Numbers a mirage, Oklahoma must get more from Dillon Gabriel when it's all there for the taking
Defense failed Sooners against Wildcats, but not for most of the second half, when little was asked from their quarterback and that's just what he gave them
Here it is.
The game was the third quarter and the first half of the fourth.
Though quarterback Dillon Gabriel’s 26-of-39, 330-yard, four-touchdown, no-pick stat line’s bound to look great on his sports-reference.com game-log page in perpetuity, those same numbers will be a mirage for just as long.
And when first-year Oklahoma coach Brent Venables said afterwards, “It starts with the man in the mirror, it starts with the coaches,” Sooner Nation should hope that he means it, that he wasn’t just throwing a blanket over all of the wrongness and falling on the spike, because he and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby must decide what they want, expect and demand from Gabriel and it has to be more than they wanted, expected and demanded Saturday night against Kansas State when, the game still quite winnable, they asked for almost nothing from Gabriel and it’s just what he gave them.
Oh, yes, Kansas State’s 41-34 victory, the Big 12 opener for both teams, belonged to more factors than that.
The Wildcats (3-1) won the first quarter, won the line of scrimmage, received huge games from quarterback Adrian Martinez and the Darren Sproles position, again manned by Deuce Vaughn.
The Sooner offense came out flat for a fourth straight game and committed innumerable pre-snap penalties after committing none the previous week in front of even more fans, all of them hostile, at Nebraska.
Yet, after falling behind 14-0, tying it up 14-14 and falling back 17-14 before the half, it was all there to be won. OU just couldn’t do it, not behind a quarterback who runs hot and cold and not behind coaches determined to play defense with their own offense, too fearful of what their quarterback might do if they don’t.
One of those ump-teen penalties conspired to grab a field goal from the jaws of a touchdown to begin the third quarter. OU (3-1) then forced a K-State (3-1) punt and that’s when the absolute lack of fun began.
After 35 yards on two Eric Gray carries, a penalty forced first-and-15 from the Sooner 46, after which Gabriel fired two incompletions before hitting Marcus Major for 11 yards.
Venables opted to go for it until a delay of game that could have been avoided by anybody calling time out, Venables and Gabriel included, leaving the Sooners, though they remained on the good side of the 50, to punt anyway.
K-State then matched OU’s field goal and here was another chance to tie it.
Gabriel hit Jalil Farooq for 5 yards, Gray rushed for 14 and then … Gabriel missed a throw to Marvin Mims, tossed complete to Gray for a yard and, facing third-and-9 from the Wildcat 45, HANDED THE BALL TO MARCUS MAJOR for 6, after which, facing fourth and 3, missed Drake Stoops wide open on a short toss with room to run.
It was more of the same after another K-State punt: Gray running for 5 and 2 yards, Gabriel tossing complete to Farooq for 4 … then scrambling for 26, handing to Gray for 5, throwing another 1-yard toss to Gray and, trying to find Mims on third-and-9, missed.
It wasn’t on Mims.
In all, Gabriel suffered a single drop, his second pass of the game, intended for Farooq.
Running on second- or third-and-long, throwing so many passes underneath, not going for chunks, it was as though Lebby — presuming Venables wasn’t horning in on his play-calling — was trying to create third (or fourth)-and-short over and over again, just to give Gabriel something he thought he could handle. Instead, all it did was give the quarterback but one chance to earn a new set of downs rather than two or three.
Venables said Gabriel played well enough to win.
Lebby, after playing defense during the game, played more defense after.
“I’ve got to put Dillon in better situations … He played tough, he played incredibly hard, he led,” he said. “Does he want some things back? Absolutely.
“I want some calls back.”
The Sooners’ last two offensive series?
Each after a K-State touchdown, when it no longer mattered how little confidence there was in him because OU had to go score NOW, Gabriel completed 10 of 14 for 102 yards and two scores, both to Brayden Willis.
He even scrambled twice for 33.
But like a seventh-inning Sammy Sosa home run in the midst of an already lopsided contest, it was beside the point, the chance to go win already lost.
“We missed a bunch of layups,” Venables said, offering his own flair for off-sport metaphors.
Many of them were simple and open throws any Sooner quarterback must make.
“We certainly got exposed tonight,” Venables said.
First on the list, showing no confidence in the quarterback when the game remained for the taking.
Next up it’s TCU and Venables and Lebby will have to pick a side.
Continue in a quest to reach third-and-short or let Gabriel help them win, even though he may not.
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