came a whisker away from pinning the Sooners on the one-inch line as the fourth quarter opened.
Gabriel escaped a sack and ran for 26 yards to get into K-State territory, but Oklahoma was forced to punt from the Wildcat 47. The Sooners had their own chance to pin K-State at the goal line, but this punt too squirted into the end zone.
Vaughn slipped free for 15 to start the drive, and Martinez found Sinnott for 21. Martinez was forced to scramble and somehow managed to complete a pass to Brooks, but it was called back on a penalty. Oklahoma got called for pass interference on the next play, getting those yards back. To Warner for 15. To Brooks for 6. Then a fake handoff to Vaughn fooled everyone, and Martinez gave K-State a 34-20 lead on a 15-yard scamper.
Oklahoma responded, getting down to the Wildcat one yard line, but two important plays happened. Jaylen Pickle sacked Gabriel, which was more important for the extra minute it cost the Sooners than for the yardage it cost them. Also, on first-and-goal from the one, Gabriel was stopped cold at the line of scrimmage, costing Oklahoma another half-minute.
Gabriel then hit Willis for a score; a flag was thrown for an illegal pick, but it was picked up because the pass was completed behind the line of scrimmage. The Cats took over with 4:36 to play and a 34-27 lead.
The Sooners made a critical mistake, as Bowman was called for a face mask to give K-State a first down with 3:45 to go. Another 45 seconds vanished even though Vaughn was tacked for a loss. After a false start, on 2nd-and-17, Vaughn was stopped for no gain; the Sooners called their first timeout with 2:47 to go.
And then Martinez, looking to throw, decided to just keep it. The Sooner stopped him... 55 yards later. Two plays later, he punched it in from the one to give the Wildcats a 41-27 lead and seal the deal.
The Sooners didn’t quit, though. Gabriel hit Willis for a 10-yard score with 35 seconds to go, and Oklahoma lined up for the onside kick, which was recovered by Warner to confirm the Wildcat Victory.
Martinez had himself a game. 21-34 for 234 yards and a TD through the air. 148 yards and 4 touchdowns on the ground. Wow.
Vaughn had 116 yards on 25 carries, plus two catches for 13 yards; DJ Giddins had two carries for 13. Phillip Brooks led the Cats with seven receptions, for 50 yards; Ben Sinnott (!) led the team in receiving yards with 80 on four catches. Knowles added four catches for 52 yards, Warner had three for 26, and RJ Garcia caught one ball for seven.
The Sooners did outgain K-State 550-509, for all the good it did them. The Sooners had the advantage in the air 330-234, but the Cats outgained Oklahoma on the ground 275-220. The defense may have some work to do, but they still got the ultimate job done tonight.
K-State was 8-17 on third down, 2-2 on fourth; a quiet key to the game was the defense’s success in the same situations, holding Oklahoma to 4-13 on third and 1-2 on fourth. There were no turnovers in the game, save for Oklahoma’s turnover on downs; the Sooners also did not sack Martinez even once. Time of possession went to the Wildcats 33:46-24:56.
What We Learned
1) Chris Tennant seems to have gotten his confidence back
Tennant was perfect tonight, and every kick was right down the throat. It was a good sign for the young kicker, who’s had a rough career so far.
2) We finally got the Adrian Martinez we thought we were getting
What can I even say? Last week, I railed against him for refusing to throw downfield when that was clearly the intention of the play calls. Tonight, he fired all night long, finding open receivers everywhere, and most importantly still did not turn the ball over. He took his preparation for this game seriously, took Klieman’s statement that he needed to “let ‘er rip” to heart — which he directly confirmed in his post-game interview — and had the game of his life.
You cannot ask for anything more. It was the perfect response to a terrible game, and recovered the fanbase’s confidence. More importantly, it gives him his own.
3) Ben Sinnott?!
Sinnott caught three balls for 59 yards in the first quarter alone, one of which was a 25-yard reception on which he dragged half the Sooner defense for half that distance. This is sort of an unforeseen offensive threat which will further open the playbook going forward, and it’s worth keeping an eye on Sinnott for the rest of the year.
4) Martinez and Brooks really love the screen
Brooks caught seven passes and it felt like every single one was a screen that he converted for five yards. (Not actually true, but dang close.)
That’s actually a useful tool when used properly, so it’ll be interesting to see if that continues.
5) We’re gonna miss this game when it’s gone
We can rant and rail on Oklahoma for leaving all we want, but let’s be honest: they’re doing what any of us would do, and while the tentative position it places K-State in can’t be ignored, what’s more upsetting is losing this rivalry.
Yeah, the all-time numbers look awful, but that ignores how little attention K-State even paid to football before hiring Bill Snyder. But over the last 30 years, nobody has beaten Oklahoma more than the Wildcats. The Sooners only lead the series over that timeframe 11-14; K-State’s 11 wins are more than any other team over that span other than Texas, which also has 11 wins but got to play the Sooners every year from 1996-2010 rather than twice every four years.
Gonna miss this game when it’s gone.
Players of the Game
Obviously, it’s Adrian Martinez on offense, which is in no way a slight to Vaughn or Sinnott, who were both fantastic tonight. Defensively, we’re going with Kobe Savage, who racked up 11 tackles and was all over the place.
The teams which beat the traitors will meet in Manhattan next weekend as Texas Tech comes to town. The Red Raiders knocked off Texas today in overtime.