Bedlam. The word says it all.
“1. a scene or state of wild uproar and confusion. 2. Archaic. an insane asylum or madhouse.” – Dictionary.com.
For the two teams meeting in Stillwater, OK on a unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon, both definitions will be applicable. These are fan bases that love to hate each other and are quick to put each other down. Oklahoma State’s recent ascendance to the higher levels of college football has added more fuel to the fire. This rivalry has gone from comically lopsided to being the game that decides who is the best team in the Big 12 in recent years.
This year is more than bragging rights. This year is than a Big 12 title and the College Football Playoff. This year is about legacies, monkeys, and breaking curses. Oh, and ESPN’s College GameDay will be in town on top of all that. Bedlam is about the only word that can really sum up how this game is going to be.
DATE & TIME: SAT, NOV 4, 3:00 PM CT
LOCATION: T. Boone Pickens Stadium, Stillwater, OK
FORECAST: Partly Cloudy and 81 degrees, slight chance of rain
BETTING LINE: OSU -2.5
OKLAHOMA SOONERS (7-1, 3-1)
Oklahoma will be coming to Stillwater with a record many predicted they would have at this point. However, just not to the teams they have it against. It seemed like only Sooner fans thought the Crimson and Cream would have a chance in Columbus. After smacking around the Buckeyes for four quarters it was hard to see a potential loss on the schedule before November 4th. Iowa State had other plans, upsetting the Big 12 status quo and having a magical season in their own right.
The Sooners are still in control of their own destiny. Win out and they will be heading to the Big 12 Championship Game with high probability of making the College Football Playoff. Lose and this season will be seen as a failure. This is a team that made no bones about it. They want a national title and nothing less.
Baker Mayfield will be looking to cement his legacy as one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever suit up for Oklahoma. Since taking over as QB1 a couple of years ago, all Mayfield has done is restore the intangible X factor that seemed to be missing from this offense since Sam Bradford went down against BYU in 2009. Doubt number 6 at your own risk. In away games Mayfield has thrown for 1381 yards, 10 touchdowns, two interceptions and a 73 percent completion rate.
Complementing Mayfield has been a potent rushing attack spearheaded by a three-headed monster of Trey Sermon, Abdul Adams, and Rodney Anderson. Oklahoma churns out running backs like clockwork, but this year the bench has been especially deep. Speaking of deep, the receiving core has a lot more depth than recent versions. CeeDee Lamb plays more like a senior than a freshman. Mark Andrews, a tight end, is the leading receiver for the team, however. And, lest teams just focus on those two, Marquise Brown, Jeff Badet, and Dimitri Flowers provide enough safety valves to punish opposing defenses.
Lincoln Riley is looking to establish his head coaching legacy. With a win already over Texas, he will be looking to go a perfect 2-0 in rivalry games in his inaugural season. So far, Riley has passed almost every test with flying colors. As an offensive coordinator Riley tore apart the Cowboys’ defense. Will he be able to do the same now that he has to focus on the whole team?
The chink in the armor for Oklahoma has been their own defense. Sooner fans are quick to place the blame on Mike Stoops. This writer has even criticized him a few times. Stoops has proved all comers wrong so far. In the Iowa State and Baylor games you can see the defenders trying to “make plays” instead of doing what they are coached do to. Unlike the Ohio State win, when the defense stuck to the script and shut down Urban Meyer’s offense. While not a defense of lore, Oklahoma has made the needed adjustments to secure victories in seven contests so far. The guy in charge of that, Mike Stoops.
OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS (7-1, 3-1)
Oklahoma State was also expected to be coming into this weekend undefeated. In a game that only be described as weird, though most Oklahoma State fans probably have a different word for it, TCU overthrew the Cowboys in Stillwater to spoil that. Heading into that game fans wondered if Oklahoma State would even be challenged by teams after the first half. The offensive and defensive onslaughts were clinics of perfection. They had opposing fans falling asleep in the stadium, the games were so lopsided.
As far as the rest of the season, you could almost just copy and paste an above paragraph. Oklahoma State is still in control of its own destiny. Win out and they will be heading to the Big 12 Championship Game with high probability of making the College Football Playoff. Lose and this season will be seen as a failure. Gundy made clear that this team was as good or better than his 2011 squad. A team that got squeezed out of the BCS Championship Game (makes you wonder what would have happened if it had been a four team playoff back then?).
Mason Rudolph is looking to cement his own legacy as one of the greatest quarterbacks to fuel Orange Power. Last year his numbers were off the charts. This year he has been even better except for one category. Rudolph already has five interceptions on the year compared to four in all of last year. In three home games so far he has only thrown two, both against TCU, against eight touchdown passes and 1160 yards. Number 2 is legit.
Complimenting Rudolph is James Washington, one of, if not THE, best receivers in college football right now. Eight games into the season and Washington already has over 1,000 receiving and eight touchdowns, even though every team knows to double cover him. And, when they do Rudolph simply tosses it to Marcell Ateman or Jalen McCleskey.
Running the ball has been more of a struggle for the Cowboys this year. Justice Hill is acquitting himself well with 836 yards on 151 carries. After that the production drops off. J.D. King has 445 yards on 89 carries so far and makes a serviceable back-up. But, for fans used to Gundy’s wizardry of conjuring up great back fields this season has been a slight let down.
To be fair, it has not all been the running backs themselves. As much as the offense has been the heroes so far, they have also been the villains. The one question mark this team had coming into the season was the depth of the offensive line. The question got its answer, not much. Both TCU and Texas were able to shut down these offenses by playing deep safeties up top with a middle zone while being able to shut down the run game only rushing three or four players. Part of that is the play calling and part of it has been the lack of depth as o-line injuries piled up. Against West Virginia Oklahoma State finally had its starting line back together. The Cowboys need that line to stay healthy against the Sooners.
All of that brings us to the question we have wondered for 12 years: does Mike Gundy have an OU problem or a Bob Stoops problem? Gundy is the best coach that Oklahoma State has ever had. Do not let billionaire boosters fool you differently. However, in 12 years, Mike Gundy has the same number of wins against Oklahoma as Les Miles did in his four-year coaching stint: two. Gundy has gone 2-10 against the Crimson and Cream as a coach. Can he finally break through? Can Gundy give hope to the Orange Power faithful that they are not indeed cursed when it comes to this game, but they should start expecting to win?
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR OU
Follow the TCU/Texas Blueprint – Both TCU and Texas were effective in shutting down Oklahoma State’s offense. They were able to take advantage of OSU’s offensive line while dropping seven to eight players in coverage. Yurcich loves to take what the defense shows him. In three and four man rush alignments this means he usually calls for a run. Both Texas and TCU were able to bait Oklahoma State into rushing the ball for minimal gain or loss of yardage. OU’s defense needs to do the same.
Unleash “Obo” – There is not a better pass rusher in the Big 12 right now. Okoronkwo terrorizes opposing quarterbacks in their dreams. Rudolph is prone to bad decisions under pressure. Stoops needs to find ways to get his DE/LB sack machine into giving Rudolph happy feet when OSU drops back to pass.
Muzzle Mayfield – This hurts to write because vocal players make great theatre and entertainment. But, the last thing that Oklahoma wants is to anger an already fired up crowd and team. Mayfield is the guy you love when he is on your team and the guy you hate when on the other. No “Who’s your Daddy” comments. No interacting with the fans before or during the game. Shut that stuff down and find a different way for Mayfield to fire up the Sooners while not giving free fuel to the Cowboys.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR OSU
Throw the Ball – You know and I know that Yurcich hates to call a throw when he thinks he has the numbers to run. TCU and Texas were able to effectively exploit that. But, the Cowboys have a NFL-caliber quarterback and at least one, if not two or three, NFL-caliber receivers. If have to trust your talent and get the ball to your play makers and attack the weak secondary of the Sooners.
Protect Rudolph – OU has very effective pass rushers, they have made it a focus in recruiting the past couple of cycles. When OSU passes they need to give Rudolph time and a clean pocket. If OU is able to take away the passing threat at the quarterback then it will be a long and sad day in Stillwater for Cowboy fans. For OSU to win Rudolph needs time to throw.
Rise to the Occasion – The past couple of years we have seen Oklahoma State shrink into a shell of itself in Bedlam games. Normally aggressive play calling turned conservative. Players and coaches seemed more worried about making a mistake than trying to win the game. OSU needs to shake off whatever ghosts of the past it has and seize the moment. It needs to play like its season is on the line, because it is.
I hate to have to pick this game. It really is a toss up. Each team has legitimate reasons to think it can win, and legitimate reasons as to why it might lose. Honestly, this game comes down to one key match-up: Oklahoma’s defensive line vs Oklahoma State’s offensive line. I give the edge to the Sooners here. As a rivalry game I expect a whole lot of crazy. Like “Punt Six” crazy.
One thing is for sure, with bragging rights, the Big 12, a playoff berth, and legacies all on the line – this should be, hands down, the best game all year.