Oklahoma football: Five keys for an OU win in what could be Bedlam finale

Oklahoma's Dillon Gabriel (8) throws a pass during a Bedlam college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Oklahoma State University Cowboys (OSU) at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022.Bedlam Football
Oklahoma's Dillon Gabriel (8) throws a pass during a Bedlam college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Oklahoma State University Cowboys (OSU) at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022.Bedlam Football /

You know the crowd at Oklahoma State’s Boone Pickens Stadium is going to be loud and proud when the Oklahoma football team, ranked 9th in the first College Football Playoff rankings of the 2023 season, makes what could be its final visit to Stillwater on Saturday.

This is going to be a huge game for both teams and the Sooners’ second consecutive road game in a hostile environment. The weather conditions are forecast to be much better than what OU faced last week at Kansas, and given the proximity, there should be more crimson in the stands than battled the conditions in Lawrence, although there were a good amount of Sooner fans in attendance at KU as well.

A number of college football experts and sportsbooks are singling out the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State matchup as a high probability for an OSU upset and even to cover the 5.5 spread that currently favors OU. That should catch the Sooners’ attention and serve as extra motivation if they actually would need any more to get up for a game against their in-state rival.

Here are four critical things OU must get done if it wants to come out of Stillwater a winner:

Take the crowd out of the game

With Oklahoma State on a four-game momentum swing and looking more impressive with every game, and this being a home game for the Cowboys and the final Bedlam game for what could be a long while, you know that the crowd is going to be fired up and loud, which never works in a visiting team’s favor. Oklahoma must be able to cope with the crowd noise and not let it disrupt offensive execution or become a 12th man and additional stimulus for OSU. The best way to take the crowd out of the game is to start fast and jump out in front with the lead and keep your foot on the gas for a full four quarters. The longer you can limit the home team’s success on either side of the ball, the more it sucks the excitement out of the home faithful.

Limit Ollie Gordon’s production and impact

OSU running back is arguably the most dangerous player on the field when the Cowboys are on offense. Gordon leads the Big 12 and is No. 2 in all of college football with 1,087 rushing yards and an average of nearly 8.0 yards per carry through eight games. Sounds strikingly similar to a former star Oklahoma State running back named Chuba Hubbard, except Gordon is faster and shiftier.

Gordan has five consecutive games with over 100 yards rushing and has averaged 275 yards in his last two games. Containing Gordon’s production on Saturday is paramount for Oklahoma. The Sooners had a similar challenge against Jonathan Brooks of Texas, ranked 6th nationally in rushing, and did a reasonable job of limiting his damage on the ground. Gordon may be an even tougher challenge, especially if OU is without LB Danny Stutsman, its leader on the defensive side.

Be more aggressive on offense and take more shots downfield

The Sooners ran 74 plays a week ago at Kansas, 55 were running plays with only 19 pass attempts. Dillon Gabriel completed 14 of his pass attempts, but less than a handful were thrown more than 20 yards down the field. The most noticeable OU deep ball was a 39-yard completion to speedster Brenen Thompson with under 30 seconds remaining in the game. Coming into last week’s game Oklahoma had averaged 35 passes a game.

The weather might have had something to do with OU’s limited pass game against Kansas, but regardless of that, the Sooners need to go to the air more against Oklahoma State and take opportune deep shots utilizing the speed of wide receivers Nic Anderson, Gavin Freeman and even Thompson to beat the defense over the top.

Start fast and force OSU to throw the ball to win

The opening 15 minutes has been Oklahoma’s biggest scoring quarter this season, outscoring opponents 105 to 30. The same thing needs to happen in Stillwater on Saturday. The more separation the Sooners can create early and maintain not only takes the crowd out of the game but also forces Oklahoma State to play from behind and not rely as heavily on the running game as it would with the lead.

Something else to consider is Oklahoma State has not overcome a deficit of greater than eight points and comeback to win this season.

The Sooners would like to force the Cowboys to win the game by throwing the ball and not by Ollie Gordon running the ball. This becomes increasingly important in the second half when the score and time element force adjustments on both sides.

Don’t give the game away with costly penalties and poor ball security

OU committed three uncharacteristic turnovers in the loss at Kansas last weekend. The Sooners had committed just five turnovers total through the first seven games. The giveaways at Kansas contributed to 13 Jayhawk points and definitely had an impact on the outcome. Oklahoma cannot afford those kind of miscues against Oklahoma State, which like OU is on the positive side in turnover margin this season.

The Sooners also need to do a better job of controlling their emotions and avoid costly unnecessary roughness/unsportsmanlike penalties. Against Kansas, two of those costly infractions on the sane series awarded the Jayhawks 30 additional yards, leading to a go-ahead touchdown. On the same drive, a targeting call on the goal line awarded KU a new set of downs instead of what would have been a 4th-and-goal from the one-yard line. Kansas scored on the next play after all the momentum had been sucked out of the Sooner defense.