Oklahoma’s dream of a perfect season is gone.
No longer undefeated or atop the rankings, the No. 4 Sooners try to keep their Big 12 championship goals and national title aspirations afloat Saturday when they host a fellow one-loss team in No. 16 Kansas.
In last Saturday’s Red River Rivalry game, No. 5 Texas upset the top-ranked Sooners 45-35 at the Cotton Bowl. Oklahoma led by as many as 11 points in the first half before being outscored 25-7 over the game’s final 20 minutes.
The loss dropped the Sooners three spots in this week’s poll, while the Longhorns took over as No. 1.
However, history tells Oklahoma (5-1, 1-1 Big 12) its championship hopes may not be lost. Two years ago, the Sooners lost to Texas and still won the Big 12, and LSU won last season’s national title despite two losses.
“It’s always disappointing to invest so much and you end up losing,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “But in the end, I think everyone realizes, if you watch everyone else play, it isn’t that easy to go undefeated at all.”
The Sooners can also take solace in knowing they are the highest-ranked one-loss team.
“We know there’s a lot of games to be played, a lot of games,” Sooners linebacker Travis Lewis said. “There’s a lot of one-loss teams right now, and our goals are not thrown out by any chance, by any means. We have our heads up.
“We’ve got a good team coming into home next week in Kansas. That’s a good redemption game.”
The Jayhawks (5-1, 2-0) were one of the biggest surprises in the nation in 2007, when they went 12-1 and defeated then-No. 5 Virginia Tech 24-21 in the Orange Bowl, snapping a 12-game losing streak against Top 5 opponents.
This season, Kansas has remained on the outskirts of the national title hunt by winning three straight games since suffering a 37-34 loss at then-No. 19 South Florida on Sept. 12.
The Jayhawks won their 13th straight game in Lawrence - the nation’s fourth-longest home winning streak - last Saturday, defeating Colorado 30-14. Kansas now must face an opponent with an even more impressive run of home success. Oklahoma owns the longest such run in the nation, having won its last 21 games at Memorial Stadium.
To end that streak, the Jayhawks will likely need to slow down the high-powered Sooners offense, which ranks sixth in the nation with 522.5 yards per game, and fourth in scoring (47.2 points per game).
Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford has thrown for 2,052 yards, 23 touchdowns and five interceptions. The sophomore was 28-for-39 for 387 yards, five touchdowns and two picks against Texas, but the Sooners’ ground game manages only 48 yards on 23 attempts.
Oklahoma’s defense also struggled, allowing a season-high 438 yards - nearly 200 more than its average from the first five games.
Middle linebacker Ryan Reynolds will miss the rest of the season after tearing a ligament in his right knee. After Reynolds left last week’s game in the third quarter, the Longhorns scored on four straight possessions to claim the lead.
“He makes a difference,” Stoops said. “These other guys will have to step it up and take more responsibility for it. We can’t use it as an excuse.”
Pressing on without Reynolds, Oklahoma will face a new-look Kansas offense featuring a running game based around junior Jake Sharp.
The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Sharp had just 86 yards on 26 attempts in the season’s first four games before getting 19 carries and running for 79 yards in the Jayhawks’ 35-33 comeback victory over Iowa State on Oct. 4. Kansas had the following week off, and used the time to install new plays and blocking schemes to cater to Sharp. It proved successful, as Sharp rushed a career-high 31 times for 118 yards and three touchdowns against the Buffaloes.
“You’ve got to adjust to what your players can do,” said Kansas coach Mark Mangino, who coached under Stoops at Oklahoma from 1999-2001. “We made a decision during the off week that you can’t put a square peg in a round hole. We understand what Jake’s strong suits are and we’re trying to play to them. And so far, it’s been successful.”
The running game took some pressure off quarterback Todd Reesing, who completed 27 of 34 passes for 256 yards and a touchdown.
This will be Reesing’s first game against Oklahoma, as these programs haven’t met since a 19-3 win for the Sooners on Oct. 15, 2005 at Arrowhead Stadium. Oklahoma has won four straight meetings with the Jayhawks since a 20-17 loss on Oct. 4, 1997, and has taken the last two matchups in Norman.