NORMAN — Playing at Oklahoma means playing in some harsh weather elements. Blazing heat and harsh winds are common. Brutal cold, however, typically isn’t something the Sooners have to brave very often.
That will change at 11 a.m. Saturday when No. 22 OU (8-2, 5-2 Big 12) faces Kansas State (6-4, 4-3) at Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan, Kan.
The temperature at kickoff is expected to be well below freezing. Conditions like that only come along once every couple of years. OU hasn’t played a game with the temperature below freezing since the 2008 Big 12 championship game against Missouri. Those relics of the days when the league consisted of 12 teams were something OU coach Bob Stoops referenced when asked about the elements this week.
But the fact is the cold air and wind is going to affect an offense that’s struggled to throw the ball this season. Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel doesn’t believe the climate should play a role Saturday.
“We’re more than capable of going up there — I don’t care what the weather is, cold, windy, snow, whatever — executing, being physical in the run game, being efficient with the play-action pass, hitting big shots,” he said. “That’s what we need to do.”
Ideally, the Sooners would have done that all season. But games where OU has put that all together have been rare. The Sooners enter Saturday’s game averaging 187.6 passing yards a game and have completed just 57.2 percent of their attempts.
Adding to the issue is that Trevor Knight — a native of balmy San Antonio — will get the start today.
Relying on the running game, which is Knight’s overwhelming strength, seems to be essential. The 405-yard rushing performance the Sooners unleashed in last Saturday’s victory over Iowa State seems to bode well.
But this is a game where the team that’s able to hit a couple deep shots is going to have a major advantage.
Few of OU’s receivers have ever played in weather like they’ll face Saturday. Senior Jalen Saunders, who transferred to OU from Fresno State, said his only experience was playing in the Humanitarian Bowl in 2010.
“You have to go out there and play ball,” he said. “Rain, sleet, snow, it doesn’t matter.”
The one thing going for both teams is no precipitation and winds will be moderate.
“I always feel like it’s the wind more than the temperature. Doesn’t really matter how cold it is. But wind can affect the game more than even rain or the temperature,” receivers coach Jay Norvell said. “As far as I know, it’s supposed to be dry. And if it does rain I don’t think it’ll be rain; it’ll be snow if it’s 20 degrees. Our guys have been practicing outside. It’s not quite that cold, but we’ll be ready to play.”
For a lot of teams, winning late in the regular season often means battling the elements along with the opponents. Under Stoops, his better teams didn’t seem to be affected when the temperature dropped. Saturday, will tell the tale on whether this team is up to the task.
There’s no secret to handling the conditions.
“It doesn’t matter. You just have to play,” Stoops said.
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