If history is any indication, there’s just not much to be concerned about when it comes to playing the Kansas Jayhawks in football for the Oklahoma Sooners.
OU has won its past 16 against Kansas — the Sooners’ longest active winning streak against an opponent — and the four matchups with Lincoln Riley as head coach by an average margin 33 points, 51-18.
So, admittedly, it’s a stretch to be worried about much of anything Kansas presents. But, bear with me for this exercise as we look at five areas of concern for the Oklahoma Sooners vs. the Kansas Jayhawks.
Caleb Williams is making his first road start
Oct. 16, 2021; Norman; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Caleb Williams (13) runs with the ball during the game against the TCU Horned Frogs at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
There’s an argument to be made here that maybe being Caleb Williams’ second start overall and his first on the road works to Oklahoma’s advantage. Too young to know any better and that whole rap. Thus far, the results for Williams running the show would lead you to believe as much. But, let’s see how Williams handles his first road start in what will undoubtedly be a sleepy environment.
Eric Gray busts loose
Sept. 25, 2021; Norman; Oklahoma Sooners running back Eric Gray (0) runs with the ball as West Virginia Mountaineers linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo (7) defends during the first half at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
OU running back Kennedy Brooks has come alive in the Sooners’ past two games, against Texas and TCU, rushing for 217 and 153 yards, respectively. He has carried it 45 times combined in the two games, which indicates Oklahoma has found its featured running back.
All of this is good.
So, what’s the problem? Tennessee transfer running back Eric Gray’s largest rushing output during Big 12 play is the 38 rushing yards on 12 carries he had against West Virginia.
Gray has carried the ball 16 times since that West Virginia contest, but he figures to be more heavily involved Saturday in a game that will get lopsided. It would make sense if OU treated this as an opportunity to lessen the workload on Brooks. With that in mind, Gray needs to produce more in between the tackles when the opportunity calls this weekend.
Where's the production up front defensively?
Sept. 11, 2021; Norman; Oklahoma Sooners defensive lineman Isaiah Thomas (95) and defensive lineman Perrion Winfrey (8) celebrate during the third quarter against the Western Carolina Catamounts at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
It’s just one week, so nobody hit the panic button. However, Oklahoma needs more out of what is perceived as its best defensive trio.
Nik Bonitto tallied five tackles, 0.5 TFL and one quarterback hurry against TCU. Perrion Winfrey and Isaiah Thomas didn’t record a sack, tackle for loss, or quarterback hurry against the Horned Frogs. They ought to feast against Kansas. More importantly, if the Sooners have their eyes set on reaching the College Football Playoff and winning a game once they’re there, the production from that group needs to increase.
Can a banged-up secondary shine against KU?
Sept. 18, 2021; Norman; Oklahoma Sooners cornerback D.J. Graham (middle) makes an interception in front of Nebraska Cornhuskers wide receiver Levi Falck (88) during the fourth quarter at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Oklahoma received more bad news in the secondary when cornerback D.J. Graham exited last week against TCU with what OU sideline reporter Chris Plank said appeared to be concussion-like symptoms.
The Sooners have been without the services of their other starting cornerback Woodi Washington. They’ve been missing starting safety Delarrin Turner-Yell, too, as he works his way back from a hamstring injury suffered against West Virginia.
If Oklahoma is down all three against Kansas, some combination of Jaden Davis, Joshua Eaton and Latrell McCutchin will start at corner. At safety, expect to see more snaps for Key Lawrence and Justin Broiles alongside OU’s other starter Patrick Fields. Billy Bowman is listed at both cornerback and nickel back, but the corner experience didn’t go as planned for Bowman against TCU.
In its past three games against Kansas State, Texas and TCU, the Sooners secondary has surrendered 320, 388 and 346 passing yards, respectively.
Kansas ranks 110th nationally in passing offense with 172.7 passing yards per game. Down personnel or not, OU fans expect the secondary to look good against the Jayhawks.
Leaving Lawrence healthy
Oct. 16, 2021; Lawrence; Kansas Jayhawks wide receiver Luke Grimm (11) scores a touchdown as Texas Tech Red Raiders defensive back Cameron Watts (21) misses the tackle during the second half at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
This is the biggest key to Saturday. Sure, every Oklahoma fan would like to see Caleb Williams continue to star. A laugher at halftime where Oklahoma can lean on the run game offensively and rotate bodies on both sides of the football would be nice. Still, with all of the different ailments the Sooners are facing in the injury department, just leaving Lawrence, Kansas, without adding any new injury concerns and with a win and OU fans will be happy.