Big 12 thoughts: Week 12
A few takeaways from Week 12 in the Big 12:
TCU picked a bad time to play its worst game. Don't be alarmed, members of the playoff selection committee. Those are just Baylor fans projecting the game film of TCU's 34-30 win over Kansas on the sides of your homes. Days after earning a spot in the committee's top four, the nation's microscope was on the Frogs. They responded by nearly getting upset by Kansas, who has won three Big 12 games since Oct. 2009. The Frogs were a little sluggish on offense until getting hot in the second half, and the defense gave up 418 yards to the Jayhawks.
It's not as simple as winning out anymore. Style points are necessary and TCU may have earned negative style points on Saturday. Baylor will likely jump over the Frogs by the end of the season. Mississippi State may stay ahead of them and No. 5 Alabama likely will jump TCU this week after beating No. 1 MSU on Saturday. TCU has to look good. It might have gotten away with an ugly win like that early in the season, but when America was watching, TCU turned in its worst performance of the season, even if it got a win.
Oklahoma is at its best when it embraces its new identity. Trevor Knight has been inconsistent this year and sat out Saturday's game after suffering a neck injury last week against Baylor. Its running game has not been inconsistent, leading the Big 12 with 5.67 yards per carry thanks to running backs Samaje Perine, Alex Ross and Keith Ford and an experienced offensive line.
Through the first half, Oklahoma still thought it was a spread team. Redshirt freshman Cody Thomas had thrown 17 passes and the Sooners trailed 14-7, falling behind 21-7 early in the second half.
OU responded by pounding Texas Tech for the game's remainder. Cody Thomas went 3-3 for 13 yards the rest of the game, handing the keys to the running game. The Sooners ran 33 times for 316 yards and four touchdowns in the second half, outscoring 35-9 the rest of the way to improve to 33-0 in the regular season coming off a loss since 2000. Oklahoma's quarterback play and thin receiving corps simply isn't consistent enough for the Sooners to fall back on the passing game. OU is the best version of itself when it decides to run downhill and incorporates the quarterback run. Thomas finished with 103 yards to complement Perine's 213-yard, three-touchdown performance. I don't know why Oklahoma didn't commit to that gameplan in the first half (Did OU's coaches skip over the Texas Tech film vs. Arkansas?), but when they decided to go win the game on the line of scrimmage, good things happened. OU's best bet is doing more of that.
Oklahoma State's struggles are everywhere. The Cowboys' sudden fall from being one of the Big 12's best teams a year ago to a team resigned to weekly beatings is eye-popping.
Simply put: Oklahoma State does not excel at any one thing this season. If you have an identity on either side of the ball, you can lean on those things when you struggle. OSU has some outstanding individual talents in DE Emmanuel Ogbah, RB Tyreek Hill and CB Kevin Peterson, but it is not effective in throwing or slowing passing offenses and doesn't run the ball particularly well or stop the run well. OSU is only in the top half of the conference in rush defense (and it's fifth), but it was giving up 3.87 yards a carry going into this week and the Longhorns pounded the Cowboys' defense for 60 minutes.
This is a rebuilding year in Stillwater and the excuses are there if the Cowboys want them. DC Glenn Spencer is working with an almost all-new front seven. OC Mike Yurcich is dealing with a young, banged-up offensive line and a first-year starter at quarterback who hadn't played a snap before the season.
However, OSU was stuck rebuilding in 2012 and won eight games with three close losses to Baylor, Oklahoma and Texas. The Cowboys have now lost four consecutive games by at least 21 points. Something has to change.
Losing on Saturday might be better for Kansas in the long run. If KU had managed to beat TCU on Saturday, Kansas fans would have been beating down Sheahon Zenger's door to hire Clint Bowen immediately.
Kansas did not win, but Bowen still impressed KU fans and surely, Zenger. Kansas' improvement (especially on offense) has provided flashes of what could be coming if he gets the job, and Zenger told the Kansas City Star he will do his "due diligence" in the coaching search. It's the right move. Bowen might be KU's guy. He might not be. That decision will be easier to make with more data to process and more candidates to talk to after the season. A win on Saturday might have either a) forced Kansas to make a popular decision largely on emotion and a limited sample size or b) forced Kansas to an decision unpopular with fans and players to not remove the interim tag from Bowen's title.
That's not a good position for Zenger and the KU athletic department. Instead, they got to see what truly was an impressive performance even without the win and the pressure that would inevitably come with it.
It might not have been what was best for Bowen, but it was a very good result for the long-term future of Kansas' football program.
Texas will be in good shape after Year 1 under Charlie Strong. After falling to 2-4 midway through the season, Texas is 6-5 and headed to a bowl game, despite having a beat-up offensive line and losing its starting quarterback after the first game of the year. Since then, Tyrone Swoopes has gotten better and better and Texas' offense has gotten more and more balanced. The defense has been what many expected, but few teams in the league could gain more from those 15 extra bowl practices than Texas. The improvement from September to now is obvious, and Texas already got its signature win last week against West Virginia.
You know what would be a good way to end the regular season? Knocking off a top five team. If only the Longhorns had an opportunity...