It stood to reason that Kansas State’s defense would need to turn in an outing that bordered on great to beat No. 5 Oklahoma Saturday afternoon. The Sooners’ spaceship offense is exceedingly difficult to ground, and no opponent had been able to do so this season, in large part because so few teams feature offenses with remotely similar capabilities.
The Sooners’ stock of weapons, after all, reads fiercely: Heisman candidate Jalen Hurts. NFL-bound receiver CeeDee Lamb. Reliable running back Trey Sermon.
K-State’s defense hardly shut Oklahoma down, but the hosts played well enough to secure a 48-41 win that speaks volumes about their improvement in tackling, ability to capitalize on mistakes and determination to topple an offense that often has looked more alien than human.
K-State held Oklahoma under its season averages in the following departments: Points, yards, rushing yards, passing efficiency and first downs.
It also helped that K-State’s offense scored on eight straight drives at one point.
“I don’t really think Oklahoma thought this was going to be a close game at all,” said K-State defensive end Wyatt Hubert, who logged four tackles, including one key sack. “They’re undefeated coming into this game. It’s OU. They have that ego about them. That’ll get you hurt.”
The Wildcats weren’t perfect, but that isn’t saying much because nobody is against the Sooners. Hurts completed 19 of 26 passes for 395 yards and a touchdown, and Lamb snared five passes for 135 yards and a score.
But the Wildcats made plays and forced turnovers. K-State cornerback A.J. Parker picked off a dropped pass, which the Wildcats turned into a touchdown. The defense registered two sacks. K-State also forced OU into back-to-back three-and-outs for the first time in a long time.
In the third frame, K-State also snapped Oklahoma’s streak of scoring in 30 straight quarters. That streak covered each of the Sooners’ first seven games of the season plus the first half of Saturday’s game.
K-State held Oklahoma, which entered the night averaging a nation-best 50.4 points per game, nine under its average. That’s still 41 points, which will seldom fly, but still: The Wildcats produced the kind of defensive showing that few other clubs have been able to this year.
“We talked about being able to create a huge turnover to change the momentum,” K-State coach Chris Klieman said. “Well, we were able to create two. One on (special) teams and with A.J.’s.”
Klieman added a few notes about the way K-State approached this game on defense: The Wildcats played more “Tampa 2” defense than usual as well as more looks with two deep safeties. That forced Hurts to make more throws underneath.
Likely for the same reason, K-State didn’t bring many blitzes, instead opting to drop more in coverage in an effort to prevent the long pass plays the Wildcats often have yielded.
Job done, at least for the most part. In the first quarter, Hurts connected with Nick Basquine for 70 yards on a play that found K-State linebacker Da’Quan Patton defending. Lamb also made several Wildcats miss on the 70-yard touchdown reception he recorded in the fourth.
The Wildcats did surrender six other plays that covered 20 yards or more. That will need to get cleaned up, especially considering Oklahoma totaled 497 total yards.
But, otherwise, K-State kept everything in front. In the third quarter, the Wildcats forced the Sooners into three straight drives that resulted in the following: Punt. Fumble. Punt.
Against an offense as scintillating as Oklahoma’s, that can turn the tide.
The interception Parker made on an OU trick play didn’t hurt, either.
“They threw a bad ball, and it got tipped up,” said Parker, who added that the game meant something special because he hails from Bartlesville, Oklahoma, where he wasn’t recruited by Oklahoma or Oklahoma State. “We have a saying: ‘Tips and overthrows, we’ve got to get those.’ So it just happened to come right to my hands, and I made the play, and we benefited off that momentum.”
Which brings us back to the “Tampa 2” defense Klieman mentioned. The Wildcats deployed it on occasion because they knew the Sooners would go for a home run or two.
It comes down to this, as linebacker Eli Sullivan explained: Two safeties up high. The Mike linebacker in the middle. The nickelback and Will linebacker force everything underneath, and the defensive backs match up with the wide receivers.
“I think the coaches did a good job of telling us, ‘One play at a time,’” Sullivan said. “You don’t try to focus on the whole game. Just hone in on that one play for six seconds or however long it is, and you’ll be fine at the end of the day.”
And at the end of the day, it was enough. Defensive standards seem to shift against Oklahoma’s volatile offense — K-State safety Denzel Goolsby said his team was “a lot more happy” about forcing two early field goals than it would usually be — but the Wildcats adapted accordingly and defended consistently, at least in spurts.
It was enough to let quarterback Skylar Thompson and the offense do the rest.
“This is the happiest I’ve been about giving up 41,” Parker said with a laugh. “This is a big game, me being from Oklahoma and everything. I loved every second of this game. I was out there having a blast. Just thankful to come away with a win.”