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Oklahoma Football: Previewing Bedlam From The Sooners' Perspective

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NORMAN, Oklahoma -

It's finally Bedlam week.

Historically, this rivalry has lacked nothing from a passion and intensity standpoint, but the results have been decidedly one-sided in favor of Oklahoma. After 107 meetings, the Sooners lead the all-time series, 83-17-7. However, that stat doesn't give a clear picture on the rivalry's intensity.

36 of the 107 meetings have been decided by 10 points or less or have ended in a tie. Since Bob Stoops became head coach of Oklahoma in 1999, there have been six such games.

While Oklahoma has owned the rivalry, Oklahoma State has never been better than they are right now. The Cowboys are in the middle of the most successful period in program history, highlighted by the fact that with a win, this year's senior class would be the winningest in Oklahoma State history with 42 wins. That includes an eight-win season a year ago.

The days of Oklahoma steamrolling the Cowboys are over. If the Sooners do manage to rattle off another big winning streak in the series, it won't be by 40 points every time. Oklahoma State is here to stay and while that might unsettle many OU fans who enjoy plowing through their arch rival, it's great for the game itself and the players say they prefer it that way.

This year, the Cowboys and their fans have reason to be as confident as they have ever been in the series. Oklahoma State has won seven in a row and comes in off a complete dismantling of Baylor two weeks ago. The offense is humming and the defense is causing havoc for opposing offenses.

Oklahoma finally seems to have found an offensive identity the past two weeks with quarterback Trevor Knight running the read-option offense the Sooners thought they would be running all season in August. The quarterback issues have been ironed out and the defense has played well, despite giving up a boatload of yards to Kansas State wide receiver Tyler Lockett two weeks ago.

Oklahoma State is favored by double digits and Boone Pickens Stadium will be rocking on Saturday morning. It will be extremely cold, but as both head coaches have said, both teams have to deal with that.

It's too early to say the rivalry has shifted to the Cowboys. After all, OSU has won just once in the past 10 meetings. However, OSU will be quick to point out that with a win, they'll have won two of the past three meetings and won two Big 12 championships in the process.

Bedlam is most certainly different than it once was, and that has made it more intense than it already was. It's great for the fans and teams of both schools, but it's just as good for the fans of college football, who sometimes under appreciate just how great this rivalry is.

Five keys for Oklahoma

1. Establish the run game

Oklahoma has had tremendous success on the ground the past two weeks, racking up 706 yards against Iowa State and Kansas State. Knight taking over the quarterback role has opened things up dramatically for the Oklahoma offense, as defenders have to account for Knight's speed as well as the OU running backs. The Cowboys have been good stopping the run this season, allowing just 130 yards per game on the ground, 21st in the country. Meanwhile, Oklahoma is 15th in the country in rushing offense, averaging 242.3 yards per game. Brennan Clay proved against KSU that Oklahoma would be ok without Damien Williams, who was dismissed from the team for a violation of team rules. Keith Ford also returns for OU from an ankle injury that caused him to miss the past several games. Something's gotta give.

2. Put Trevor Knight in positions to be successful

Knight was benched during the West Virginia game earlier this season because he wasn't cutting it throwing the football. Since his return to the lineup against Iowa State, Knight has completed 22-of-34 passes for 232 yards, a touchdown and an interception that wasn't his fault. Against Kansas State, Knight looked poised and collected in the pocket and had really good velocity on all of his throws. Knight isn't going to go out on Saturday and throw for 400 yards, but the Sooners can put him in position to be successful by calling for easy throws and taking what the OSU gives them. The Cowboys are probably going to look to pressure Knight and force him into poor decisions. Knight's legs will help alleviate that problem, but he has to make good decisions in the passing game for the Sooners to have a chance in this one. The pieces around him—including coaches—have to help him do that.

3. Protect the football

The Cowboys excel in forcing turnovers and taking care of the ball themselves. Oklahoma State currently ranks third in the nation in turnover margin at plus-16 and is eighth with 29 takeaways. Oklahoma has done a good job of taking care of the ball this season, turning the ball over just 14 times (five fumbles, nine interceptions). On the road, turnovers will be a huge factor that could ignite the rowdy crowd at Boone Pickens Stadium. The Sooners will have to continue doing a good job of taking care of the football to make sure they don't hand the Cowboys momentum with a costly fumble or ill-advised interception.

4. Get off the field on third down

The Sooners have done a great job of getting off the field on third down this season, ranking 20th in the country in third down defense. The last two games have been especially good for the Sooners, as ISU and KSU combined to convert just 8-of-23 third downs. Oklahoma State hasn't been great this year on third downs, ranking 62nd in the country with a 40.4 percent conversion rate. During OSU's seven-game winning streak, the Cowboys have converted 37.1 percent of their third downs. It's been one of the few areas the Cowboys have been bad in during their recent tear. If the Sooners can force third downs, especially third and longs, they have a great chance of being able to limit the OSU offense.

5. Pressure Clint Chelf

Chelf has only been sacked five times this season, four since he became the Cowboys' primary quarterback against TCU. A lot of that has to do with his mobility but a larger part has to do with the job the OSU offensive line has done this season. The Cowboys have given up just 10 sacks this season, 10th in the country. The Sooners not only have to get pressure on Chelf, but they'll have to do a good job of containing him once he escapes the pocket. The Sooners built this defense to have more speed to contend with the wide-open passing attacks of the Big 12. They passed their first test against Texas Tech, but they didn't have to contend with much of a running QB. Chelf poses that threat and is coming off the best game of his career throwing the football.

Three key players for Oklahoma State

1. QB Clint Chelf- 1,592 passing yards, 14 TDs, 5 INTs, 305 rushing yards, 6 TDs

Chelf has (again) provided the Cowboys with much-needed stability at quarterback. The past two games, against Texas and Baylor, he was sensational in leading OSU to two blowout wins. He's making great decisions throwing the football and is a sneaky-fast and elusive runner. He makes the OSU offense click and the Cowboys are finally humming like we've become accustomed to the past few seasons.

2. CB Justin Gilbert- 37 tackles, six INTs, 2 TDs, 28.2 KR average, 1 TD

Gilbert had a terrible year in 2012, but has rebounded nicely; picking off six passes and taking two back for scores. He's a dangerous kickoff return man, ranking 10th in the nation with his 28.2 yard average. Gilbert could tie the NCAA record of seven kickoff returns for touchdowns with one against the Sooners. Better believe OU will be focused on not allowing him to do that.

3. WR Josh Stewart- 45 catches, 555 yards, 2 TDs, 18.2 PR average, 2 TDs

Stewart is an electric player with great speed and a quickness few can match. He ranks fourth in the nation in punt returns and has taken two back for touchdowns this season. He's also the team receptions leader so far this season, snagging three more passes than Tracey Moore. Stewart will have to be contained on punts, but will also be a tough cover for the OU secondary.

Key Matchup: OU front seven vs. OSU rushing offense

The Cowboys haven't been great running the ball this season. OSU averages just 169.5 yards per game and has only recently discovered a semblance of a run game with Desmond Roland. During the seven-game winning streak, the Cowboys have averaged 175.3 yards per game on the ground and have topped 150 yards four times. A lot of the Cowboys' success throwing the ball comes as a result of a newfound respect opponents have to have for the running game. If the Sooners can bottle up Roland and Jeremy Smith, they'll have a great chance of harassing Chelf into making some poor decisions in the passing game. However if OSU is able to get both the ground game and passing game going, it could look a lot like 2011, when the Cowboys blew the Sooners out, 44-10.

Prediction: Oklahoma State 31, Oklahoma 20

The Sooners have a lot of confidence and are big underdogs, something they said they won't talk about but it's hard to believe that. However, the Cowboys are playing great football and with the opportunity to clinch a BCS bowl, a Big 12 title and a win over hated Oklahoma in front of the home fans on the table, OSU will continue the winning streak.

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