Oklahoma vs. Kansas score, takeaways: No. 3 Sooners overcome scoreless first half to avoid massive upset

No. 3 Oklahoma survived what would have been one of the more stunning upsets of this chaotic 2021 college football season on Saturday, overcoming an embarrassing first-half performance against Kansas to storm back with a 35-23 in Lawrence, Kansas. With the victory, the Sooners improved to 8-0, their best start to a season since 2004.

Facing fourth-and-1 from their own 46-yard line and up five points against Kansas, Oklahoma called a run play up the middle from star running back Kennedy Brooks. Brooks ran headfirst into the line and was pushed back by the Kansas defense, which had its best performance of the season. Sooners quarterback Caleb Williams snatched the ball out of Brooks' hands as he fell to the ground, however, and ran for a shocking first-down conversion. 

The refs deliberated as fans stood around confused, but the call ultimately stood. The controversial first-down run iced the game and OU added a late touchdown to seal the win and snuff out what was on track to be one of the biggest upsets in modern college football history. 

Kansas played perhaps its best game of the past 10 years and was arguably the better team all day. The Jayhawks outgained Oklahoma 412-398 and held the Sooners to a scoreless first half for the first time since 2014, the last game before Oklahoma hired Lincoln Riley as offensive coordinator. 

Jayhawks quarterback Jason Bean threw for 246 yards and a touchdown and ran for 59 more yards while playing a dynamic two-man game with running back Devin Neal. The latter rushed for 100 yards and two touchdowns in his first matchup against the title-chasing Sooners. 

The second half belonged to Williams, though. In addition to the heads-up play on the late fourth down, Williams broke three tackles on another fourth down and took it for an improbable 40-yard touchdown run to give Oklahoma a late lead. The Sooners did not lead at any point until the fourth quarter. Williams pasted for 178 yards, rushed for 79 yards and posted four total touchdowns in his second career start. 

Kansas has not beaten a conference opponent since Oct. 26, 2019, when the Jayhawks topped Texas Tech 37-34. They haven't beaten an opponent ranked in the AP Top 25 since beating No. 15 Georgia Tech in 2010 and hasn't beaten a top-five opponent since defeating No. 5 Virginia Tech in 2007, the kickoff for perhaps the best season in program history. All those streaks would have ended on Saturday with a win over Oklahoma. Kansas entered the game as a 38.5-point underdog. 

Here are three takeaways from Oklahoma's come-from-behind win on Saturday. 

Edge of disaster

It's hard to contextualize how destructive a loss to Kansas would be. The Jayhawks are one of the worst programs in the FBS and rank behind teams like UNLV and New Mexico in the SP+ analytic system. The loss alone would effectively preclude the Sooners from the College Football Playoff.  The committee can forgive tight performances against teams like Nebraska and Texas, but taking Kansas down to the wire is an indictment of how far away this program is from contending for championships, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Oklahoma is still No. 3, but the Sooners have to get much better to handle Baylor, Iowa State and Oklahoma State in the coming weeks. 

Proof of concept

While the struggles at Oklahoma lead the story of this game, Kansas deserves credit; this was not a fluky performance by any means. Kansas put together scoring drives of 14, 12 and 10 plays and held Oklahoma to just 17 plays in the first half. Kansas is still far away from competing in Big 12 play, but Lance Leipold has a vision of what his program will look like to sell. Eventually, the Jayhawks want to be a program that can consistently control games with its wide zone offense. When Leipold gets more of his recruits in the building, Kansas will finally pull out of its decade-long tailspin. 

Caleb Williams is pure chaos

Nothing comes simple for the freshman, who some mentioned as a potential Heisman contender after playing well against a bad TCU defense. He threw for just 71 yards in the first half with a drive-killing interception to give Kansas a double-digit lead. Of course, Williams also had a 40-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-3 and saved the game with his heroics next to Brooks. Williams has made every play that he's had to through three games, but the game doesn't seem that much easier for Oklahoma. By no means are the Sooners fixed, regardless of the upside Williams has shown. 

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KANSAS +38.5, o66.5
ESPN
KANSAS 38.5, O/U 66.5

Season Leaders

passing
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C. Williams 1673 YD, 18 TDS, 4 INTS
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C. Williams 1673 YD, 18 TDS, 4 INTS
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J. Bean 1252 YD, 6 TDS, 6 INTS
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J. Bean 1252 YD, 6 TDS, 6 INTS
rushing
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K. Brooks 183 ATT, 1107 YD, 10 TDS
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K. Brooks 183 ATT, 1107 YD, 10 TDS
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D. Neal 158 ATT, 707 YD, 8 TDS
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D. Neal 158 ATT, 707 YD, 8 TDS
receiving
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M. Mims 30 REC, 648 YD, 4 TDS
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M. Mims 30 REC, 648 YD, 4 TDS
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K. Lassiter II 59 REC, 653 YD, 3 TDS
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K. Lassiter II 59 REC, 653 YD, 3 TDS
Live updates
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One of the craziest plays we've ever seen just happened on 4th-and-1. Oklahoma running back Kennedy Brooks was clearly stopped – and his forward progress was stopped – short of the line. However, Caleb Williams grabbed the ball out of his hand and ran forward for a first down, a play that was ruled a "legal forward handoff" by the Big 12 referees. The heads-up play all but gives Oklahoma the ball game, which the Sooners led just 28-23 at the time.

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What a drive from Jason Bean! The Kansas quarterback completed passes of 28, 11 and 19 to set up a 14-yard touchdown strike to Luke Grimm. The 2-point conversion fails but Kansas brings the lead down to 28-23 with six minutes remaining in Lawrence. We've got a game. 

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Finally, Caleb Williams appears to put a dagger right into the heart of Kansas. Kansas had Williams dead to rights on 4th-and-3, but poor tackling led to Williams breaking free and running for a 40-yard touchdown run to take a 28-17 lead with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter. 

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@KU_Football via Twitter
October 23, 2021, 6:50 PM
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Kansas was moving down the field behind a handful of Jason Bean passes, but WR Steven McBride fumbled on a screen, giving the Sooners the ball in plus territory. 

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Oklahoma finally takes its first lead of the ball game after Kansas' first punt of the afternoon only drops near midfield. Caleb Williams completes passes to running backs of 24 and 23 yards to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Kennedy Brooks. Oklahoma leads Kansas 21-17 with 12:35 remaining. 

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@KU_Football via Twitter
October 23, 2021, 6:34 PM
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Come on in

Kansas athletics announced that the gates at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium are open for anyone to come, no ticket required. The Jayhawks are one quarter away from pulling off one of the biggest college football upsets in recent memory after entering as 38.5-point underdog. However, Kansas will have to put together another scoring drive with a 17-14 lead late. 

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Oklahoma marches down the field in three plays behind a 66-yard run from Trevon West, but the Sooners still trail 17-14 entering the fourth quarter. The run doubled OU's existing rushing yardage. 

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Kansas continues to pour it on Oklahoma with a 10-play, 75-yard drive. Devin Neal has taken over this game and rushed six times for 26 yards on the drive, including a 1-yard touchdown. The Jayhawks are averaging 5.7 yards per play. 

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@KU_Football via Twitter
October 23, 2021, 6:16 PM
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@KU_Football via Twitter
October 23, 2021, 6:11 PM
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