By JOHN SHINN
MANHATTAN, Kan. — The last thing Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops wanted to talk about was history Saturday afternoon. The fact he’d just become the program’s all-time winningest coach with a 41-31 victory over Kansas State didn’t mean much to him.
There was too much in the present to feel good about to dwell on the past.
The re-invigorated offense and the successful reboot of redshirt freshman quarterback Trevor Knight gave the Sooners a sense of hope when they left Snyder Family Stadium.
“We showed what we’re able to do and I believe it will only keep getting better,” Stoops said.
The 22nd-ranked Sooners (9-2, 6-2 Big 12) came out firing early and spent most of the afternoon cramming the ball down the Wildcats’ throat.
Brennan Clay rushed for a career-high 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Knight rushed for 82 and another touchdown.
That wasn’t really a surprise; the Sooners arrived averaging more than 230 rushing yards a game and were fresh off a 400-yard effort the previous week against Iowa State.
They picked up right where they left off in that regard. The difference was the ability to throw the ball to complement it.
Knight threw for a career-high 171 yards and a touchdown.
“It started up front. Those guys mashing them up front. That was the key,” Knight said. “We hit a few shots early to keep them on their toes. And then we ran the read game and messed with them there a little bit. I think that balance early in the game is what opened it up for the rest of the offense.”
Could’ve been the case, but that would be selling Knight short. He played the way OU hoped he would when he won the starting job in August and bore little resemblance to the guy who lost the job in September.
His ability to run was no secret, but his capability to throw accurate lasers on slant routes made its first appearance Saturday.
Because of it, Kansas State (6-5, 4-4) was kept guessing.
“They felt comfortable with him being back there and I thought he threw the ball well today,” Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. “But it was the zone-read play that did the most damage to us today. It was something he has been very good at and we have seen a lot on tape. We knew he was going to run it, but we didn’t defend it very well.”
No, Kansas State did not. OU rushed for 301 yards and averaged 5.8 yards per carry. Dating back to the second half of the Iowa State game, the Sooners have averaged 8.3 yards per carry.
Knight’s been the difference.
“As much as anything, I think he was really decisive with the football,” OU offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “When it wasn’t there, for the most part, he went through his progression and then found a way to make a play. There were a couple of critical third-down scrambles that helped us extend drives.”
OU had 12 offensive possessions and they scored on seven of them, including their first game-opening touchdown drive since its Sept. 28 meeting with Notre Dame.
That opening drive, where Knight was 2 for 2, including a 12-yard touchdown strike to Sterling Shepard, changed the complexion of the game.
The Sooners had been habitually slow starters for nearly two months. They hadn’t scored a first-quarter point since the loss to Texas.
Suddenly, they were a well-executing offense.
“We talked all week long about starting fast. It hasn’t happened for us all year. We’ve been waiting for it,” Knight said. “Today we came out from that first drive. We were kind of hitting on all cylinders, put up points early and it kind of set the tone for the whole day.”
The Sooners had a golden chance to bury Kansas State before halftime. It didn’t happen because Kansas State wide receiver Tyler Lockett kept getting behind OU’s secondary in the first half.
Lockett, who finished the day with 12 catches for 278 yards, caught three touchdown passes in the first half. All of them were on plays of 30 yards or longer, including a 90-yard catch late in the first half that tied the game at 21-21.
OU corralled Lockett in the second half. The Wildcats didn’t have any answers. Clay added a 3-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter and Zack Sanchez, who had been victimized on two of Lockett’s first half touchdown catches, picked off a Jake Waters pass and returned it 74 yards for a touchdown to push the Sooners’ lead up to 41-21.
Waters threw for 348 yards, but only 83 came in the second half.
“As a DB you don't like getting torched like that, the way we did in the first half, myself,” Sanchez said. “To bounce back the way we did and ... getting pressure on the QB all day, really helped us out in the secondary.”
In that sense, it was the bounce-back performance OU had been waiting for weeks to show.
The explosive offense the Sooners thought they would have in September has finally arrived just in time for Thanksgiving. Better late than never.