This week’s matchup is one of those where the circumstances are something no one would have expected going into this season. Sure, a few growing pains were expected when Oklahoma hired Brent Venables, a 51 year old who’s never held a head coaching job in his career at any level. Still, seeing Kansas as the team in the top 20, facing an unranked Oklahoma quad who’s 0-3 in league play is a bit more growing pains than even I expected, and I didn’t particularly like the hire.
That said, it’s still Oklahoma. Yes, Lincoln Riley took a lot of key players with him, and several more opted to transfer after the coaching change was made. But Oklahoma is a powerhouse program that still draws a lot of highly rated recruits. They shouldn’t look as bad as they have, and there’s still a chance they’re a very talented team just trying to figure things out after a surprise coaching change. They did give K-State all they could handle before losing by one score, but after that things snowballed, getting absolutely obliterated by TCU and Texas. Still, they beat the cupcakes in their non-con very easily (lol at playing Nebraska in Lincoln and it now being a “cupcake” matchup), and while there are signs the wheels are coming off, there have been signs that this team can be really tough when things are going right.
It should be noted that for about the last game and a half, Oklahoma was without their QB1 due to his being in concussion protocols. They weren’t exactly on fire before that happened, but you also can’t blow it off as though it didn’t impact OU’s play. Junior Dillon Gabriel is expected to be back on the field this week per multiple reports, so Kansas will not be playing the version of the Sooners that lost 49-0 to their bitter rivals last week.
In fact, Gabriel has been putting up borderline elite numbers this year. He’s 85-133, a 64% completion rate. That’s led 1,215 yards, good for 9.1 yards/attempt, and 11 TDs without throwing a single pick. The Jayhawks’ secondary has looked better in recent games, but the cornerback play hasn’t been great, and while sometimes the pass rush is on, other times it seems like Lonnie Phelps is the only guy actually creating any havoc in the backfield. This would be a great week for the rest of the line to play to the best of their ability. The Oklahoma receiving corps is deep, with six players already at double digit catches. While the Sooners spread the ball around, Junior wideout Marvin Mims, Jr. has emerged as “the guy” for Oklahoma. In six games he’s reeled in 23 catches for 436 yards and three TDs. Even if he doesn’t get a ton of targets, he’s going to make the most of the opportunities he does get. Cobee Bryant will need to be on point if KU wants to limit the opposition’s passing game. Oklahoma still runs the ball well too, with senior Eric Gray averaging nearly 87 yards/game for a total of 519 yards, averaging 6.7 yards/carry, OU has good options as always, and Gabriel at QB has still run for 126 yards and two TDs, so the Kansas defense can’t just ignore him, either. They ignored Max Duggan’s running ability at times last week and he burned them. Gabriel doesn’t warrant quite the level of attention that Duggan does, but he’ll still run and run well when the opportunity arises.
Despite some lopsided scores, Oklahoma has played pretty good defense at times, but has been gashed as well. Opponents average 5.7 yards/play, while OU has limited opposing runners to a reasonably 4.8 yards/carry. They also allow a decent-ish 133.4 opposing QB rating, so there’s no obvious vulnerability to to exploit in their defense. They also have 14 sacks and 44 TFLs through six games, meaning they can get into the backfield and disrupt when they’re on. Of course, may of those came against their easier opponents, as they’ve allowed 145 points through just three conference games. If Jason Bean is ready to steer the offense’s ship, there should be opportunities to move the ball and score.
This is a game that can be looked at in a few different ways. The fact is that Kansas will be trying to beat Oklahoma, in Norman, using their 2nd string QB. At face value, that seems next to impossible. However, Oklahoma has looked downright bad recently, while Kansas is 5-1 with only one narrow loss to a ranked TCU team. Texas is also coming off their worst blowout loss to Texas in Red River Rivalry history, which could motivate them to come out fired up this week, or could potentially be an indication that the season is going downhill fast, and their players may be starting to check out. You don’t go to Oklahoma to see if you can get to a bowl game. You go to Oklahoma to do things that are already off the table for this team, and that can lead to extra frustration when things are going this poorly.
While there’s no doubt that KU has been playing better football than Oklahoma as of late, the fact does remain that the Sooners recruit at an elite level, and even if they’re struggling, they do have an advantage in measurables like size and speed. So while they’ve looked like they’re unraveling, those players may look at this as a game where they can get right and show what they’re still capable of despite their recent results. The line is currently Oklahoma -8.5, after opening at -7. That means bettors don’t believe that KU is good enough to keep it within one score, and they don’t believe Oklahoma is quite as bad as they’ve looked recently.
I believe the offense will play well under Bean, but we know he has accuracy issues, and can make some very poor reads at times. Koetelenicki has shown himself to be an inspired playcaller, and I believe he’ll do a good job of putting Bean in position to succeed with a week to repair. The defense has looked better recently as well. That just leaves the question of how far Oklahoma has really fallen. I’m always slower than most to accept that a small series of results is proof of who a team really is, so I’m not ready to say KU is so superior to Oklahoma right now that they’ll knock off the Sooners in Norman this week, without Jalon Daniels. I look for a bit of a shootout that ultimately results in Oklahoma coming out on top, while Kansas continues to show they’re competitive with just about anyone in the conference.
Oklahoma 38, Kansas 31