NORMAN — You look at the remaining schedule and you presume that November will be for OU what it typically is for OU, but now there’s an unexpected consideration: whether the Sooner defense recovers or reverts.
Of course, Lincoln Riley and linebacker Kenneth Murray predict that the defense will recover from the Kansas State debacle of Oct. 26.
There is a worst-case-scenario possibility, though: that the Kansas State failure was a sign of things to come. That the defense suddenly, inexplicably and disastrously might have reverted to 2018 form. Because we’ve now seen one example of losing defense this season, it’s certainly possible that we could see more of it.
Therefore, it’s currently impossible completely in the Riley-Murray expectation that everything is getting fixed and that the Oklahoma defense will flourish again this week.
On an important-game, prime-time platform — and in its first game since the Kansas State loss — OU hosts Iowa State on Saturday.
“If I can put one term on what the practices have been like,” Murray said, “it’s urgency.”
For an OU program and fan base that have endured way too many 11 a.m. kickoffs, a 7 p.m. start should result in higher levels of energy at Memorial Stadium. I do expect a nice bounce-back performance by an OU defense that stunningly was blown off the field during a 48-41 loss at K-State, but Alex Grinch and his players are forced to prove themselves all over again.
As the Sooners attempt to improve or at least sustain their position in the College Football Playoff picture, they’ve got to prove that Oct. 26 was an anomaly. Against a Cyclone program that scored a huge upset victory here two years ago, OU’s assignment is obvious.
The Sooners have got to do what they did so well before the trip to K-State: get third-down stops.
Last season, OU opponents converted on 46% of their third-down snaps. Through the first seven games this season, the improvement in that regard was fantastic. Opponents had converted on only 28% of those plays.
At Manhattan, however, conversion downs were problem downs for the Sooner defense. On third- and fourth-down plays, the Wildcat offense was 7-of-14 on conversions.
During the second period, Kansas State converted on third-and-17, on third-and-10, on fourth-and-6 and on third-and-10. The momentum from those plays carried the Wildcats to a 24-20 lead.
After halftime, there were two third-and-long conversions along with two additional third-down successes. The result was a scoreboard that jarred the entire college football universe. With 13 minutes left to play, the Wildcats’ lead had become 48-23.
“Every loss at OU is shocking,” Riley said on Monday. “It hits you different. It hits you hard.”
Oklahoma bounced back from the Iowa State stumble in 2017 and the Texas loss last year, but the nature of the Kansas State outcome really did have a shock feel because the personality of the Sooner defense changed so dramatically.
As was reported by Eric Bailey, the Sooners haven’t lost in a November game since 2014. Riley’s offense is capable of a 4-0 run this month and on Dec. 7 celebrating another Big 12 title in Arlington, Texas.
Everything now hinges on which Oklahoma defense shows up Saturday and beyond.
If it’s the defense that before Oct. 26 routinely thrived on third down, the Sooners would be at or close to their best.
However, if it’s more of the defense that hasn’t forced a turnover since September — and if there’s a continuation of the third-down issues of Oct. 26 — the Sooners could be doomed to another Kansas State-caliber disappointment.