Coming into Saturday night, everyone knew the evening's clash with No. 15 Kansas State would be the perfect measuring stick for the No. 6 Oklahoma Sooners. The Sooners had been far from perfect in their two wins against overmatched opponents, and few knew what to expect against the Wildcats.
After the Sooners' 24-19 loss to Kansas State, the first against a ranked team at home in the Bob Stoops era, OU fans probably would have liked to remain ignorant of the facts.
The Sooners are not tough enough, not disciplined enough, and simply put, not good enough.
It's hard to know where to start with OU, because against the first quality opponent the Sooners have faced all season, so many things showed up as glaring weaknesses, many of which had been hinted at in OU wins against UTEP and Florida A&M.
Now, Oklahoma is left to wonder what becomes of the rest of the season, a grueling run through what appears to be (at this point, anyway) the best top-to-bottom conference in college football, plus a visit from resurgent Notre Dame. It doesn't get any easier for the Sooners, which has to address several areas to keep this 2012 season from turning into a disaster.
First, Landry Jones has to become a more consistent quarterback. OU fans have probably figured this out by now, but Jones is not a Sam Bradford, nor is he going to turn into one. He seems to have hit his ceiling, and it's up to coaches to do what they can with what they have.
Jones has an excellent group of receivers to throw to, as evidenced by their performance against the Wildcats. OU didn't drop a single pass, and found an emerging star in true freshman Sterling Shepard, who led OU with seven catches for 108 yards and a touchdown. The problem officially isn't worrying about what happens when the ball is thrown to receivers; it's getting the ball to the receivers, on time, and consistently.
Second, the Sooners have to do a better job of establishing a running game. However, this task falls as much on the coaches as it does the players executing on the field. Against Kansas State, the Sooners ran for 113 yards on 25 carries, excluding sacks. Dominique Whaley had a good night for the carries he received (nine carries, 51 yards), and Roy Finch gained 11 yards on his only carry of the night.
Unfortunately for the Sooners, Finch never touched the ball again, and OU neglected to feed the ball consistently to Whaley, particularly in the second half, when controlling the clock became paramount. Why that happened is a mystery to everyone outside of the coaching staff, but just like in basketball, you need to feed the hot hand, something OU is not doing right now.
However, not all of the running game problems can be placed on the play callers. Damien Williams rushed for just 34 yards on 10 carries after coming in averaging over 10 yards a carry. The Sooners have to be more aggressive on the offensive line, opening up holes for running backs to run through.
Lastly, the defense has to put all the pieces together. Overall, it wasn't a bad performance from the OU defense in the slightest. Still, there were times when coverage broke down ¬¬¬¬¬– none more obvious than a 3rd and 11 for the Wildcats with about three minutes remaining – or tackles were missed, allowing Kansas State drives to continue, particularly in the fourth quarter, when Kansas State controlled the ball for 10:25.
Oklahoma wasn't good enough to defeat Kansas State Saturday night, or very many teams for that matter. The season is not lost, though. Having a measuring stick game against a tough conference opponent this early in the season gives Bob Stoops and company a perfect picture of how far this team has to go to be the team everyone expects them to be.
The Sooners have yet another off week before travelling to Stoops' personal house of horrors, Texas Tech, on Oct. 6. There's plenty to work on before then, and plenty that has to change if OU wants to avoid their fourth consecutive loss in Lubbock.
Saturday's game provided all the information Sooner coaches, players and fans needed to know where this OU team is at this early stage of the season. It wasn't information they wanted to know, but with three-fourths of the season remaining, it was absolutely necessary.