The stage is set for what could be the last Bedlam for the foreseeable future. The 7-1 Oklahoma Sooners will meet the 6-2 Oklahoma State Cowboys at 2:30 CT on Saturday at Boone Pickens Stadium.
Oklahoma holds a commanding lead in the series, 91-19-7, but this game means something more this year. With OU leaving for the SEC, Oklahoma State is even more motivated to send the Sooners on their way with a loss. Mike Gundy, who has a notoriously bad record against Oklahoma, made some pointed comments about Bedlam that might ruffle some feathers on the OU sideline.
Regardless of the backdrop of this game, the product on the field should be great, with both teams being Big 12 Championship hopefuls. Earlier this week, we previewed some stats and players to watch for when OSU has the ball. In this article, we’ll look at the matchup between Oklahoma’s offense and Oklahoma State’s defense.
Bedlam Preview: Sooners Offense vs. Cowboys Defense
It was a strange week on offense for the Sooners last Saturday. They moved the ball very well at times and made a concerted effort to run the ball. But they might have overcorrected because they were also too conservative, especially late in the 4th quarter when they had a chance to essentially win the game with a first down.
Head coach, Brent Venables, addressed the passing game in his press conference this week and seemed to say that there was more opportunity to be had throwing the ball downfield. It will be important for offensive coordinator, Jeff Lebby, to utilize Dillon Gabriel’s accuracy and talent at throwing out of play-action plays to create explosive passing plays.
Gabriel only attempted 19 passes against Kansas, and that will certainly not be the case against the Cowboys, who struggle to defend the pass. The Hawaiian quarterback also didn’t throw a touchdown pass for the first time since November 12th of last year. Gabriel must be better through the air if the Sooners are to have a chance in this one.
Tawee Walker had a great rushing game against the Jayhawks, and he should be ready to go against OSU after suffering a minor ankle injury late in last week’s game. Coming off a career-best 146 rushing yards should cement Walker as the lead back for Bedlam, but Gavin Sawchuk should also see some carries.
The Sooner receiving corps was largely a nonfactor last game, although Drake Stoops made it known that he is Gabriel’s most trusted receiver after making several clutch catches. Nic Anderson was held to just one catch, and Jaliil Farooq actually had more rush attempts (5) than catches (3).
Farooq’s usage is interesting because it’s easy to see that Lebby wants to get him ball in his hand to take advantage of his speed and quickness in space. But hopefully this week, the Sooners’ passing game will return to its prior success and give Gabriel plenty of room to work.
Key Player: Drake Stoops
The Norman native has been reliable since he started getting meaningful snaps for Oklahoma two years ago, and he is undoubtedly Gabriel’s favorite and most trusted pass catcher. Stoops is perfect in the short and intermediate passing games and can stretch the defense downfield every once in a while. He’ll need to continue his work in the middle of the field to open up space for the Sooners’ deep threats.
Oklahoma State Defense
The Cowboys’ defense has not been great this season: they have given up the most touchdowns and the third most yards in the conference while ranking fourth-to-last in defensive efficiency. Their opponents are averaging 24.4 points per game and have had four 100-yard rushing games and two 100-yard receiving games. All of this is to say, that Oklahoma’s potent offense is expected to move the ball well against this unit.
The Cowboys are about equal in terms of defending the run or the pass, but they’ve given up eight more passing touchdowns than rushing touchdowns. Against a lethal passer in Dillon Gabriel, that could spell trouble for Oklahoma State.
OSU’s defensive leader is redshirt sophomore linebacker Nickolas Martin, who has been one of the best and most impactful defensive players in the country. He leads the Big 12 in tackles, is second in tackles for loss, and third in sacks with five. Oklahoma’s offensive line will be hard tasked to slow him down, but it’s imperative that they do so.
Martin’s running back at linebacker, Collin Oliver has also excelled at sacking the quarterback and tackling runners behind the line of scrimmage, and he could easily take over the game if OU is too preoccupied with Martin.
In the secondary, Cameron Epps only has 19 tackles but has defended four passes and intercepted three from his safety position.
Oklahoma will have its hands full with a few of the Cowboys’ playmakers on defense, but they will also have the talent and depth advantage.
Key Player: Nickolas Martin
Martin’s level of impact on this game could go a long way to determining the outcome of this Bedlam rivalry. If the Sooners can keep him contained and possibly run a lot of play-action plays to keep him out of the backfield, they should feel confident in their offense’s ability to control the momentum and the game.
Once again, Oklahoma has the talent to dominate when they have the ball. The Oklahoma State team does have players who can make game-changing plays, but OU has more than its fair share of players who can do the same. This game means a little bit more for both teams this year and that should add an extra edge to the whole gameday experience.