Kansas football benefited from a great deal of offensive sorcery Saturday night at Oklahoma, but the Jayhawks fell short of what would’ve been a truly magical evening.
KU, 35-point underdogs against the No. 6-ranked Sooners, got 252 rushing yards and two touchdowns on just 15 attempts from true freshman Pooka Williams but ultimately fell 55-40 at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla. Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Kyler Murray carried the load for OU, passing for 272 yards, rushing for 99 more and accounting for five total touchdowns versus just one interception in his squad’s victory.
Williams and the Jayhawks made it interesting, pulling within 11 early in the fourth quarter on a 9-yard passing touchdown by Williams on a trick play to senior wide receiver Jeremiah Booker.
“Man, he’s a freak. I mean, he’s as good a player as I’ve ever been around for sure,” KU coach David Beaty said of Williams in a postgame radio interview. “Man, he’s fun to watch. Terrific kid. ... He’s caught a pass for a touchdown, he’s run for a touchdown, he’s thrown for a touchdown. He’s starting to earn that name ‘Pooka magic’ for sure.”
Murray, though, responded on the Sooners’ ensuing drive with a bursting 75-yard touchdown run, and OU’s Curtis Bolton returned a blocked punt by teammate Brayden Willis for a touchdown soon after to balloon the margin to 24 points with 12:05 left in the game.
“The block punt, that hurts now. That hasn’t been us. We haven’t given up a blocked punt here since our first season,” Beaty said. “That’s disappointing because there’s no reason that should’ve happened. We’ll look at the tape and make sure we get everything shored up, but from a special teams perspective I thought we played OK today, but we didn’t do a good enough job in the return game. But I thought we kind of stayed with it and tried to figure it out and we kind of started holding them toward the end, but that blocked punt certainly hurt.”
Williams wasn’t done — the 5-foot-10, 170-pounder out of New Orleans scored on a stop-and-go 42-yard touchdown run on the Jayhawks’ ensuing drive, and KU (3-8, 1-7 Big 12) pulled within two scores, 48-32, on a two-point conversion.
“The runs that he was makin’, he was breakin’ hella tackles out there,” KU junior safety Mike Lee said of Williams during an interview with the ESPN+ postgame show. “He broke a couple tackles then scored. I was like, this guy is the real deal.”
Murray iced the outcome in the Sooners’ response, tossing an 11-yard score to tight end Grant Calcaterra to essentially close out the victory.
“That kid’s really talented,” Beaty said of Murray, a player he recruited while at Texas A&M. “He’s the real deal. Man, he’s really good. They’ve got a few good players, but he is special.”
Williams, who entered the game leading the Big 12 in all-purpose yardage (137 per game), finished with 312 total rushing, receiving and return yards against the Sooners. Junior running back Khalil Herbert gave the game its final margin with a 25-yard touchdown run with 2:31 left and finished with 64 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 15 carries, helping lift the Jayhawks to 348 team rushing yards and 524 total yards of offense for the game. OU, meanwhile, finished with 566 total yards of offense.
Beaty cited improved play along the offensive line for the output.
“I’m very proud of those men. It’s the thing that we saw four, five weeks ago, is that there was more there, which is why I made the move I made,” said Beaty, referring to his Oct. 10 firing of offensive coordinator Doug Meacham. “I knew there was more there with what we could do, and those guys have certainly answered the bell. It’s been fun to watch them. They were certainly into the game.”
Shak Taylor notched an interception for the Jayhawks, and Lee forced a first-half fumble he recovered with OU in the red zone. Kennedy Brooks rushed 25 times for 171 yards and a pair of touchdowns for the Sooners (10-1, 7-1).
Beaty cited OU’s 9-for-10 conversion clip on third downs as a game-changer.
“I mean, (the effort was) nothing less than we expected. We definitely expected to come in here and win this game,” Beaty said. “We knew going in we had some matchups we really liked offensively for us versus them, and then we felt like we could break the serve a times.”
The Jayhawks’ 40 points were the most scored by the team in conference play in Beaty’s three-plus-year tenure, which will end with the team’s 11 a.m. Friday season finale against Texas at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. Beaty fell to 6-41 at KU on Saturday’s outcome.
“We won’t have any problem getting up for this one,” Beaty said of the team’s season finale. “It’s senior day. That’ll be the last time our seniors take the field there at David Booth (Kansas) Memorial Stadium. It’ll be emotional for a few minutes but then it’ll be time to go get to work. I’m just honored to be able to continue to spend that time with my guys.”