LAWRENCE, Kan. — Lincoln Riley smiled when one of his post-game answers was unexpectedly interrupted by the loud sound of a toilet flushing in an adjacent restroom.
“I’ve never had that in the backdrop of my press conference,” the Oklahoma coach quipped before adding, “That’s what they thought of my play calls at the end of the (first) half.”
The No. 6 Sooners struggled early, then found traction before intermission to chalk up a 45-20 victory over upset-minded Kansas at Memorial Stadium.
All wins are important, but there wasn’t the same zing to this triumph compared to how the Sooners have played in recent weeks.
Perhaps OU was looking forward to next week’s showdown in Texas.
Riley wouldn’t buy that theory following a Big 12 game that started 30 minutes after its scheduled 11 a.m. kickoff because of severe weather in the area. But even after a sluggish start, he didn’t balk at his team’s progress.
“Obviously we’ll be excited to get back to preparation this week,” Riley said. “I feel good about our entire team. We obviously have a lot of things to do better, but I like where our heads are at. I like this team. I do.”
Before looking ahead to Texas, OU had to break away from the Jayhawks, who had a surprising 7-0 first-quarter lead.
Adversity wasn’t what OU (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) expected on this wet afternoon, especially against a Kansas team that’s been overwhelmed at points this season under first-year coach Les Miles.
But Neville Gallimore, like his coach, wouldn’t admit to looking ahead to the Longhorns, despite facing their first deficit of the season.
“The thing about us (is) we take it one game at a time,” said Gallimore, who will play in his final Red River Showdown. “We just got finished playing this one and every week’s a big week. Obviously, we’re going to prepare like we know how, the coaches and everything — we’ve got to trust them.
“I know everything we do, we go hard regardless. We go hard no matter who we’re playing, so this week is no different.”
Success in the Cotton Bowl will depend on a number of changes from this week to next.
Penalties dogged the Sooners once again. OU was flagged eight times for 89 yards, a figure that could bite the Sooners in big games.
“We’ve just got to continue to work,” Riley said, “and there’s so much about the way we’re playing that I like. So we’re taking guys out, we’re getting on them, we’re coaching them hard. They often have not been the same type of penalties week to week. It’s just been like we plug a leak and then we spring another one.
“So we’ve got to grow. Obviously they cost us a chance to separate a little bit earlier in this game. We know they’ll cost us if we don’t continue to clean them up, so we’ve got to do better.”
The Jayhawks (2-4, 0-3) took the lead when they marched 98 yards for a touchdown, a drive capped by Carter Stanley’s 22-yard pass to Daylon Charlot.
It was the first time this season OU has allowed first-quarter points.
Linebacker Kenneth Murray missed the middle part of that drive after spraining an ankle. When he returned, the Jayhawks found the end zone.
“We knew (adversity) was gonna come at some point. We responded to it today, but like I said, it’s not enough,” Murray said. “Our performance today is not enough. We’ve gotta get better. We’ve gotta prepare better than any other week.”
The Sooners responded by scoring 42 consecutive points to extinguish any hopes for a KU upset.
The final moments of the first half were interesting. OU faced third-and-goal from the KU 48 after a penalty, a sack and a 20-yard loss on a trick play.
OU recovered after forcing KU to go three-and-out and then — aided by CeeDee Lamb’s 48-yard punt return — carried a 21-7 lead into intermission after quarterback Jalen Hurts’ 10-yard TD pass to Lamb with 39 seconds remaining.
Hurts scored four touchdowns but didn’t have eye-popping numbers. He ended 16-of-24 passing for 228 yards. He threw two touchdown passes and ran for two TDs.
Hurts also rushed for 56 yards on 10 carries.
Hurts, his toughest critic, said he expects more from himself.
“Just going out there with the right approach and being decisive,” Hurts said. “The energy I have for myself leaks onto the team and the approach I have definitely affects the team, and I need to make sure I’m on my P’s and Q’s all the time. So, there’s no doubt.”
Rhamondre Stevenson had a team-high 109 yards on only five carries, highlighted by a bowling-ball run over defenders that covered 61 yards and ended in the end zone.
OU’s passing game shared the wealth, as well. No OU receiver had more than two catches, with 13 players totaling 20 receptions.
Everything now turns to OU-Texas, where first-year Sooners defensive coordinator Alex Grinch will get his first taste of the rivalry.
“It’s a war each year and you have to respect it that way,” Grinch said. “We know it’s Game 6, but you can’t go down that road and say it’s just Game 6. “It’s not just anything. I know enough about that to suggest that.”