LAWRENCE, Kan. — Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops knew that Sterling Shepard could throw the ball. He had no idea that another wide receiver, Lacoltan Bester, may have an even better arm.
The former high school quarterback hit Shepard in stride on a razzle-dazzle, end-around pass late in the first half Saturday, giving No. 18 Oklahoma a lead it would never relinquish in a 34-19 bounce-back win over Big 12 bottom-dweller Kansas.
“Lacoltan just threw a great ball,” Stoops said of the 49-yard touchdown toss. “I told him giving him the game ball that he needed to give the quarterback some lessons.”
Not that Blake Bell had a lousy afternoon of his own.
Bell threw for 131 yards and two touchdowns, and also ran for 53 yards, as the Sooners (6-1, 3-1) emerged from a Red River rout hangover courtesy of Texas to win their ninth straight over the Jayhawks. It was Oklahoma’s 15th straight win the week after playing the Longhorns.
“We did start out slow,” Bell said, “and I just keep telling the guys on the sideline, ‘Keep coming, keep doing what we do, and stuff will work out for us.’”
James Sims ran for 129 yards and two touchdowns for Kansas (2-4, 0-3), but he didn’t have much help. Jake Heaps was just 5 of 13 for 16 yards passing, the fewest yards through the air for Kansas since throwing for 15 yards in a loss to Nebraska in 2010.
On a couple occasions, Heaps was benched for freshman Montell Cozart, who had his redshirt taken away by coach Charlie Weis in the first half. Cozart didn’t attempt a pass.
“I think it’s a combination of a lot of things,” Heaps said. “We just couldn’t seem to get it going, whether it was guys hanging onto the ball in certain times, myself putting the ball in the right spots or just not having the opportunity to look down the field. We’ve definitely got to clean it up because we had a lot of positive things going for us offensively.”
The Jayhawks tried to make it interesting in the fourth quarter, when they blocked a punt deep in Oklahoma territory. Sims promptly scored from 6 yards out to pull them within 25-19, but the extra point was blocked and returned by Aaron Colvin to give the Sooners two points.
Oklahoma, which has won 21 straight following a loss, promptly went 75 yards the other direction. Damien Williams finished the drive with a short TD run with 4:19 left to seal the win.
The defeat was the 24th straight in league play for the Jayhawks, who still haven’t beaten a Big 12 foe since knocking off former member Colorado on Nov. 6, 2010.
“You really have one of two ways to go when things don’t go well, especially halfway through the year,” Weis said. “You’re sitting 2-4, you can say, ‘Ah, the hell with it. We’re 2-4. That’s how it’s going to go.’ Or you can do whatever you can to be part of the answer.”
Early on, it looked as if the Jayhawks might finally have found some answers.
The Sooners still seemed to be smarting from last weekend’s 36-20 loss at the Cotton Bowl when Kansas forced them to punt on their first series. Sims then carried eight times for 63 yards on a drive that ended when Heaps hit Jimmay Mundine from a yard out for a 7-0 lead.
Kansas stuffed Bell and the Oklahoma offense in the early going, and they got the ball back late in the first quarter. This time, Darrian Miller ripped off a 38-yard run, and Kansas took advantage of a pass interference penalty before Sims scampered 11 yards for a 13-0 lead.
That’s when everything started to unravel.
The Sooners got within 13-6 on Bell’s 16-yard touchdown toss to Jaz Reynolds, and then Weis elected to take the redshirt off Cozart. The freshman quarterback went backward 11 yards in his first three plays under center, and the Jayhawks were forced to punt.
Oklahoma came after it and blocked it through the end zone for a safety. The fancy Bester-to-Shepard pass moments later gave Oklahoma a 15-13 lead, and Michael Hunnicutt’s 37-yard field goal extended the advantage just before halftime.
The Sooners threatened to put the game out of reach in the third quarter when Shepard hauled in his second TD pass, this time from Bell. But the Jayhawks kept within striking distance heading into the fourth quarter, when Oklahoma managed to finally put it away.
“Always want more. There’s still a lot of plays to be made out there,” Bell said, “but I think we’re headed in the right direction.”