Oklahoma's Defense Disappears as College Football Playoff Chaos Strikes AgainOctober 26, 2019
There was a huge college football development in the Little Apple on Saturday as unranked Kansas State stunned No. 5 Oklahoma 48-41.
It was another banner day for Heisman Trophy hopeful Jalen Hurts. The quarterback extraordinaire threw for 395 yards, rushed for 96 more, accounted for four touchdowns and did not commit a turnover while leading the Sooners to 41 points. Just another day at the office for the man who has been involved in at least four touchdowns in six consecutive games.
Unfortunately for the Sooners, it was uncharacteristically awful defense, a special teams gaffe and a trick play gone awry that may have eliminated them from the College Football Playoff race.
The trick play was a double pass late in the first half with Oklahoma leading by three. Hurts tossed the ball to Nick Basquine on a swing route, and the receiver pump-faked a deep ball before finding a wide-open Charleston Rambo for what should have been a first down close to midfield. However, Rambo botched the catch, it deflected to defensive back AJ Parker and the Wildcats scored a touchdown three plays later.
If Basquine had the arm and/or the vision to throw a ball some 60 yards across the field, Lee Morris was even more wide open than Rambo and would have easily scored a touchdown. After the pump fake got the safety to commit, there was no one within 20 yards of Morris down the left sideline. Add in the fact that Rambo had at least five yards of space between himself and the nearest defender, and Lincoln Riley's play worked to perfection. It was just the execution that failed the Sooners.
The special teams gaffe was a fumbled kickoff. Kansas State pooched it to the 25-yard line where reserve running back T.J. Pledger fielded it on a bounce before putting it on the ground. The Wildcats would score another touchdown four plays later.
Those miscues were brutal; no doubt. They helped Kansas State score three touchdowns and two field goals in the span of less than 11 minutes of game time, turning a 20-14 Oklahoma lead into a 41-23 deficit in what felt like an instant.
What the heck happened to Oklahoma's supposedly improved defense, though?
Losing a 48-41 game was the type of thing we almost came to expect from Oklahoma over the past three seasons. There was the 45-24 loss to Ohio State in September 2016, last year's 48-45 loss to Texas in the Red River Rivalry, and the 54-48 and 45-34 losses to Oklahoma and Alabama, respectively, in the past two College Football Playoffs.
Factor in the many times the Sooners won barnburners, and Oklahoma had allowed at least 40 points 13 times in the previous three years.
But this year's defense appeared to be different.
This year's defense entered Week 9 allowing 19.4 points per game and having held six consecutive opponents to 360 yards or fewer. Even the high-octane offenses of Texas and Texas Tech were no match for what defensive coordinator Alex Grinch had built.
Out of nowhere, Kansas State—which had averaged 20.0 points and 280.0 yards of total offense in its last four games—cracked the code. With some help from the aforementioned momentum swings, the Wildcats scored on eight consecutive offensive possessions (six touchdowns and two field goals).
Occasional short fields or not, that wasn't supposed to happen with this defense against that offense. Again, let's consider the source: Kansas State had not scored on consecutive possessions in either of its previous two games, and the last time the Wildcats scored on three or more consecutive drives was in the first half of their Week 2 win over Bowling Green.
This was just about the furthest thing from an unstoppable force plowing through an immovable object.
The Sooners simply shot themselves in the foot early and often.
Kansas State's first touchdown was aided by a defensive pass interference on 3rd-and-9. On the subsequent KSU possession, Oklahoma was called for holding on 3rd-and-17 and proceeded to give up 13 yards on a 3rd-and-10 play moments later. One possession after that, Skylar Thompson converted on 4th-and-6 to get the Wildcats into field-goal range. Following the Basquine interception, Thompson scampered in from 14 yards out on 3rd-and-10. There were also 3rd-and-15 and 3rd-and-13 conversions on scoring drives in the third quarter.
No matter how great your offense is, you can't expect to win games when your defense is consistently unable to get off the field on 3rd-and-long.
And just like that, Oklahoma is at least temporarily eliminated from the playoff conversation.
With the way things have been going lately—this marks three consecutive weeks in which an AP Top 6 team lost to an unranked foe—there's still plenty of time left for things to keep getting weird and for the Sooners to surge comfortably back into the Top Four.
As things stand, though, they're going to need a lot of help to get into the College Football Playoff for a fourth time in five years.
The rivalry win over Texas was nice, but the Longhorns damn near lost to Kansas last week, and the Sooners haven't beaten anyone else worth noting. The weakness of this schedule flew well below the radar until this point since they were undefeated and since Hurts is so much fun to watch, but Oklahoma entered Week 9 with only that one win over a team with a .500-or-better record.
Meanwhile, you've got Ohio State, Penn State, Clemson, Notre Dame, a host of undefeated or one-loss SEC teams and even the oft-forgotten Oregon and Utah, so it's not hard to argue that Oklahoma deserves to drop out of the Top 10.
While each of Oklahoma's remaining opponents entered this week .500 or better, how much good could the Sooners gain from wins over Iowa State, Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma State and either Baylor or Texas in the Big 12 championship?
We'll need to wait until the first CFP Top 25 on Nov. 5 to find out how the selection committee feels about the Big 12 as a whole. But if Selection Sunday rolls around and we're looking at 12-1 Oklahoma, 11-1 Notre Dame and a 12-1 Oregon or Utah, the Sooners probably deserve to be third in that pecking order—not to mention well behind an undefeated Clemson, an undefeated or one-loss Big Ten champion and perhaps several SEC teams.
If chaos keeps claiming victims each week and Oklahoma can avoid further losses, there's still a chance. But there's no question that Kansas State just opened the door for a College Football Playoff devoid of the Big 12.
Kerry Miller covers college football and men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.