Carlson: Why OU, OSU football should be aware home field isn't the advantage it used to be
The public address announcer didn’t need to say much.
“It’s thiiiiiird down!” he bellowed.
The purple-clad crowd at Kansas State responded, going full throttle. But when there’s only a quarter of the normal crowd, full throttle doesn’t sound like it used to. Not as loud. Not as disruptive.
Arkansas State, K-State's visitor last Saturday, didn’t have to adjust like most opponents do in Manhattan. Even on that third down, the last one of Arkansas State’s game-winning, fourth-quarter drive, hand signals and silent counts weren’t necessary.
Three plays later, the visitors scored a touchdown.
Scored a big road upset, too.
A week into the Big 12's return to action, we’ve seen what could be the start of a trend: the diminishing of home-field advantage. Coronavirus capacity restrictions have sliced crowd sizes by 75% or more, and while that didn’t affect traditional powerhouse in the league — OU and Texas won their openers by a combined 104 points — programs that have been dangerous at home were instead the ones who got upended.
Arkansas State upended K-State, and Louisiana-Lafayette dismantled Iowa State.
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(And no, we’re not counting Coastal Carolina’s win at Kansas as an upset; the Jayhawks lost to Coastal last year, too.)
Home teams being upset should be a warning to OU and OSU. Maybe both can avoid such fates this season, but with COVID testing, contact tracing and quarantining adding to the uncertainty, Sooners and Cowboys alike should be on guard.
“Our players have to be able to self-motivate, rely on the enthusiasm from amongst the team and coaches and focus on what’s happening on the field,” said OSU coach Mike Gundy, whose Cowboys open Saturday against Tulsa. “I don’t think there’s any question that teams use a home-field advantage to play to the crowd, and we’re not going to have that this fall.”
Stillwater, like Manhattan and Ames, has become a place where the unexpected can happen. That’s due in large part to the three programs getting a lot better over the past decade or two. Bad teams rarely beat good teams, no matter where the game is played.
But part of the secret sauce is the crowd.
The game-day scene at OSU is familiar to folks in our neck of the woods, and in many ways, K-State and Iowa State have made similar jumps in recent years. Games are events that start long before kickoff. Parking lots fill early. Grill haze wafts everywhere.
And when the games start, the passion moves into the stadiums. Those crowds might not win games, but they make a difference. The noise makes it more difficult for visiting teams to communicate. The energy adds to the home teams' momentum swings.
The results are evident.
Look at Iowa State and Kansas State, and you'll see both have beaten four top-25 teams at home in the past decade, including Iowa State's win over OSU in 2011 and K-State's win over OU in 2019.
Maybe such victories are still on the horizon for K-State and Iowa State this season, but it sure looks like some of their magic has been muted. K-State only had a crowd of 11,041 for the Arkansas State game, not even a quarter of the usual capacity of 50,000. Iowa State had even fewer fans because only family members of players and staff were allowed. Attendance in the 61,500-seat stadium was estimated at less than a thousand.
Would more fans at Iowa State have prevented its offense from going stagnant in the second half or kept Louisiana-Lafayette from scoring not one, but two touchdowns on special-teams returns?
Would more fans at K-State have kept Jonathan Adams from catching that game-winning touchdown and giving Arkansas State one of the biggest victories in the history of the program?
Hard to say, but home field isn’t the advantage it used to be.
“We knew going into the game it wouldn’t be nearly as many fans,” OU linebacker DaShaun White said after the Sooners had 22,700 for their opener. “What we wanted to do is create our own energy. We didn’t want any external factors to be responsible for how we performed.”
The Sooners did it.
The Cowboys plan to do it.
But clearly in this odd season, home sweet home can unexpectedly go sour.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.