College Football and College Basketball Writer
LAWRENCE, Kansas — The cruelty and captivation of a four-team College Football Playoff is that Oklahoma’s eventual fate might hinge on what happened with three seconds remaining on a frigid afternoon in which its vaunted passing attack up and vanished. One snap, one play, one touchdown being the only thing that would keep the sixth-ranked Sooners unbeaten against an ascending group of Jayhawks from Kansas.
But a desperation heave from quarterback Dillon Gabriel sailed high and far and away from his intended targets, a 27-yard prayer shattered by what might be a season-defining incompletion. Kansas 38, Oklahoma 33.
The fans who remained on a frigid and rain-swept afternoon stormed the field. The goalpost beneath the video board promptly came down amid the fray. All of it was an ample reward for sitting through a 57-minute lightning delay.
And in the far corner of the end zone, a sullen group of Sooners trudged toward their locker room and a disappointing trip home.
Here are some quick takeaways from Memorial Stadium:
No. 6 Oklahoma Sooners vs. Kansas Jayhawks Highlights | CFB on FOX
Play of the game
The pomp and circumstance of hosting “Big Noon Kickoff” for a marquee matchup against the No. 6 team in the country breathed new life into a Kansas season that was beginning to teeter. A blowout loss to Texas in late September. A backbreaking defeat to Oklahoma State two weeks later. A familiar shift toward basketball in a town that lives and dies with college hoops.
All of those things were pushed aside on Saturday as a sellout crowd braved the elements — first the cold, then the rain — to get behind the Jayhawks for a chance to witness a monumental victory under burgeoning coach Lance Leipold. Not only was Kansas hosting the best team on its 2023 home slate for a nationally televised affair, but the Jayhawks were also eager to snap an 18-game losing streak to the Sooners that dated to 1997, a time before their current players were born.
Any chance of an upset hinged on a breakneck start from the home team — a hit, a score, anything that would keep the frigid fans engaged. Cornerback Mello Dotson provided that spark by intercepting Gabriel’s second pass of the game and returning it 37 yards for the score. His undercut of a ball intended for wide receiver Jalil Farooq thrust Memorial Stadium into a frenzy and set the stage for the instant classic that followed.
Turning point of the game
While the final stat line for Kansas quarterback Jason Bean shows little in the way of remarkability — 15-of-32 for 218 yards and zero touchdowns — he did almost everything that was asked of a backup through the first three quarters: moved the offense, scored a lengthy touchdown with his legs and, most importantly, protected the football. The occasional off-target throw was forgiven by his ability to avoid a crippling mistake.
All of that changed in the final minutes of a back-and-forth affair that nearly pushed the sixth-ranked Sooners to the brink. With his team clinging to a 32-27 lead, Bean tossed an interception that gave Oklahoma the ball deep in Kansas territory. The Sooners needed just four plays to reach the end zone and reclaim a 33-32 lead. When he lobbed a second consecutive interception on the next possession, the Jayhawks’ hopes were dwindling.
Bean responded with the kind of steely and sinewy drive most folks would have expected from Gabriel, his counterpart on the opposite sideline. A run for 13 yards. A rifle to Mason Fairchild for 17 yards. A rope to Lawrence Arnold for 37 yards when Kansas faced fourth-and-6.
All of it preamble for the 9-yard touchdown run by Devin Neal that gave these feisty Jayhawks an unforgettable win.
Kansas’ Devin Neal scores the game-winning touchdown against Oklahoma
Entering Week 9, there were only six Power 5 quarterbacks who averaged more passing yards per game than Gabriel’s mark of 304.4, a number that has kept him in the discussion for this year’s Heisman Trophy as the Sooners enjoyed a 7-0 start. And only three of those signal callers have thrown more passing touchdowns than Gabriel, who traveled to Kansas with 19 to his name.
Yet as the Sooners clung to a 27-26 lead to begin the fourth quarter on Saturday, nothing about Gabriel’s aerial numbers were particularly impressive. Sure, he’d connected on 10 of 12 passes for an extremely efficient completion percentage in keeping with the way he’s played all season. But a Kansas passing defense ranked 76th nationally had held Gabriel to just 91 yards and zero touchdowns, with 39 of those yards coming on a catch-and-run by wideout Drake Stoops in the waning seconds of the third quarter. Any semblance of a vertical passing attack was gone, undone and unnerved by Gabriel’s pick-six on the team’s third play from scrimmage.
Instead, Gabriel’s largest offensive contribution came as a runner. He gained 60 yards on his first 10 carries and plunged into the end zone twice to keep the Sooners’ offense afloat. He kept Oklahoma afloat with his third rushing touchdown on a gutsy 1-yard run after breaking a tackle in the backfield.
Dillon Gabriel capitalizes on an interception by the Oklahoma defense to score his third rushing touchdown against Kansas
What’s next for Oklahoma?
It’s difficult for any game on Oklahoma’s schedule to match the passion, pageantry and profile of the annual Red River Rivalry with Texas — and this year’s 34-30 triumph by the Sooners was no exception — but the in-state Bedlam rivalry with Oklahoma State comes close. That’s what Oklahoma can look forward to next weekend after a crushing loss in Lawrence on Saturday. The Sooners’ impending showdown with the Cowboys comes at a time when the rivalry leans heavily in their favor. Oklahoma has won 17 of the last 20 games against Oklahoma State, including a lopsided 28-13 affair last season. The Cowboys have just eight wins against the Sooners since their 31-24 win in Norman on Oct. 23, 1976.
What’s next for Kansas?
The most impressive part of the Jayhawks’ 6-2 start to the season is that they’ve reached bowl eligibility despite a Big 12 schedule that was frontloaded with the league’s heavy hitters. They’ve already crossed BYU, Texas, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma off the docket following Saturday’s win — all teams with overall records of 5-2 or better thus far. Kansas travels to Iowa State next weekend for another matchup with a team in the top half of the conference standings, but late-season games against struggling Texas Tech and Cincinnati should give the Jayhawks chances for two more wins. There’s a chance Leipold and his staff could reach eight wins for the first time since 2008.
Kansas Fans rush Memorial Stadium after the Jayhawks’ shocking upset over No. 6 Oklahoma
Michael Cohen covers college football and basketball for FOX Sports with an emphasis on the Big Ten. Follow him on Twitter at @Michael_Cohen13.
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