NORMAN — Oklahoma, obviously still seething from its embarrassing setback at Kansas State, needed a big-time redemption statement against defensive-minded Iowa State Saturday.
The Sooners came out like a fire-breathing dragon, dropping a 35-point first-half hammer on the Cyclones.
With a 35-14 intermission cushion, OU seemed destined to convince the playoff committee its Manhattan experience was little more than a hiccup.
How could committee members not be impressed with OU’s opening-half performance? Iowa State’s defense, in eight previous games, had surrendered more than 26 points on just one occasion, a 34-27 setback to Oklahoma State two weeks prior. OU’s offense exceeded that total in one half.
Regrettably for OU, its quest for a better standing, in the eyes of the committee, proceeded to fall flatter than the Panhandle.
Down 42-21 entering the final quarter, ISU came back from the near-dead, scoring three touchdowns, the latter with 24 seconds remaining, before Parnell Motley’s interception on a 2-point conversion attempt allowed OU to salvage a 42-41 victory.
After showing what appeared to be considerable defensive improvement in its first seven games, all victories, OU was double-dismal against three-touchdown underdog Kansas State, then followed suit against two-touchdown underdog Iowa State.
The primary defensive culprits were the firing cause of Mike Stoops — horrific tackling and blown assignments, particularly in the secondary where Iowa State receivers often ran freer than Wyoming’s wild horses. On several occasions, OU’s defenders appeared to be scrambling to line up correctly before the snap.
“Our tackling was really disappointing,” OU head coach Lincoln Riley said. “We missed way too many after contact. We weren’t real thrilled to let the game get as close as it did.”
OU’s last two outings have produced two glaring and unexplainable tendencies.
Down just 24-23 at halftime at the Little Apple, OU gave up 24 unanswered points, including a 17-0 third quarter, and fell 48-41 to the Wildcats.
Then Saturday, Iowa State outscored OU 20-0 in the final quarter, negating any possibility of voters immediately dismissing the Manhatten experience.
Oklahoma finished with 499 yards of offense Saturday, but only 129 came after halftime, rekindling memories of the playoff loss to Georgia. OU led the Bulldogs 31-14 with six seconds left in the first half, only to allow — you guessed it — 24 unanswered points and eventually lost 54-48 in two overtimes. After recording four first-half offensive touchdowns at the Rose Bowl, OU totaled just one offensive TD the rest of the way.
Iowa State outscored Oklahoma 27-7 in the second half.
Had OU played anywhere near its first-half level in the closing half, its playoff argument certainly would have been strengthened.
But the ramifications of the fourth quarter struggles were displayed Sunday when OU dropped from ninth to 10th in the Associated Press poll. Minnesota moved from 13th to seventh by defeating previously fifth-ranked Penn State, which remained ahead of OU at ninth.
Oklahoma posted its 18th straight November win but did little for its playoff enhancement. The Sooners will have to win out, including Saturday’s 6:30 matchup at undefeated Baylor, combined with meltdowns by several other contenders, to even merit an outside playoff shot.
OU’s goal of a fifth consecutive Big 12 championship, a prestigious accomplishment in its own right, is well within its grasp.
But thanks to two straight disappointing performances, the dream of a playoff berth seems just that.
The OU-ISU series is one of the most lopsided in the country with the Sooners possessing a 76-6-2 advantage. For the most-rabid sports’ junkies, here are the Cyclones’ half-dozen successes versus OU: 2017 (38-31), 1990 (33-31), 1961 (21-15), 1960 (10-6), 1931 (13-12) and 1928 (13-0).
Iowa State is likely the best 5-4 team in the country with its four losses by a combined 11 points.
OU barely avoided its first back-to-back regular season losses since Bob Stoops’ initial season in 1999 when the Sooners fell to Notre Dame, 34-30, followed by Texas, 38-28.
With their 499 yards of offense, the Sooners fell far short of their nation-leading 598.4 average. ISU entered the game averaging 479.3 yards and finished with 477.
Five Big 12 squads — Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Texas and Kansas State — have reached bowl eligibility. Iowa State (5-4) needs one more victory to go bowling. Texas Tech and TCU have four wins. West Virginia and Kansas each have three victories.
The rest of Saturday’s Big 12 slate will find Kansas at Oklahoma State, 11 a.m.; TCU at Texas Tech, 11 a.m.; Texas at Iowa State, 2:30 and West Virginia at Kansas State, 2:30.