Oklahoma State was a team looking to prove themselves after a shaky outing against Iowa State last week. Kansas was looking to get anything going after being completely ineffective prior to garbage time against West Virginia last week. In the past four and a half years, this situation usually results in a close game in the first half before the Jayhawks get blown out in ridiculous fashion. Unless of course, the Jayhawks just get blown out start to finish.
But today something else was at work. After trading identical 3-and-outs, Oklahoma State started to drive. Helped by an early pass interference penalty, the Cowboys found themselves at the Kansas 32 with momentum already swinging their way. But the Kansas defense held firm, holding Daxx Garman and the Cowboy offense to a Ben Grogan 43 yard Field Goal. Quick lead for the visitors.
But then something strange happened. See, the Kansas offense finally realized that they work best when their best playmakers get the ball early. The Jayhawks ran the ball on the first 5 plays of the drive, but 4 of them were by Tony Pierson, who averaged 5 yards for those plays. In fact, he was so effective that it opened up the passing game for Michael Cummings, and he hit Nick Harwell for a 51-yard completion to the Cowboys 2. From there, the Jayhawks were able to punch it in for a quick score. The good guys took their first conference lead of the year.
It was easy to tell that the Kansas special teams was afraid of the return ability of Tyreek Hill, as they frequently kicked short to avoid giving him an opportunity. While this was a smart strategy (more on that later), it led to excellent field position for OSU. After setting up on the Kansas 48, a steady diet of Desmond Roland runs led to an outburst for a 33 yard TD, putting Oklahoma State quickly ahead again.
After a short 3 minute drive led to another punt, Oklahoma State put together another 11 play drive, but once again had to settle for a field goal. At this point, it seemed like the defense would keep us in the game until the offense completely fell apart. And fall apart they did. After failing to convert a 4th and 9, they had three more 3-and-outs to end the half. On one, Trevor Pardula shanked a punt, setting Oklahoma State up on the KU 30. From there, OSU got a quick touchdown and entered halftime up 20-7.
In all, I went into halftime feeling just ok about the game. The offense had shown that they were able to go on a long sustained drive and the defense had shown that they could stop a slightly above average offense if they weren't put in horrible positions. But it still seemed like the dam was just waiting to bust open, sweeping OSU to a commanding lead.
And starting in the second half, the cracks in the dam seemed to appear. The offense was unable to get anything going, and the OSU offense went on a long drive. Luckily they were halted by a Cassius Sendish interception, which pretty much put a stopper on anything either team tried to do. The defense came up with another big play when Michael Reynolds stripped the ball on a sack that set the Jayhawks up on the Oklahoma State 15 yard line. However, the offense had to settle for a Matthew Wyman 21 yard field goal (which was no sure thing since Wyman had missed one on the previous drive).
The defense got another stop, but then the dam burst wide open....for the Jayhawks. Cummings hit Jimmay Mundine for quick 30 and 23 yard receptions, Tre' Parmalee for another 7 yards, and then Corey Avery took a hand-off and rumbled 23 yards into the endzone. All of a sudden, the Jayhawks were within a field goal, the OSU offense couldn't seem to get anything going, and everything was turning up roses for the home team.
The defense forced another quick punt, and Pierson picked up a quick 12 yards to spark a 14 play, 72 yard drive where Michael Cummings was slinging the ball all over the field. Faced with a 4th and 1 at the OSU 18, Clint Bowen opted to kick the field goal for the tie. In the gamethread, I said that the only choice was to go for it. The offense had been driving, and if you got the lead with the defense that had been locking down in the second half, the odds had to be in your favor. However, in retrospect, I understand the decision to get the field goal. At this point, if the defense keeps up their dominance in the second half, then the worst that happens is you go to overtime. If the offense keeps up their rhythm, you can come right back and take the lead later on another field goal.
Unfortunately, we never got the chance to figure out how the defense would handle the tie. Despite kicking short all night long, the Jayhawks changed it up and kicked it deep. Tyreek Hill pounced, returning the kickoff 99 yards for what would be the winning score. Faced with a sudden deficit again, the offense wasn't able to get anything going on the next drive. The defense gave them another chance, but after driving quickly to midfield, Cummings threw two incompletions to Mundine before taking a sack. Rushed for time and needing to make a big play, Cummings threw a deep interception to seal the victory for the Cowboys.
Overall, I came away from the game with a renewed sense of optimism, a dangerous thing for a KU football fan to have. The offense showed a few times that they were able to sustain drives and spread the ball around. They also showed a willingness to stick with the hot hand and get their known stars involved early. While I don't expect them to be able to hang with the top-tier teams like Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU, they should at least be able to give teams like Texas Tech and Iowa State a good game. Who knows, they may even be able to get themselves out of the Big 12 cellar.