Oklahoma kicker Michael Hunnicutt’s body language explained what transpired over the previous three-a-half hours. His hands went to his head as if he wanted to pull his hair out after his 19-yard field goal attempt snapped quickly left.
His helmet prevented any physical injury. .
Hunnicutt wasn’t the only one feeling that frustration Saturday afternoon at Owen Field. Anyone not wearing purple was feeling everything from exasperation to disbelief to downright rage after the 11th-ranked Sooners fell 31-30 to No. 14 Kansas State at Owen Field.
It was a game where miscues exacted a toll and the Sooners were out of currency by the end. The ambition to get a spot in the first ever College Football Playoff was what Kansas State parted with.
The Sooners refused to point the finger at their kicker as to why they dropped to 5-2 overall and 2-2 in the Big 12 Conference.
“You can’t blame it on anybody, not Hunnicutt,” tight end Blake Bell said. “There’s a lot of other people and plays that we could have made out there.”
The Big 12 race has taken some wild turns in recent weeks. Following Saturday’s games, only the Wildcats (5-1, 3-0) remain undefeated in the league. The reason: they do not beat themselves.
They made the least mistakes on Saturday. That alone is often enough to win.
Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters threw for two touchdowns and ran for another. He moved his team into the red zone three times and came away with 17 points.
The Sooners made plays, but they also made the debilitating mistakes. Hunnicutt’s missed 19-yard field goal came at the end of day where he had an extra point blocked 9 minutes earlier and he missed a 32-yard field goal at the end of the first half.
When the program’s all-time scoring leader is struggling, you know it’s going to be a tough day.
Offensively, OU had one of its better games this season. Trevor Knight threw for three touchdowns. Wide receiver Sterling Shepard had 15 catches for 197 yards. Durron Neal and Bell both caught touchdown passes.
Add it all up and OU amassed 533 yards and three touchdowns.
Why’d it lose?
Two turnovers and the kicking game loomed large.
Knight had one bad play, but it was a doozy.
Backed up at OU’s 1-yard line early in the second quarter, the coaching staff sent in a run-pass play call.
Knight tried to hit Neal on a 5-yard out route. Kansas State cornerback Danzel Williams picked it off and skipped into the end zone for a touchdown.
“Yeah, a poor decision to make the throw,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “It’s one of those hand-it-off or throw it if it’s an easy throw. Obviously, it wasn’t an easy one. Give the ball and let it ride.”
The other turnover was out of Knight’s hands.
Late in the third quarter and inside the red zone, OU tried a reverse pass from Neal to Shepard. Kansas State cornerback Morgan Burns made an easy pick.
Six red zone trips produced three OU scores and a costly turnover. Hard to win under that scenario.
“When you have those things happen and you don’t execute in those areas you’re not going to win against a good team. They’re too hard to overcome. That’s how you end up one point short,” Stoops added “That’s where we were.”
Where it put the Sooners is hard to fathom. As little as 16 days ago, it was consensus pick to win the Big 12 and reach the playoff — perhaps as the top seed.
They’ve now lost two of their last three games and are on the outside with no clear path to reach either.
“It hurts,” said linebacker Geneo Grissom, who had two sacks. “We have to bounce back. Not every season goes the way you want it.”
This one, however, has gone off the rails because of a myriad of issues. Both offense and defense have taken their turns. Special teams joined the club on Saturday.
Hunnicutt didn’t speak to reporters following the game. Coaches and teammates defended him feverishly. There weren’t enough fingers to point where OU could’ve been better.
“Defensively, we could’ve done a lot more and obviously offensively we could have too, so to point a finger at Michael would be totally unfair to him,” cornerback Zack Sanchez said.
But OU’s played just seven games and already the tone has shifted from what it could be to what it could’ve been.
Getting off two kicks from the middle of the field from inside 20 yards from one of the best kickers in the program’s history to go through the uprights could’ve changed the spirit.
“We did a lot of things really good today. But those major mistakes, you can’t overcome them,” Stoops said.
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