Following last week's stunning loss to the Texas Tech Red Raiders, the Oklahoma Sooners' title hopes appear to be on life support. We caught up with Travis Haney of the Oklahoman for his thoughts on the state of the Sooners heading into Saturday's showdown with the undefeated Kansas State Wildcats.
1. Coming off of a tough loss at the hands of Texas Tech, how hard do you think Bob Stoops will find it keeping the players focus on the goal of the Big 12 championship? Or was that the talk already before Tech?
Whether OU is out of the national title race or not, it doesn't think it is. So the goals around here haven't changed. Now, if it loses again, then that's a concern. The feeling, at least within the Switzer Center, is that this will create focus, that losing will serve as a wake-up call. True? Not sure. We'll have to wait until Saturday to see. But I think Stoops' bigger challenges are getting this team up for lesser opponents (see: last week), not playing on the road against a top-10 team (even if K-State is likely overrated as a top-10 team).
2. More times than not, teams with National Championship aspirations come out flat after losing their first game, making them more susceptible to a second loss. Do you see this as being a factor traveling to Manhattan?
Again, Oklahoma still thinks the national title is not lost. It's unlikely, but maybe the Sooners are right. It wouldn't take that many things, and there's plenty of time in the season remaining for crazy happenings – ones like we've seen in years past.
Everyone thinks the season will end Nov. 5, after the Bama-LSU game, but that's just too conventional. What if, say, LSU wins that game and then loses to Arkansas (which has happened before)? What we think will happen doesn't often happen in college football. Did you have Auburn playing Oregon, and winning, last year? Me, neither.
3. Is the Kansas State game plan (keep away, run the ball, tire the defense) one that will give the Sooners trouble, considering the Sooner offense and tempo?
I would think so, but that almost sort of plays into OU's hands.
As you saw last week, the Sooners have major pass D questions. The run D has been pretty salty, physical, because of how successful the front four have been. This isn't a great matchup for K-State on paper, making it all the more important for the Wildcats to be very technically sound.
Where it can win this game is up front, its D-line vs. OU's O-line. The Sooners have struggled to block for their runners. If that doesn't change, and OU becomes predictable throwing the ball, it could be a close game. If OU can run the ball at all, the Sooners cover.
4) Oklahoma defeats Kansas State if...?
I guess I started to answer this already, but this is more on the OU offense than defense. No one expected the Sooners' D to be terrific this year, but everyone did expect big things from the offense – and it went flat for a long period last week, allowing Tech to build a 31-7 lead. It had, I think, six three-and-outs in the game. That's hardly what was expected.
So, in short, the Sooners need to get back to doing what they do, running about 90 plays a game and keeping defenses off balance by throwing and running at a high tempo. Ryan Broyles had a particularly lousy game last week. I'm curious to see how he responds.
5) You're coming off the South Carolina beat to the Oklahoma beat. What have been the major differences, or things you have had to get used to?
Hmm, every beat has its nuances. Policies, times, etc. You have to get used to those sorts of things, in terms of what stories and how many stories you produce.
One huge advantage of my current job vs. my old one is the fact that I'm not the only guy on the beat. There, covering the Gamecocks, I was an island. Here, I'm a part of a ... chain of islands? Wow, weak metaphor. But, you get the drift. It helps to have teammates committed to covering the team, as well. That's a big plus.
Also, I'm part of the hometown paper here, as opposed to being a publication based in another part of the state. There's more focus on what we do here, both positively – and negatively. Fans here are not afraid to let me know when I do or say something they don't like. At least they're paying attention?
Travis' new book Classic Clashes in the Carolina-Clemson Rivalry: State of Disunion is due out Nov. 15.