Heartbeat of the Heartland: Meet Kyle Kempt

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmail

A perusal of the Power Five conference standings reveals that the Big 12 Conference, which a month ago was in the unusual position of being praised, is the only P5 league with just one undefeated team.

Oklahoma, with its victory at Ohio State in Week Two, and Oklahoma State, with a dominating 3-0 start, were expected to fulfill the pre-season prophecies and battle it out for a College Football Playoff spot. Now, with the season nearing its halfway point, the Sooners and the Cowboys find themselves each with a loss that reduces their margin for error to zero.

Of course, it remains possible that TCU, at 5-0 the only Big 12 team that hasn’t lost, or Oklahoma or Oklahoma State could finish the season with just one loss and earn a spot in the CFP final four. On the other hand, the odds are greater that the Big 12’s four peer conferences can finish with four teams that are judged superior to the winner of the Big 12 championship game.

There is also some significant and rich irony brewing in the Big 12. One of the league’s heavyweights appears close to being “back” but all that means this season is that it will be a spoiler.

Since losing to Alabama in the 2009 Bowl Championship Series title game, Texas has been mediocre. Instead of a national brand, the Longhorns have stumbled in the wilderness as the Big 12 lost four schools to realignment and was considered a conference that would implode at any moment.

Over the last seven seasons, Texas has compiled a 46-42 record. Instead of joining Oklahoma in giving the Big 12 a one-two punch of schools with gravitas, UT became just another team.

That was supposed to change with the hiring of Tom Herman. He’ll make his debut as a head coach in the Red River Rivalry Saturday. Lincoln Riley, his counterpart, will also be coaching in his first Oklahoma-Texas rumble.  The Longhorns are coming off a double-overtime victory over Kansas State while the Sooners are reeling from an unthinkable upset loss to Iowa State.

Texas is 2-0 in the Big 12 for the first time since 2013 and just the sixth time in 21 Big 12 seasons. The Longhorns are not in the CFP mix but it can definitely play a role in deciding if the Big 12 has a team in the final four. It starts with the Sooners Saturday. After that game, the Longhorns will return to Austin to play Oklahoma State. It’s not inconceivable that in two weeks, Texas could end the CFP hopes for both Oklahoma schools.

“I think each week in college football is its own entity,” Herman said after his team’s victory over K-State. “They’re all mutually exclusive.”

That’s an excellent point. Beating a Kansas State team that scored seven points against a Vanderbilt team that has allowed 142 points in three Southeastern Conference losses only muddles the narrative. But there are indications that Herman’s messaging is getting through.

“When we went into overtime, I told the offense, ‘We’ve been here before and this is just like USC,’” Herman said. “I think it was (offensive lineman) Patrick Vahe looked at me and said, ‘Yeah, except we’re going to win it this time.’

“We have tasted what it feels like to win and win close ballgames. We’ve also tasted what it’s like to lose close ballgames. So, I think we’re well aware of the difference in that taste and the steps necessary to make sure that we’re on the right end of that.”

Oklahoma could take out its anger and show Texas that it’s not “back.” On the other hand, Texas being a spoiler is like casting Scarlett Johansson as a plain Jane girl who can’t get a date, it’s still a step toward respectability.

It’s not that easy

This is an example of how statistics don’t always represent facts. TCU has the easiest remaining schedule of any Power Five team that has yet to suffer a loss.

The Frogs’ remaining opponents and their combined records are 18-17. That record is skewed by the fact that TCU still has games remaining against Baylor and Kansas, who are a combined 1-9. The Frogs still have to face Oklahoma, Texas, TexasTech, Iowa State and Kansas State.

TCU will be in Manhattan Saturday to face a Wildcats team coming off a double-overtime loss at Texas. The smart guys in Las Vegas consider it a toss-up game.

“It’s hard to be 5-0,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said after his team defeated West Virginia to reach that record. “Now we have to go to Manhattan, Kansas, at 11 in the morning, which is a tough place to play. … We are going to try to beat Kansas State by one point.”

Who?

Let the annals of Iowa State football forever state that the hero of one of the school’s greatest football victories was quarterback Kyle Kempt?

Who the hell is Kyle Kempt?

You’ll have to search long and hard to find a more obscure player having such a major role in an upset of historical proportions. Since graduating from Massillon Washington High School in Ohio as a three-star recruit in 2012, he had attempted two passes in college. And Saturday against the Sooners, he was 18-of-24 for 343 yards and three touchdowns – better numbers than those posted by OU’s Baker Mayfield. Kempt’s 25-yard TD pass to Allen Lazard with 2:19 remaining provided the winning margin.

“He was phenomenal,” Iowa State coach Matt Campbell told USA Today. “I’m really proud of him. He’s exactly what you want in your quarterback. Even when he wasn’t a starter, he’s a kid that prepared diligently like he was the starter.”

Coaching changes altered Kempt’s college career. He was originally headed for Cincinnati before Butch Jones took the Tennessee job. He spent two years riding the bench at Oregon State but left that program when Mike Riley took the Nebraska job. He then spent a season not playing at Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College.

When Campbell – who also is from Massillon and had recruited Kempt when he was at Toledo – took the Iowa State job, Kempt contacted the coach and requested the opportunity to walk on. Kempt’s opportunity knocked when starting QB Jacob Park left the team last week to deal with a personal health issue.

“He’s a pretty special young guy,” Campbell said of Kempt.

Quick slants

    • TCU quarterback Kenny Hill became the fourth player in Big 12 history and the second in a conference game to rush for a touchdown, throw for a score and catch a TD pass.
    • In its last two games against Baylor and Iowa State, Oklahoma’s secondary has allowed 55-of-77 passing (68.8 percent) for 831 yards and seven touchdowns with zero interceptions.
    • Texas freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger passed for 380 yards and rushed for 107 against Kansas State. That made him the third QB in Longhorns history (Colt McCoy, 2009; Jerrod Heard, 2015) to pass for 300 yards and rush for 100 in the same game. Ehlinger’s 380 yards passing set a UT freshman record.
    • It wasn’t a happy 78th birthday for Kansas State coach Bill Snyder Saturday as the Wildcats lost in double overtime at Texas. Snyder, who is known for his classy gestures of hand-written notes to opposing coaches and players, had the tables turned as the Longhorns presented him with a signed card before the game.

Quote, unquote

Oklahoma linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo on facing Texas in the Red River Rivalry Satuday:

 “This game is going to define the rest of our season. We need to win out to accomplish the goals we have for the end of the season. It starts with this week. It starts today at practice.”

The Open Man’s favorite player, Iowa State’s Joel Lanning, who played 57 snaps on defense, 13 on offense and eight on special teams in the Cyclones’ upset of No. 3 Oklahoma. Here’s Cyclones coach Matt Campbell discussing how he’s monitoring Lanning’s dual roles:

“This kid has been a key contributor to our defense and was growing into the leader of our defense — and now we’re asking him to play a position (quarterback) that he hadn’t played in a while. It would have been way too early (to do it before last Saturday). You can’t ask him to do too much; you can’t put him in a position where all of a sudden he’s doing too much … and he’s ineffective and he’s the jack of all trades — and the master of nothing.”

Kansas coach David Beaty after his team’s 65-19 shellacking at home by Texas Tech:

“Y’all want me to say ‘disappointed’ a bunch, and I’m not going to do it. We’re about our next play, period. Am I happy about the way things turned out? No, I’m not. I’m not ready to flush this thing, I can tell you that. We’re going to be all right. We’ll get back to work, and we’ll be ready to go.”