LAWRENCE, Kan. — Roy Finch and Charles Walker slapped hands. Damien Williams smiled and joked with Zach Sanchez. Durron Neal signed autographs. Brennan Clay posed for pictures with the Oklahoma cheerleaders.
The Sooners felt a lot better about this Saturday than last Saturday.
The Sooner Nation?
Oh, sure, a win is preferable to a loss. Beating Kansas 34-19 was much better than losing to Texas last week.
But all is not well in Soonerland.
“Really pleased that we were able to bounce back,” Sooner center and senior captain Gabe Ikard said. “Obviously didn’t play a stellar game, but when you come on the road and get a win in conference, it’s a good thing.”
No doubt road wins are hard to come by. You cherish every one of them.
But still, raise your hand if you thought OU was going to come to Kansas and need a blocked punt and a reverse pass to swing the momentum. Who thought the Sooners would need to even dust off their bag of tricks Saturday, much less need one to win the game?
This game was a reminder that some of the same problems that got the Sooners beat in the Cotton Bowl don’t seem to be going away.
Problems with the run defense are at the top of that list.
After getting pounded on the ground by the Longhorns, the start of the game Saturday looked eerily familiar. The Jayhawks hit one big run after another, 14 yards, then 6, then 8, then 20, then 8.
And that was just on the first drive. James Sims, who came into the game averaging 78 yards rushing a game, had 63 on that opening drive.
The Kansas offensive line was blowing open holes the size of the Sooner Schooner. The Jayhawks physically dominated the Sooners, marching down the field and scoring a touchdown with a methodical 10-play, 70-yard drive.
Sooner coach Bob Stoops insisted that defensive tackle wasn’t the problem area. The Sooners were thin there Saturday with the loss of Jordan Phillips with a season-ending injury and the academic suspension of Torrea Peterson. If Peterson gets his business taken care of, he should be back next week, but even with him, that is not a position of great depth.
“I don’t feel that was the issue,” Stoops said.
“Backers not being in position. Backers and secondary not adjusting to some of the different formations is more of the issue.”
Adjusting to life without Corey Nelson is going to be a work in progress, and obviously, the Sooners eventually got things figured out Saturday. After the first quarter, the Jayhawk offense managed only 65 yards.
But that first quarter remains worrisome.
What if Kansas was more of a quick-strike offense like, say, next week’s opponent Texas Tech? What if the Jayhawks had scored on three or four quick drives? What if it took that long for the Sooners to get things figured out?
They probably would’ve been so far out of it that they wouldn’t have been able to come back.
The issues were clearly wearing on coaches. At one point, TV cameras caught defensive coordinator Mike Stoops getting into it with defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery. Things got so verbally heated at one point that Bob Stoops had to step in and separate them.
His message seemed clear: “We’re not going to do that.”
Heck, sometimes that kind of passion on the sidelines is needed, but whoever thought that coaches would be fighting during a game against Kansas?
The Jayhawks haven’t won a conference game since 2010. It’s been so long ago that their last win came against Colorado.
Still, they gave the Sooners trouble.
And then, the Sooners had some trouble all on their own.
Blake Bell was inconsistent again, clicking along one minute, going into a little funk the next. For example, he opened the second half on a bit of a roll. A 15-yard run. A 10-yard touchdown pass to Sterling Shepard. A 13-yard pass to Jalen Saunders. Another run. A couple more passes. Then out of nowhere, he fails to hit a wide, wide, wide open Aaron Ripkowski.
Worse, Bell throws an interception on the play.
“There still a lot to be made out there,” Bell said. “A lot of plays, deeper routes, stuff like that.”
Bell finished the day 15 of 25 for 131 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
He also ran for 53 yards on 10 carries.
Which begged a question — where was that quarterback run game a week ago?
At times, Josh Heupel and his play calling were still a bit of a head scratcher again this week. There were times where the Sooners got predictable, giving the ball to Brennan Clay on three straight plays or throwing it on three consecutive downs. Predictably, the Sooners ended up punting in both of those situations.
But the worst moment of all came on the Sooners’ first possession of the second quarter. Facing fourth-and-3 from the Kansas 42-yard line, OU looked like it wanted to go for it. Bell and the offense were on the field, but as the play clock wound down, Ripkowski ran off the field and Trey Millard ran on. Even then, players were looking to the sideline for the play. Bell was giving the call to the offensive line when the play clock hit zero.
It was messy enough to bring back haunting memories of the John Blake era.
“We’ve got to get a lot better,” Ikard said. “We’ve got to play better than we did today.”
Things improved Saturday, most notably in the win column and you can feel good about that, Sooner fans.
But clearly, this team has problems that couldn’t even be hidden in a game against Kansas.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.