Lincoln Riley remembers what happened the last time his team faced Kansas State.
Last season, Oklahoma held a 35-14 lead late in the third quarter before surrendering 24 unanswered points to the Wildcats, losing 38-31 in Norman.
“Obviously last year, we were beating up on them a little bit and they had a great comeback and stayed in it,” Riley said Tuesday. “We played really, really poorly. Probably as poorly as we’ve played in any game I can remember around here [at] the end, and gave them a chance and they took it.”
They fell to the Wildcats the year, too, in Manhattan as a late rally came up just short in a 48-41 loss.
Even as Kansas State has struggled in recent years, the Oklahoma-Kansas State matchup is full of close games and upset wins.
The Wildcats routed the heavily-favored Sooners 35-7 in the Big 12 championship game back in 2003. In the last decade, they’ve beat the Sooners in Norman three times, the only team to do so.
The Sooners are still the leader in the overall series record between the two teams, winning 76 of 101 meetings. But heading into Manhattan, the Wildcats will look to beat the Sooners for the third straight time.
“They’re just always a tough out,” Riley said. “I think you always know what you’re going to get from them competitively… I would say they’re a team that you feel like they do a good job of taking advantage of mistakes and taking advantage of when you’re not at your best. For us, it goes back to us hitting our standards for four quarters and we’re going to have to play that way to go win in Manhattan.
“That’s kind of been the same no matter who’s coaching them and who the players are. They’ve done a tremendous job of that for years and years and years.”
It’s been the defense that’s propelled the Sooners to a perfect 4-0 record. After surrendering 35 points to Tulane, the defense has given up just 29 points combined in their last two outings against Nebraska and West Virginia.
Saturday, they'll face a Kansas State offense that's not at full strength.
With starting quarterback Skylar Thompson injured, the Wildcats have opted to use a two-quarterback system. Will Howard will likely see the majority of snaps at quarterback, but he has struggled as a passer.
The centerpiece for Kansas State’s offense is running back Deuce Vaughn. The Sophomore running back has ran the ball 75 times and scored five touchdowns while averaging 5.2 yards per carry this season.
Vaughn really hurt the Sooners last season, finishing with 180 total yards and a score. And while the Sooners have been one of the best units at defending the run, they'll need to make sure to prevent Vaughn from repeating last season's performance.
“Obviously, he has top-end speed,” OU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. “And to say he gave us trouble is putting it mildly. We did a very poor job, credit goes to them across the board, they did a great job as a coaching staff. They certainly earned our respect.”
But the focus will be on the Sooners’ offense, a unit that hasn’t found a consistent rhythm in either the running or passing game.
Kansas State’s defensive line has been great against the run, and if the Sooners can’t find a rhythm on the ground, it could force OU quarterback Spencer Rattler to put the ball in the air.
Rattler was the backup to Jalen Hurts for the Kansas State game in 2019 and the starting quarterback for last season’s loss. Rattler said he learned a lot from both of those games, and has learned a lot from the struggles the offense has faced this season.
“Seeing Jalen go through that stuff in 2019 when I was getting to watch and experience it all, I learned a lot from it,” Rattler said Wednesday. “We obviously weren’t happy about it, but I learned a lot from it. Personally, in 2020, [I did] as well. Just have to learn from each game. Good or bad, we’re always going to go through adversity, and you have to embrace it.”
The last two OU-Kansas State games were decided by seven points or fewer. With the Sooners’ offense struggles, Saturday’s game could turn out the same way.
Riley seems prepared if it does.
“I’m excited and it’s been fun because our team has responded in such a positive way and, I think, embraced those moments,” Riley said. “I think we’ll need to continue to do that.”