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OU football: Home-field advantage another casualty of the pandemic

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OU v Kansas State Football

OU football players prepare to run onto the field before the Sooners' game against Kansas State, Saturday. Sept. 26, 2020, at Oklahoma Memorrial Stadium. (Kyle Phillips / The Transcript)

Oklahoma Memorial Stadium went as quiet as it had been all afternoon.

The third-ranked Sooners’ 38-35 loss to Kansas State became final, despite leading by three touchdowns late in the third quarter.

Turnovers, penalties and big plays doomed OU, now ranked 18th in the Associated Press poll and facing Iowa State in Ames at 6:30 p.m. Saturday on ABC.

Perhaps the home crowds that kept OU energized in tight contests, like last year’s 42-41 win over the Cyclones and 28-24 victory against TCU, might have made a difference. When Kansas State sucked the air out of the stadium with a pair of near 80-yard plays, the 22,7000 spectators couldn’t quite lift up OU as 80,000 have in the past.

OU coach Lincoln Riley thinks there might be something to that. But mostly, the home-field advantage will be lost this season in more ways than just noise.

“Both atmospheres are dulled right now,” Riley said. “That’s just the best way to explain it. I just think crowds are just going to be less of a factor, that’s probably an obvious statement. … It’s not going to have much bearing on the game one way or another, which obviously when you go on a tough road environment, whoever you are, you’re playing in front of a home crowd that’s really into the game and loud. Those do have an effect on the game, there’s no question about it.”

Riley doesn’t say this to excuse OU’s performance against Kansas State.

The Sooners’ collapse against the Wildcats was a culmination of myriad miscues — a blocked punt, a late fumble, an interception and penalties that kept a deflated OU squad from ever taking back control of the contest.

And while a raucous home crowd could have assisted the Sooners’ efforts to regain momentum, Riley doesn’t want his program to ever rely on fans to maintain focus.

“You don’t want a team that is based solely on how they play on that,” Riley said. “To me, that’s a weakness of a team. 

“But at the same time, there’s the human element of it. And at home, is it easier to get momentum back? Is it easier to ride a wave of momentum when you’ve got 90,000 people going nuts in there? Yeah, sure it is.”

The Sooners will find out if the lack of fans can help them at all against Iowa State at Jack Trice Stadium.

OU, playing away from Norman for the first time this season, will play the Cyclones in front of no more than 15,000 spectators, which is less than 25% of the Iowa State home venue’s normal capacity.

Playing a prime-time game in Ames with reduced attendance is certainly a benefit to the Sooners. Ames has been an especially tough place to play at night for Big 12 teams.

Iowa State didn’t have any prime-time Big 12 home games last season. But in 2018, it beat then-No. 6 West Virginia 30-14 and Kansas State 42-38 at night.

The year before, Iowa State narrowly lost to Texas 17-7 in its lone prime-time Big 12 home game of the year and fell to OU 34-24 in 2016.

While Jack Trice Stadium might not provide the Cyclones the same boost as it has since coach Matt Campbell arrived, OU still expects the same disinclined program that’s come within 10 points of beating the Sooners three of the last four seasons and stunned OU in Norman in 2017.

It will be a major test for first-year starting quarterback Spencer Rattler, who picked up apart Kansas State's defense for 387 yards and four touchdowns but threw three picks in a losing effort.

Riley expects Rattler’s first road game as OU’s starter to be a challenge. He’s still excited for what the redshirt freshman signal-caller can do against the Cyclones.

“I think he’s got a great makeup to potentially be a really good road quarterback,” Riley said. “That starts with going to tough places and finding ways to win tough games. That’s what this one will be.”

Joe Buettner

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Follow me @ByJoeBuettner

jbuettner@normantranscript.com

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