Oklahoma survived another slow start in a 35-23 win over Kansas, and Caleb Williams once again provided a spark, but in an unusual way.
With Oklahoma clinging to a 28-23 lead in the fourth quarter with just over three minutes remaining, the Sooners went for it on fourth and 1 at their own 46 yard line. Running back Kennedy Brooks took a handoff from Williams and got stopped two yards behind the line. But as Brooks was fighting off defenders, Williams took the ball from his arms, turned and ran for a first down. The play allowed Oklahoma to keep the drive alive and bleed out the clock, with Brooks scoring 10 plays later with 42 seconds left to put the game away.
The play was reviewed by officials and determined to be allowable since the handoff happened behind the line.
Riley praised the heads-up play, saying Oklahoma coaches talk about those scenarios with players in what they call “Gotta have it” situations, but said the coaches didn’t exactly draw this one up.
“You’ve got to get those two kids a bunch of credit,” Riley said, noting that Brooks, who rarely fumbles, willingly gave the ball up to someone trying to rip it from his arms.
“I think Kennedy realized what Caleb was trying to do,” Riley said. “They both understood the situation and it was worth the chance. Even if Caleb would have gotten tackled, it would have been obviously worth the chance to do it. It’s smart football and I don’t want to take credit. Those guys made that play a big moment.”
Jeremiah Hall, the Sooners’ H-back, said he was out blocking so he didn’t see the play initially, but laughed at his teammates’ unspoken communication.
“I looked at the replay and I was like, ‘What?'” Hall said. “I didn’t even know that was legal, No. 1. I asked Kennedy did he know that he gave the ball to Caleb and he said, yeah, he made eye contact with him. So I guess they’ve got something going on.”
Brooks said it really wasn’t that complicated.
“I knew that I couldn’t get tackled on fourth down,” he said. “So I gave it to him.”
The play preserved another comeback for the Sooners, who have been all too familiar with close games this season. On Saturday, they were 38.5-point favorites, but Kansas led, 10-0 at halftime, holding OU to 78 total yards and four first downs in the first half and ending the Sooners’ streak of scoring in the first half at 86 consecutive games, which was the longest in the country.
Williams, who exploded onto the scene in a comeback win over Texas and a near-perfect first start against TCU, had a much more pedestrian day, going 15 of 20 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns, adding eight carries for 70 yards and another score.
Riley was careful to credit the Jayhawks, who kept the Sooners off the field by running 28 times for 132 yards in the first half, keeping the ball for 22 of the half’s 30 minutes and limiting OU to just 17 offensive plays. Riley called it the “fastest first half I’ve ever been a part of,” and talked about how frustrated he was that the Sooners committed eight penalties over that span, often keeping Kansas drives alive.
“I don’t care who you’re playing,” he said. “If you don’t seize momentum early in a road football game, you’re gonna be in for a dogfight and we were. When we’re not playing well it’s close. We’re tired of being close. We’ve got to push it over the edge.”
Brooks said that the Sooners came out sluggish.
“Honestly, we just played down to our opponent,” he said.
Despite the Sooners’ 16th straight win and a remarkable fourth-quarter play by a freshman quarterback, Riley is confident in what he calls the “personality” of this team to finish. But he’s frustrated that they have to keep doing it.
“The toughest opponent that we’ve got right now is ourselves,” Riley said. “And we beat ourselves too much. I love the way we finish, and damn, if we will ever figure out how to play a complete game, combined with the way this team finishes, we could have something.”