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    [2021] Big XII Network Week 12 in Review: Nothing Was The Same

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    Is your jaw off the floor yet? This was a particularly incredible game in the nation's most exciting conference, and I'm still not sure I believe what I just saw. Rahim Murrell had arguably the best game a Kansas State quarterback has ever had, and his game gets last billing because of what happened elsewhere over the weekend. Kansas-Oklahoma went down to the wire, because that game's never not a good one. Baylor continued taking names, this time stunning Texas Tech in Lubbock. And third-ranked TCU? Undefeated no more, slain by a resurgent and extra-dangerous Oklahoma State. Let's talk about the games.


    Friday Night


    :kstate: Kansas State 35, :wvu: West Virginia 3


    The Greatest: The most obvious takeaway is that Rahim Murrell had the best game of his career, surpassing his electric debut against Florida Atlantic by going 21-28 for 288 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. But to be frank, Murrell had the best single-game performance that any Kansas State quarterback has ever had. His 196.8 passer rating was the third-highest in school history, behind a pair of Marshall Newman efforts in 2016 and 2017. His 288 yards were the fourth-highest total by a Wildcat. It was just the sixth time a Wildcat had thrown for 3 touchdowns in a game. But what's most important is that it was the most complete performance. Harvey Fagan's legendary 503-yard, 6-touchdown performance against SMU was marred by 4 interceptions. Marshall Newman's two best games featured fewer than 20 passes each; Fagan attempted 28. The only other game in Kansas State history that featured 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions was Julius Minnow's effort against TCU in 2018; Minnow completed just 60% of his passes to Murrell's 75%. 


    Record Rout: Not only did Murrell have the best day a Kansas State quarterback has ever had, but Kansas State as a team broke a nearly 6-year-old school record for margin of victory with their 32-point win. They took a 14-0 lead into the half, but really turned up the jets after the break. Jaiden Givens had a solid effort, going for 92 yards and a pair of scores on 18 carries. Three different players intercepted newly inserted West Virginia signal-caller Darren Lemons, and Javier Tovar (1.5 sacks, 2 other TFL, 3 other tackles) led a 4-sack effort that kept the Mountaineer offense off-balance all game. 


    Tulane Remains: This season's quickly going from bad to worse for West Virginia, and their two best chances to avoid an oh-fer in conference play (a year after running the table, ironically enough) have come and gone. There's two pieces of good news. First of all, they don't have to leave Morgantown again. That'll be small comfort with Texas Tech and Texas coming into town as heavy favorites; however, they'll have a chance to close the season on a high note against 1-8 Tulane.


    Next up: As noted, West Virginia goes back home next. They're going to face Solomon McLaughlin and Texas Tech. It probably won't be pretty. Kansas State, meanwhile, goes on the road to TCU. That probably won't be pretty either, but the Wildcats are coming in with a bit of momentum and they would put themselves in the bowl conversation with a win. So maybe don't count them out, right?


    Saturday Afternoon


    :kansas: Kansas 16, :ou: Oklahoma 13


    D Stands Tall: A year after the highest-scoring War for the North in the history of the matchup, the Kansas and Oklahoma defenses came to play. Both teams allowed one touchdown and forced two turnovers. Both teams were held under 40% on third down. And there were just 29 combined points, down from an average of 51.4 per game. Oklahoma's Jaiden Witherspoon and Elijah Williams each picked off the normally steady Christian Graham (and batted down another pass apiece, to boot). David Kaiser was unblockable, racking up a sack and a pair of tackles for loss as the Sooners held Rod Fulton to 64 yards on 17 carries. They held Kansas to 16 points, but it just wasn't enough as the Jayhawk defense was just as fierce. Bradley Spurlock picked off Eric Pope, Albert Duke stripped Maurice White, and the Jayhawks held the Sooners to 266 yards and 13 points on the day.


    The Drill of Victory, the Agony of the Feet: We've said it time and time again, and we'll say it once more: kicking matters. Normally, both of these kickers are on their game. Joel Hawley was 3-for-3, hitting a 44-yarder in the first half and a pair of short-range kicks in the fourth quarter to keep Kansas ahead. And Louis Dwyer's an excellent kicker as well--but these have not been the best couple of weeks for him. He missed an extra point last week (and a 56-yarder, but that's forgivable). This time, he had the chance to tie the game at 16 with just over two minutes to play with a 44-yard attempt. The snap was good, the hold was good, and the kick...was off the upright. Oklahoma would not see the ball again.


    Instant Classic, As Scheduled: The Kansas-Oklahoma rivalry has consistently been among the Big XII's most exciting and most important, and this game was no exception. Kansas improved to 6-2 in the series, but this could just as easily be 6-2 Oklahoma given how close most of these games have been. This is the third KU-OU game to be decided by three points, and it's the sixth to be decided by one possession. In fact, this is the fourth consecutive game in the series to be decided by a possession--one game played in the teens, one in the 20s, one in the 30s, and one in the 40s. You never quite know what you're going to get, other than an instant classic.


    Next up: With the loss, Oklahoma drops to 5-4 (3-3), and things start to get a little bit dicier for them--but only a little. They should beat Iowa State. They really should. And if they do, they'll be bowl-eligible. If they don't, then beating Texas Tech or Oklahoma State will be harder. But they really should beat Iowa State. Kansas, for their part, is now 6-3 (4-2). They're probably not in the conference title game picture without a lot of help. But they'll travel to Texas to try and keep their 4-game winning streak alive, and they'll close with sub-.500 Iowa State and Kansas State. Jayhawk fans should be optimistic about the rest of their season.


    Saturday Evening


    :baylor: Baylor 31, :ttu: #22 Texas Tech 20


    Olm-steady: Baylor scored 31 points on a tough Texas Tech defense, and it's hard to understate the role that redshirt freshman quarterback Caleb Olmsted's ability to stand and deliver under pressure played in this game. Olmsted completed 21 of his 35 attempts for 256 yards and a pair of scores. That's despite taking another 3 sacks and several more quarterback hurries. He's been one of the most pressured quarterbacks in the conference, he's thrown a lot of passes into coverage (12 have now been batted down this season)--but he still avoids actually turning it over, and he's good for a few absolutely beautiful throws per game. Even with two touchdowns from Miles Street (on 66 yards), this was Olmsted's show.


    Dropping the Ball: When you're carrying the ball 26.8 times per game, eventually you're gonna take a few licks. And when you take a few licks, eventually one of those is going to jar the ball loose. That was the case on a crucial possession in the 3rd quarter, when Ezekiel Sewell was able to jar the ball loose from the normally steady Solomon McLaughlin. Andrew Newton fell on it for the Baylor takeaway, and that would lead to a Street touchdown run on the other end to put the Bears up 24-10 in Lubbock. To be fair to the superstar sophomore, McLaughlin had a fantastic day otherwise. He put up another 111 yards on 26 carries, scoring both of his team's touchdowns in the process. But the fumble is his third of the season: Texas Tech is 0-3 now when he fumbles, and 6-0 when he doesn't.


    Home Field Disadvantage: Oklahoma State lost to Kansas. Texas lost to Texas Tech. Oklahoma lost to Baylor. Texas Tech also lost to Baylor. This marks the fourth consecutive week that a ranked Big XII team has lost at home to an unranked opponent, and all four times it's been a different team. Related: there's not a ton of separation in the nation's most exciting conference. Anyone is capable of beating anyone, anywhere, and you have to be on your guard at all times. Until now, the only semblance of predictability was TCU's unbeaten run. ...We'll talk about that next.


    Up next: Texas Tech drops to 6-3 (4-2), but they still control their destiny in the race for the Big XII title game. This was their final home game of the season, but they should be able to knock off West Virginia on the road. That will lead them to a pivotal week 14 matchup in Stillwater. The winner of that game will be a favorite to make it to the championship, though Oklahoma will have the opportunity to play spoiler to both teams in the final two weeks. At 6-3 (4-3), Baylor's been wading through the thick of their schedule. They get a well-earned bye in week 13 before hitting the road to take on a tough Arizona. They then get Oklahoma State at home and TCU on the road to close out the regular season. Not easy, but play like this and who knows?


    :okst: Oklahoma State 20, :tcu: #3 TCU 16


    Out of Luck: The biggest test of the season for Oklahoma State's pass defense was a resounding success, as the Cowboys did nothing less than pour dry ice on Felix Luck's hot streak. They held Luck to 208 yards, the lowest total he's recorded all season. They held him to 59.5% passing. They held him to 5.6 yards per attempt. They gave up one touchdown through the air (or at all), and both Sebastian Byrd and Khalil Goodson recorded an interception. By passer rating (104.8), it's the third-worst game Luck's had all season--better only than his efforts against Tennessee and LSU. Other times, that was enough to ride the crest of the defense's wave. But...


    Keep Moving Forward: Oklahoma State didn't have a lot of negative plays, and they didn't have a lot of zero plays. It should be noted that this is highly unusual against a talented and aggressive TCU defense. Normally, they put pressure on you; Oklahoma State kept the pocket clean for Ian Baldwin. Normally, they jump routes and cover all over the field; Ian Baldwin completed 19 of 25 passes with only 1 touchdown but "only" 1 interception. Normally, the deep ball is just plain not an option against the Horned Frogs' safeties; Baldwin averaged an even 10 yards per attempt. Normally, they stop runningbacks in their tracks; Barack Holmes's 40-yard touchdown run was part of a 22-carry, 124-yard effort that kept the TCU defense off-balance and on its toes the whole game. Put simply, Oklahoma State's offense checked off every box it needed in order to give the team a shot.


    Hearts of Iron, Legs of Mortals: Both kickers in this game were asked to pull off truly Herculean feats. TCU's William Finn was trotted out five times. He nailed attempts from 43, 44, and 25 to account for all of TCU's second-half points. He was also asked to try from 57 at the end of the first half and 53 later on, and neither attempt proved to be within his capability--his career-long is an even 50 yards, and he's 2-7 from that range and beyond after Saturday. Ralph Hinson's day was surprisingly similar. He hit a pair of field goals, one from 38 and one from 36. He was also asked to attempt one from 55, and it wasn't particularly close either. He's never hit one longer than 45 and is now 0-3 from 50-plus. It wouldn't be hard to blame either coach for punting in opposing territory on 4th-and-long at this point.


    Sixty Free Yards: Sometimes the little things can make a big difference. Maybe a few extra yards here and there puts you in slightly better field position, which turns a couple of kicks from just outside of William Finn's range into an easily executable pair of chip shots. Finding little edges can matter, and Oklahoma State's discipline gave them that little edge. They committed just 3 penalties for 15 yards; TCU was penalized 9 times for 75 yards. It's not always obvious how long an advantage gained by those few yards persists, but it only just has to last long enough.


    New World Order: Oklahoma State's win rocked the Big XII picture, and all of a sudden the Cowboys are in the pole position as we begin the home stretch of the 2021 regular season. They're tied with TCU at 5-1 in the conference. Kansas and Texas Tech are a game back in the loss column, followed by the trio of Oklahoma, Baylor, and Texas. So if the season ended right now, we would have a rematch of this game for the conference championship. If one were to bet on the participants in the conference title game, it would be hard to pick against these two--whereas last week, Texas Tech would have been a dark horse candidate. That said, things have been changing on a week-to-week basis. Both teams will have their work cut out for them as they look to maintain their edge.


    Next up: TCU drops to 8-1 (5-1) and will welcome Kansas State with a mind set on taking out their frustration from this game on the nearest available target. They'll have a bye before closing with Texas on the road and Baylor at home. Oklahoma State is going to rise into the nation's top 25, and they'll get a bye week before they have to defend that. When they get past that, they'll have a potentially decisive game against Texas Tech followed by another pair of challenging games at Baylor and at home against Oklahoma. Neither of these teams will have it easy. The nation's most exciting conference wouldn't have it any other way.


    Byes: :isu: Iowa State (2-7), :texas: Texas (5-4)

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