Oklahoma football: Defense holds key both ways in Bedlam

Oklahoma State Cowboys Football
Oklahoma Sooners Football
Saturday, Nov. 21
6:30 PM CT
Sooners -7

The winning team in the last 10 Oklahoma football games with Oklahoma State has scored at least 33 points.

That might not seem like many, given the high-octane offenses that have long been associated with the Big 12, but even that many might be a stretch considering the two defenses facing off on Saturday.

This will be the 115th meeting between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. The Sooners have won 89 of those encounters (89-18-7), the most against any OU opponent all-time.

“ESPN College GameDay” will be present for the game, the seventh time OU-OSU has been featured on “GameDay.” Oklahoma is 6-0 in those games. The last time the ESPN GameDay crew attended a Bedlam game in Norman was in 2003. Top-ranked Oklahoma won that game 52-9.

The featured matchup in the 115th edition of Bedlam, the popular term for all Oklahoma-Oklahoma State athletic competitions, will be the Big 12-best Oklahoma offense against the veteran-led Oklahoma State defense, ranked second in the Big 12 and 16th best in the country. But don’t discount the impact the Oklahoma defense — that’s right, the Sooners are actually playing defense this season — could have on this game.

The Sooners rank right behind Oklahoma State in the Big 12, allowing  311.5 yards per game, and 27th among FBS teams.

Oklahoma State comes into Saturday’s game ranked 14th in both major national polls. Oklahoma is 18th in the Associated Press Top 25 and 17th in the latest Coaches Poll.

The Sooners are 55-7 in Bedlam games when at least one of the teams is ranked.

What to watch for from Oklahoma State

Much of Oklahoma State’s success this season has been attributed to its experienced and highly stingy defense. But the Cowboy offense is equally talented and features two of the top offensive weapons in the country in running back Chuba Hubbard and wide receiver Tylan Wallace, both of whom will be playing on Sunday in future years.

Hubbard is one of the best running backs in college football. His numbers are a bit down this season (96.8 yards per game and 4.6 yards-per-carry average) compared with prior years because defenses are keying on him. But he is a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. Hubbard also catches passes out of the backfield, which makes him a dual threat.

The Sooners will have their hands full with the All-American running back. He gained 104 yards in each of his two prior appearances against Oklahoma.

The Cowboys also have a quality back behind Hubbard. Redshirt senior LD Brown averages 6.2 yards per carry. Quarterback Spencer Sanders also poses a threat with his legs.

Oklahoma State doesn’t put the ball in the air as much as the Sooners do, but when Sanders does go to the air, he has Wallace, the Big 12’s best receiver in terms of receiving yards (588 through six games) as his prime target. Wallace is a major big-play threat, and Dillon Stoner is also key receiving target as well as the team’s primary punt returner.

Much of the Cowboys’ defensive unit has been together several years, which speaks volumes about their discipline and defensive efficiency. The strength of the Oklahoma State defense is in the secondary. OSU ranks seventh in the country in passing yards allowed (169.3 per game). The Cowboys are more vulnerable against the run. They rank fifth in the Big 12, giving up 142.2 rushing yards per game.

Keys to an Oklahoma victory

Oklahoma’s ability to run the ball will be a key in this game. If the Sooners can run the ball effectively with Rhamondre Stevenson and T.J. Pledger, who offer very different running styles, it will force the OSU defense to play closer to the line of scrimmage and create passing opportunities against the talented back end of the Cowboy defense. Stevenson is averaging 8.0 yards per carry and has five touchdowns in his two games back from a six-game suspension.

The Sooners cannot afford to become one dimensional on offense. They must have balance offensively, As accurate as Spencer Rattler is throwing the football, if Oklahoma State is able to force the Sooners to go to the air more than they want to and keep Rattler under constant pressure.

As good as the Oklahoma State defense is, though, it is safe to say that the Cowboys have not faced an offense as good as OU’s this season. The Sooners rank 10th nationally in total offense and seventh in pass offense, averaging 350 passing yards per game.  Three Oklahoma receivers rank in the top-10 in the Big 12, led by true freshman Marvin Mims with 25 receptions for 418 yards and seven touchdowns.

The Oklahoma defensive front needs to take advantage of an OSU offensive line that is depleted by injury and graduation this season. Over the last four games, the Sooners have recorded 20 sacks and 39 tackles for loss.

Stat line(s) to watch

  • Oklahoma is 13-1 in the Bedlam series when both teams are ranked in the AP Top 25.
  • The Sooners have owned the first quarter this season, outscoring their seven opponents by a combined score of 103-10.
  • In OU’s last four games, the Sooners’ have averaged a nation-best 52.5 points a game.
  • Oklahoma State ranks 15th in the country in scoring defense, holding its six opponents to an average of 17.8 points a game.
  • Oklahoma State has won 72 consecutive games when it has held the opponent to fewer than 20 points.
  • The Sooner have scored at least 28 points in a school-record 59 consecutive games.

Bottom line

Unlike Oklahoma-Oklahoma State battles of the recent past, which have been all about offense and outscoring the other team, the 2020 edition of Bedlam will likely be lower scoring and decided by defense. The Sooners come into the game as one of the country’s highest scoring teams, while the Cowboys feature an experienced defensive unit that prides itself on holding teams below their season scoring average. First team to 30 points will win this game.

Oklahoma 34, Oklahoma State 30