Oklahoma football: OU offense will need to execute to knock off Cowboys

Nov 30, 2019; Stillwater, OK, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy (left) and Oklahoma Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley (right) meet before a game at Boone Pickens Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 30, 2019; Stillwater, OK, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy (left) and Oklahoma Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley (right) meet before a game at Boone Pickens Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports /

Hardly ever does a Lincoln Riley-coached Oklahoma football team go into a regular-season or even a conference championship game as an underdog.

light. Related Story. The best Bedlam game I never saw

But that is precisely the situation this week as the 10-1 and 10th-ranked Sooners face a steeply uphill battle against their in-state rivals, the Oklahoma State Cowboys, in hostile territory in Stillwater.

In recent seasons, Boone Pickens Stadium, where the Cowboys play, has been more hostile to the home team than to the visiting Sooners. In the Big 12 era (1996 to present), Oklahoma is 10-3 when playing on the road at Oklahoma State, including the last four trips to Stillwater.

All-time, the Sooners are 42-7-5 when facing the Cowboys away from home. In fact, the Sooners have a better record against OSU in Stillwater than they do at home in Norman.

Oklahoma has dominated this rivalry series historically with an 81-percent winning percentage (90-18-7) in the 115 games since the inaugural contest in 1904. The Sooners won that inaugural game 75-0.

Saturday’s game will mark the 10th time since 2000 that both teams have been ranked at the time the game was played. This will be only the fourth time in that span, however, that Oklahoma State (7th) has been ranked higher than OU (10th). That includes last year’s game, won by the Sooners 41-13, when Oklahoma was the 18th-ranked team in the Associated Press poll and the Cowboys were No. 14.

Oklahoma prevailed in two of the three games against OSU since the 2000 season when the Sooners were the lower-ranked team. Two of those games were played in Stillwater: No. 14 OU beat No. 10 OSU 47-41 in 2010, and No. 18 OU beat No. 6 OSU 33-24 in 2013.

The 116th reunion of the Bedlam series will be played before a primetime national TV audience. The game is scheduled for a 6:30 p.m. kickoff on ABC. The top ESPN football broadcast crew of Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit and Holly Rowe will provide the coverage.

What to watch for from Oklahoma State

Unlike past seasons, when most of the Oklahoma State talent and strength presided on the offensive side of the ball, this Cowboys’ team features a lockdown defense that is tied for second among FBS teams in points allowed (14.9), ranks third in total defense, and leads the nation in third-down conversion defense. The OSU defense is a veteran, experienced group featuring nine seniors and two juniors.

This is the best defensive team Mike Gundy has had in his 17 seasons as head coach at his alma mater and easily the best in the Big 12 this season. Oklahoma State is allowing opponents just 267 yards per game and is successful in third-down stops 76 percent of the time. That does not bode well for an Oklahoma offense that has struggled the last two games against defenses that are not a good as the Cowboys’.

While Oklahoma State’s strength is clearly on the defensive side, the Cowboys’ offense is nothing to sniff at either. The Cowboys average 31.4 points a game and are led by junior quarterback Spencer Sanders, running back Jaylen Warren and wide receiver Tay Martin, who gave the Sooners bulletin board material after the Cowboys’ 23-0 win last weekend at Texas Tech.

“I expect to whoop their ass, honestly,” Martin exclaimed.

Warren ranks fourth in the Big 12, averaging 98.0 rushing yards a game. Martin averages five catches per game and 14.2 yards per catch, third best among Big 12 receivers.

Oklahoma State has gotten better every week as the season has progressed. The Cowboys have beaten their last four opponents by the combined score of 165-23 and by an average margin of 35 points.

Sanders joined his teammate Martin in guaranteeing a Bedlam victory over the Sooners: “I don’t want to hear about history. I don’t want to hear about (past) stats.” he said.

Confidence can be a big thing in big games like the one in Stillwater this weekend. To a man, Oklahoma State is brimming with this intangible this season, and especially heading into Bedlam.

What to watch for from Oklahoma

The outcome of this game will actually be determined by how successful the Oklahoma offense is in staying on the field and putting up points. And the play and decision-making of OU freshman quarterback Caleb Williams is the pivotal factor in this becoming reality.

Williams has struggled in his last two games against the two best defensive teams in the Big 12 not named Oklahoma State. In losing to Baylor, Williams completed 10 of 19 passes for 149 yards and no touchdowns. Last week against Iowa State, his passing numbers were even lower: 8 of 18 for 87 total yards. The true freshman has to do much better if OU is going to beat Oklahoma State.

But the pedestrian passing numbers aren’t all on Williams. The Sooners are blessed with arguably the most talented receiving group in the Big 12, but in the past few games they have struggled to get open often enough for Williams to get them the ball. The OU quarterback’s accuracy has been off the past couple of games, as well, accentuated by defensive pressure. This could be trouble against an Oklahoma State defensive that leads the country with 42 sacks this season.

It is imperative that the Sooners establish a running game with Kennedy Brooks and Eric Gray. The better Oklahoma is able to run the ball, the more effective and consistent the overall OU offensive attack will be. Brooks rushed for 115 yards and averaged over eight yards per carry against Iowa State, but Oklahoma State owns the best rushing defense in the Big 12 and the fourth best nationally.

Defensively, the Sooners need to get pressure on OSU quarterback Spencer Sanders and get off the field on third down so Williams and the offense will have more possessions and opportunities to put points on the board.

Kicker Gabe Brkic missed two field-goal attempts against Iowa State, the first time in 36 career games he has misfired twice in the same game. Every point is going to count on Saturday, even if only field goals.

Finally, the Sooners need to play a clean game: tackle well, win the turnover battle and avoid costly penalties on both offense and defense.

Bottom line

Oklahoma State is a four-point favorite in this game, and all the stats suggest that the Cowboys should win and knock big, bad Oklahoma out of the Big 12 Championship for the first time in seven seasons. But this is a rivalry game and, as we all know, things typically don’t go the way of chalk in these emotionally charged showdowns. The other thing is, the Sooners have a history of playing better when they are doubted and their backs are against the wall. I’m actually going with my gut in this one and not my heart. Oklahoma 27-24