Oklahoma 41, Kansas State 31

October 14, 2000 | at Manhattan | Attendance 53,011

Fresh off their big win over Texas, Bob Stoops and eighth-ranked Oklahoma (5-0) traveled to Manhattan to face a tougher test, Kansas State. The Wildcats were a team that the Sooners had not played in two years, and after winning 22 straight games from 1971-92, had won in the last five meetings. If Oklahoma was going to prove they were for real and cause some noise at the national level, stating that this was an important game was an understatement.

In 1989, coach Bill Snyder arrived in Manhattan to take over a dismal Kansas State program that could claim one winning season in the previous 18 years, had lost their last 13 games in a row, and was winless in their last 27 straight games. He won one game in his first year, then five, and then came a 7-4 record in '91, but beginning in '93, with a group of players that were exclusively recruited by Snyder and his staff, the Wildcats embarked on a succession of seasons in which they have won at least nine games each year, one of the most impressive turnarounds in college football history, and Kansas State had been transformed into an annual legitimate conference contender.

Snyder returned an experienced team with 17 starters. On offense were ten of those, including eight seniors, from a big play unit with quick strike ability led by quarterback Jonathon Beasley, who was back and healthy after an up and down year in '99. He had a talented pair of receivers in Aaron Lockett and Quincy Morgan, and running back Josh Scobey, a junior college all-American, transferred in and was every bit as good as advertised, shoring up one of the lone perceived weaknesses on the offense.

On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Phil Bennett's troops entered their second season under his command with a firm grasp of his scheme, and tons of speed to make it work. They featured a talented front four with tackles senior Mario Fatafehi and Chris Holloman, junior linebacker Ben Leber, and a secondary that was especially deep with three returning starters, junior cornerback Dyshod Carter and strong safety Jarrod Cooper.

But Kansas State couldn't quite seem to get any national respect, and with all that success, they were still searching for approval outside of their conference after having won 35 of its last 36 regular season games and posting a 24-1 mark in its last 25 Big 12 games. Now, coming off three straight 11-win seasons, the senior class had upped their stellar career record to 39-4 thanks to a perfect 6-0 mark that has the Wildcats ranked #2 in the AP poll. Often criticized for its soft non-conference schedule, Kansas State had flattened its first six opponents, which included Ball State, North Texas and Louisiana Tech, by an average score of 51-10, but in games against opponents ranked in the top ten, Snyder's Wildcat teams were a pathetic 1-18, and the Sooners were a suddenly hot team with enough talent to derail Kansas State's title hopes.

It marked the first time that Stoops would face off against his one-time boss, who spent seven season in Manhattan under Snyder, first as a secondary coach for two years, then as co-defensive coordinator for four, before adding the title of assistant head coach in '95. And there were a few others who had Kansas State ties, for when Stoops took over at Oklahoma in '99, he summarily looted the Wildcats' coaching staff of some of its best young talent, grabbing a pair of defensive guru's, Brent Venables and his brother Mike, and an offensive mastermind, Mark Mangino, since moved up coordinator. Those moves helped fuel some animosity between the two schools, but one by product of such close relationships with the opposition was knowledge, the inside information, tips and tendencies of Snyder, and Stoops for that matter, knew about on the opposite sideline.

One of the keys to the game would be when the Sooners used their multiple sets and how the Wildcats' secondary and their ability to cover would fare. In addition, Kansas State's ability to stop Oklahoma's Quentin Griffin, who's running had made their offense balanced and more dangerous. If the Sooners could not run, quarterback Josh Heupel and the pass-oriented offense became less effective against teams that could cover. Meanwhile, Beasley had thrown 92 consecutive passes without an interception, a streak that dates back to the October game, but the Sooners defense, however, has forced ten turnovers in the last two games.

Kansas State had not lost in their last 25 home games, but in front of 53,011 fans, Oklahoma, in its first true road game, stung the Wildcats. The Sooners got on the board first when Tim Duncan kicked a 40-yard field goal halfway into the first quarter. But Kansas State came right back on Beasley's 15-yard touchdown run to take a 7-3 lead with 4:19 left in the period.

On the ensuing kickoff, J.T. Thatcher stunned the home crowd with a 93-yard return, regaining the momentum and setting up fullback Seth Littrell's two-yard touchdown burst. A few minutes later, receiver Curtis Fagan took a short pass from Heupel and turned it into a 15-yard touchdown play, and a 17-7 Oklahoma lead with just 55 seconds left in the period.

In the second, Beasley's two-yard touchdown run cut the lead to 17-14 with 9:31 left in the first half, but Oklahoma struck again. Faced with a fourth down-and-goal, Heupel capped an eight-play, 79-yard drive with his one-yard run. Then, with a little over three minutes left in the half, Griffin broke three tackles on a 17-yard run that put the Sooners on top, 31-14.

In the third quarter, the Sooners just kept going. Faced with a third-and-26, Heupel threw a short completion to Antwone Savage, who eluded five tacklers and raced 74 yards for a touchdown and a comfortable 38-14 lead.

K-State's Jamie Rheem kicked a 38-yard field goal to slightly close the deficit to 21 points entering the final period, but the Wildcats were the #2 team in the country for a reason. The crowd came to life in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter when Beasley's 69-yard touchdown pass to Morgan was followed less than two minutes later by Terence Newman's 16-yard touchdown return of a blocked punt, making it 38-31 with 10:31 to play.

"Everybody was real calm," said Heupel. "We were poised and ready to go out. We knew we had to put a drive together and try to get some more points."

And they did. The Sooners drove down for Tim Duncan's 40-yard field goal with 3:27 to play, which ended up closing out the scoreboard. Oklahoma, with one big play after another, and with Heupel completing 29 of his 37 passes for 374 yards and two touchdowns, bolted to a 17-point halftime lead and held on for a 41-31 victory over Kansas State.

Several times the Wildcats had put Heupel on his back, but he bounced right back. Meanwhile, Beasley hit 14 of 36 passes for 211 passes and one touchdown, and rushed for 39 yards and two more scores. But he was intercepted twice, and clearly came out second-best in a battle between two of the nation's top quarterbacks.

"They have an outstanding quarterback who made some great plays," said Kansas State defensive coordinator Phil Bennett afterwards. "At times we pressured him, but he got the ball off. He did a good job."

While probably knocking the Wildcats out of the national title chase, the Sooners jumped into contention themselves, improving to 6-0 for the first time since 1987. In back-to-back games they have routed then-#11 Texas and handed the #2 Wildcats their first home loss in 26 games. It set up Oklahoma's most meaningful game since meeting Miami in the '88 Orange Bowl for the national championship. After a week off, the showdown in Norman with top-ranked Nebraska would seem like old times.

Source: Jeff Linkowski

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