TCU’s run, Oklahoma’s struggles highlight changing Big 12

tcu football
Getty Images
0 Comments

NORMAN, Okla. – Change is afoot in the Big 12 – even before Oklahoma and Texas depart for the Southeastern Conference.

Fourth-ranked TCU has replaced the Sooners as the Big 12 team in the running for a College Football Playoff spot. Oklahoma won the conference and made the playoff in 2015 and from 2017-19. This year, the Horned Frogs (11-0, 8-0 Big 12) have clinched a berth in the conference title game and are positioned to be the league’s playoff team. TCU hosts Iowa State on Saturday in its regular-season finale.

No. 15 Kansas State (8-3, 6-2) is a surprise contender for the other spot in the championship game after being picked to finish fifth in the league. The Wildcats would make the title game if No. 24 Texas loses to Baylor on Friday. If Texas wins, Kansas State would need to beat rival Kansas on Saturday night to qualify.

Meanwhile, frequent contenders Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are out. The championship game, to be played Dec. 3, will be the first since the game returned in 2017 without a team from Oklahoma. And defending champion Baylor can only play spoiler by knocking Texas (7-4, 5-3) out of title contention.

TCU coach Sonny Dykes said the changes are a sign of the Big 12’s strength. The Horned Frogs will be playing in the title game for the second time.

“Sometimes people dismiss it as, `Well, the league stinks,”‘ he said. “Well, if the league stunk, it seems like it would be the same team that was there every year. I do remember a time in the Big 12 where Oklahoma was in the championship game almost every year.”

Oklahoma won the title each year from 2017 to 2020 and was in the running to reach the championship game all the way until the regular-season finale last season under coach Lincoln Riley. But the Sooners – picked to finish second in the league – are 6-5 under Riley’s replacement, Brent Venables.

Oklahoma has three conference losses by seven or fewer points. Venables said there are no easy games in the league.

“The quality of the coaching, the quality of the play, doesn’t allow for that,” he said. “Right now, we just don’t have that margin for error on our side of the ball. It’s been challenging, that goes without saying. But for me, I like a good challenge. And every week has been a good challenge.”

Oklahoma State reached the title game last year and looked ready to return after opening the season with five straight wins. But quarterback Spencer Sanders suffered a shoulder injury and the Cowboys’ season started to tumble. A less-than-healthy Sanders, playing behind a banged-up offensive line, threw four interceptions in a 28-13 loss to Oklahoma last Saturday.

“I mean, I could be real obvious and say if we don’t get guys injured, that would help,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “Yeah, but I mean, try to be nice. Just got a few guys beat up. So unfortunately, we’re down a few guys.”

Even Texas making the title game would be unusual. The Longhorns have only reached the championship game once since the event’s return, and they haven’t won the league title since 2009.

No matter what, the second-place team will have at least two losses, and possibly three. In an example of the Big 12’s depth, Iowa State – TCU’s opponent on Saturday – is in last place in the league standings, but leads the conference in scoring defense and total defense and ranks eighth nationally in both categories.

“It says exactly what this league is … that it is really good from top to bottom and there’s a ton of parity, and it’s really, really difficult with the schedule that you have to go through in this league to go through unscathed,” Dykes said.

Dillon Gabriel helps Oklahoma top No. 19 Kansas, end skid at 3 games

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

NORMAN, Okla. — Dillon Gabriel looked all healed up.

The Oklahoma quarterback passed for 403 yards and two touchdowns in his first game back after a concussion, and the Sooners defeated No. 19 Kansas 52-42 to end their three-game losing streak.

Gabriel was injured in the second quarter of Oklahoma’s loss to TCU on October 1, and the team’s offense had sputtered in nearly seven quarters without him heading into the Kansas game. But a week after the Sooners were held to 195 yards against Texas, Oklahoma (4-3, 1-3 Big 12) exploded for 701 yards against the Jayhawks.

Gabriel had been in concussion protocol, but he passed tests during the week, clearing the way for him to play.

“I’m grateful for every opportunity I step out there because I know this game is aggressive,” he said.

Gabriel also ran 10 times for 37 yards and a touchdown, often sliding well before Kansas defenders had a chance to hit him.

“It’s football,” he said. “I’m going to get hit. Just being smart. Trying to protect myself, but also not taking any unnecessary hits.”

Kansas had been one of the nation’s darlings so far this season, surprising experts by winning five straight games to start the season and pushing TCU before losing 34-27 the previous week.

But Eric Gray ran for 176 yards, Marvin Mims had a career-high nine catches for 106 yards and Brayden Willis had five catches for a career-best 102 yards for the Sooners, who relieved some of the pressure that had been building for first-year coach Brent Venables.

It was Oklahoma’s 18th straight win over Kansas, with all the victories coming by double digits. The Sooners haven’t lost to the Jayhawks since 1997.

“I love seeing our guys in victory formation there at the end,” Venables said. “It was a good, hard fought win, dragging ourselves off the mat and getting back on the saddle.”

Filling in for the injured Jalon Daniels (shoulder), Jason Bean passed for 265 yards and four touchdowns for Kansas. Daniels was hurt in the loss to TCU.

Lawrence Arnold had 113 yards and two touchdowns receiving and Mason Fairchild had 106 yards and caught two touchdown passes for Kansas. The Jayhawks (5-2, 2-2) lost their second straight and missed out on the chance to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2008.

Gabriel completed 21 of 29 passes for 304 yards in the first half to help the Sooners take a 35-21 lead. The Sooners’ 487 yards in the first half were the second-most gained in a half in school history, trailing the 507 gained in the first half against Missouri in 1986.

“They came out clicking on all cylinders,” Kansas coach Lance Leipold said. “They played very well, very aggressive. I think we were on our heels most of the day. It was like they were playing downhill.”

Gray had 124 yards rushing in the first half, eclipsing his previous high as a Sooner before the break. The Sooners kept the Jayhawks at bay in the second half, controlling the ball for more than 17 minutes.

“Their backs were to the wall a little bit in this situation, and they came out and played extremely well,” Leipold said. “And we didn’t quite match that. And we’ve got to find a way if we want to be that type of team, that we can do that.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Kansas: If not for three Oklahoma turnovers and a goal-line stand by the Jayhawks on the final play of the second quarter, the Sooners would have done even more damage.

Oklahoma: The Sooners showed they could run the ball and chew up the clock if necessary. They ran for 298 yards and had the advantage in time of possession for the first time this season.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Even though Oklahoma has the reputation and was favored, Kansas lost to an unranked team and could drop out of the Top 25.

UNITY UNIFORM

Oklahoma honored running back Prentice Gautt, the first Black scholarship football player at the school, by wearing a “Unity” uniform.

Gautt starred on coach Bud Wilkinson’s teams from 1957 to 1959. He was an All-Big Eight Conference selection twice and was an Academic All-American in 1958.

The uniform, designed by a group of the school’s athletes, featured dark gray jerseys, pants and helmets with crimson trim and lettering. It had the word “TOGETHER” sewn on the collar, the word “UNITY” on the back-of-the-jersey nameplate and an outline of the state of Oklahoma on the sleeves.

INJURED JAYHAWK

Kansas cornerback Cobee Bryant left the game after suffering an injury to his left ankle in the closing seconds of the first half.

Bryant left on a cart and received a standing ovation from the crowd. Leipold said it is a “wait-and-see” situation.

UP NEXT

Kansas visits Baylor.

Oklahoma visits Iowa State on Oct. 29.

Oklahoma coach Brent Venables hits rough patch in 1st year

brent venables
Steven Branscombe/Getty Images
2 Comments

NORMAN, Okla. — The party is over for Brent Venables.

Oklahoma’s new football coach was welcomed at the Norman airport like a conquering hero when he arrived to replace USC-bound Lincoln Riley in December.

Venables seemed to be the perfect person to steady the program to fans who had been watching him ever since he left his job as an Oklahoma assistant after the 2011 season to become defensive coordinator at Clemson. Some had second thoughts when Venables vehemently approved of popular receivers coach Cale Gundy’s resignation in August after Gundy said a “racially charged” word at a film session.

All seemed forgiven when Oklahoma got off to a 3-0 start that culminated with a 49-14 blowout of Nebraska, but things fell apart the next two weeks. The Sooners lost at home to Kansas State, then were demolished 55-24 at TCU. Oklahoma has fallen out of the AP Top 25 for the first time since October 2020, ending a run of 31 straight rankings.

Now, the Sooners face their biggest rival, Texas, in Dallas on Saturday. Venables said the Sooners (3-2, 0-2 Big 12) need to stay focused to get out of their slump and win their fifth straight in the series with the Longhorns (3-2, 1-1).

“I know the emotion, the intensity and what this game has meant to so many people,” he said. “But we shouldn’t prepare for this game any different than we do any other game. And if we are, and I allow that, then I’m not doing a good job leading. We shouldn’t do extra this week or be more committed this week. We should be habitual in how we get ready to play.”

A loss would be the third straight for the Sooners, something that hasn’t happened since 1998. But Venables has been through rough patches before. Just last year, Clemson started the season 4-3 before reeling off six straight wins.

“That team made a decision to get better and not allow themselves to be influenced by the outside noise, only be influenced by a straining to do everything you can to improve every day,” he said. “One practice, one meeting at a time. That’s literally how you do it. And not allow seeds of doubt or seeds of division to come into the locker room.”

There are plenty of reasons for Oklahoma’s struggles, but they start with the defense. The unit started the season strong, allowing just 10 points per game in three wins. Even after the fast start, Venables warned that coaching becomes more difficult when things go well.

“The hardest thing about success and the thing that’s going to challenge success the most is guys getting bored with doing the mundane and staying in that routine,” he said before the Sooners played Kansas State. “Not only staying in the routine but being intentional and purposeful within that routine.”

The effort was there the next two weeks, but the discipline wasn’t. The Sooners gave up 509 yards against Kansas State, then surrendered 668 yards against TCU.

After answering numerous questions about the team’s recent struggles, Venables clearly was ready to move on.

“Ninety percent of the questions today is about last week’s game, it’s about the rearview mirror, it’s about what happened yesterday,” he said. “And here today, I want the focus to be on what’s ahead, what’s in front of us right now going down to Dallas and the challenge that is, where all of our focus is right now.”

Texas coach Steve Sarkisian respects Venables and knows what he can get out of a defense.

“Coach Venables has been doing it a long time,” Sarkisian said. “They’ve got myriad defenses. They can cause a lot of problems up front with their pressure packages. And then they disguise coverages. At the end of the day, we have to prepare for all of that.”