Big 12 game of the week preview: Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. Oklahoma Sooners
The sound of the school fight song. The thousands of screaming fans supporting their team. The traditions, the pageantry and the pride of two teams battling it out on the gridiron on a Saturday. This is what college football is all about. After months of hibernation it is back and bigger than ever. So fans fire up those grills for your tailgates and put on your school colors because college football season is here! Every week I will breakdown and preview the best matchup the Big 12 has to offer and for this week’s pick, I will be previewing the (10) Oklahoma State Cowboys taking on the (9) Oklahoma Sooners. Coverage begins at 11:30 AM CT on FOX from Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma.
What’s at Stake?
When you think about football in the state of Oklahoma, which school comes to mind? Well, that depends on who and where you ask in Oklahoma. Most may know the state of Oklahoma as the Sooner State (Not according to Oklahoma State fans) but there are two schools that everyone is familiar with. Oklahoma is a college football power and is one of the true blueblood programs in the country. Meanwhile 90 miles north in Stillwater, Oklahoma State has seen plenty of recent success and is starting to gain national attention year after year. Whether you pull for the crimson and cream or the orange and black, this rivalry dating back to 1904 is known as Bedlam.
Of course any Bedlam game is a huge deal in the state of Oklahoma, but there is a lot more at stake than just state bragging rights for a year. This rivalry game has national implications on the line. Not only will this matchup crown us a Big 12 champion but a possible college football playoff berth could be born in Norman, Oklahoma as well. The winner will reap the rewards while the loser walks away empty handed. It’s all or nothing in this game and for one Saturday the state of Oklahoma will be king of college football as the entire nation will be watching.
Oklahoma enters Saturday on a 15 conference game winning streak as they have been red hot as of late. Head Coach Bob Stoops has his guys rolling in Norman as the Sooners look to take home the Big 12 title in back to back years. Meanwhile Head Coach Mike Gundy looks to bring the Cowboys their 2nd Big 12 title in school history and their 1st since the 2011 season. Between Bedlam, a conference title on the line and a possible CFB playoff berth, what more could you possibly ask for when watching a football game? This game has all the makings of a showdown of epic proportions that you won’t want to miss.
Oklahoma State Offense
Leading the way for the Cowboys is the sheriff in Stillwater, quarterback Mason Rudolph. Rudolph is averaging an astounding 326.4 yards through the air while tossing 25 touchdowns on 4 picks. His completion percentage is 64.1% which has gone up from last season. Mason is doing a fantastic job taking care of the football this year and has really been lighting up the stat sheet. If I had to make one complaint, it is that he can be a different quarterback on the road.
In a running game that was non-existent earlier in the season, has been found. True freshman Justice Hill has been spectacular this season averaging 85.2 rushing yards per game while averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Hill has also scored 5 touchdowns on the season so far. He is a very shifty runner in space. Behind him will be Chris Carson who has really come on strong as of late. Carson is the more physical back of the two, averaging 6.9 yards per carry and has scored 7 times. This backfield has really been a nice compliment to this offense.
James Washington continues to shine for the Cowboys as he is the best big play threat on the team. Washington is averaging 105.3 yards per game while hitting pay dirt 9 times this year. He excels at locating the football no matter where it is around him and hauling it in. Joining Washington is Mason’s second favorite target Jalen McCleskey, who is a speedy receiver in the slot. McCleskey is averaging 67.8 yards per game and has hauled in 7 touchdowns. Rounding out the group is Jhajuan Seales who averages 44.7 receiving yards per game.
Up front the Cowboys will use starters LT Victor Salako, LG Marcus Keyes, C Brad Lundblade RG Larry Williams (Back from injury) and RT Zach Crabtree. This group has made a lot of improvement this season, especially in the run game.
For a defense that has just been devastated by injuries, they have some guys that are really stepping up to the challenge. On the defensive line will be DE Neville Gallimore, DT Jordan Wade and DE Austin Roberts. Wade has been a nice space eater in the middle in the run game and has 2.5 sacks on the year after some injuries. Defensive ends Gallimore and Roberts are still fairly new but have gotten better each and every week. Gallimore enters Saturday with 4 TFLs while Roberts does a nice job keeping his hands up when he can’t get to the quarterback.
At linebacker, ILB Jordan Evans leads the team in tackles. Evan has been quite the surprise this year with 8 TFLs, 5 PBUs, 2.5 sacks and 4 INTs. You could say he does a little bit of everything for this defense. Alongside Evans is Emmanuel Beal, who is 2nd on the team in tackles. The best pass rusher for the Sooners in OLB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo who has 7 sacks on the season. He is a very dangerous pass rusher. Also freshman Caleb Thomas possesses a lot of talent as a true freshman at OLB.
In the back end the Sooners will use Jordan Thomas and Jordan Parker at corner. Parker has 3 PBUs on the season while Thomas has 15 PBUs and an interception. This is a position that has its good moments and not so good moments. Also look for NB Will Johnson when needed. At FS will be Ahmad Thomas while Steven Parker will hold down the fort at SS. Parker has 2 picks on the season. Overall this secondary has been the weakest group all season long.
Early in the season the Cowboys were a one dimensional offense. They relied heavily on Mason Rudolph’s arm and as an offense you never want to be too one dimensional. Well that has changed since the Cowboy rushing attack has really found its second gear with RBs Justice Hill and Chris Carson. Now don’t get me wrong, this still is a pass first offense, but at least they have something to compliment the passing game with. I expect Mason Rudolph and his receivers to really test this Oklahoma secondary. Oklahoma has struggled all season long defending the pass and Mike Gundy and company will certainly use that to their advantage. Washington is a deep threat but he has been held in check a few times this season. The biggest question is if the Sooners can stop the Oklahoma State ground game and force Mason Rudolph to put the contest on his shoulders. With so many new faces on the defensive line, this group will have their work cut out for them against the run. Look for the Cowboy offense to try and spread the ball around as much as possible to force the Sooner defense into a lot of one on one situations.
If there was one player in college football that had some magic in him, that man would be no other than Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield. He can run, he can pass and he will have your team’s defensive coordinator pulling out his hair when you play against him. Baker is averaging 307.4 yards through the air while tossing 35 touchdowns on 8 picks. That’s right folks, 35 touchdown passes! What is even more scary is that he completing 71.4 % of his passes on the year. Not only is Mayfield deadly accurate with the football, it’s his ability to elude defenders and move the chains that makes him special.
If having a Heisman type quarterback wasn’t enough, then take a look at this loaded Sooner backfield. Samje Perine and Joe Mixon are the best one-two backfield duo in all of college football. Perine is the bruiser of the two, averaging 91.9 yards per game and has scored 10 times this season. This is a guy that is a tough, physical runner. To compliment Perine is the shifty back Joe Mixon. Mixon is averaging 108.4 yards on the ground while scoring 7 touchdowns so far. What sticks out about Mixon is his 6.9 yards per carry. He also is very dangerous in the passing game as he is second on the team in receiving yards.
Dede Westbrook has been a one man show for the Sooners receiver group. He is averaging 123.1 yards per game while grabbing 15 touchdowns this year. Westbrook is the best receiver in the country and possesses lethal speed in the open field. Behind him is where things start to drop off. TE/WR Mark Andrews is the next best passing option that the wide receiver position has to offer. Andrews is a big target who averages 38.3 yards per game and has reeled in 6 scores this season. Behind him is Nick Basquine and Jeffery Mead who have underperformed this season.
Up front the Sooners will use starters LT Orlando Brown, LG Ben Powers, C Erick Wren, RG Dru Samia and RT Bobby Evans. This bunch has really been a force opening holes for this great backfield.
Oklahoma State Defense
Vincent Taylor is the man to watch on Saturday. At his DT spot he has produced 5.5 sacks and 11.5 TFLs. Taylor is a nightmare in the middle for opposing offensive lineman. Joining him will be DT Motekiai Maile and defensive ends Jarell Owens and Cole Waltescheid. Maile has 6 TFLs along with 2.5 sacks while Owens and Walterscheid combine for 4.5 sacks with 8 TFLs. This unit has been a strong suit of this defense.
WLB Devante Averette has really come to play this season entering this weekend as the 2nd leading tackler on the team. He also has 5.5 TFLs along with 2 forced fumbles. Beside Averette will be SLB Jordan Burton and MLB Chad Whitener. Burton has 4 TFLs and 2 picks while they heavy hitting, cowboy collar wearing Chad Whitener has 6 TFLs. The linebacker group has been a nice counterpart to for their strong defensive line.
In the back end the Cowboys will roll out with cornerbacks Ashton Lampkin and Ramon Richards. Lampkins has been up and down this year much like his teammate Richards. Ramon Richards does have 3 interceptions so far this year. Also look for NB Lenzy Pipkins when needed. Tre Flowers will hold down the fort at SS. Flowers has 6 pass break ups on the season. I saved the best for last in FS Jordan Sterns. Sterns is the leader of the secondary with 4.5 TFLs and 3 picks. What is most impressive about Sterns is that he is very physical as he leads his team in tackles.
There is no better offense in the country than the Oklahoma Sooners. What makes this offense great is that they can run and pass the football effectively. Not only are they balanced but they have rare playmakers at each skill position on offense. I expect the Sooners to pound the football and take a few shots down the field to WR Dede Westbrook. What is most important to this offense is to establish the run game and mix in a few passes. If the Cowboys key in on the run game look for Mark Andrews and Joe Mixon to really help out the passing game as check downs. Also do not forget that QB Baker Mayfield has the ability to make plays with his legs. For the Cowboys, their efforts have to be towards stopping the run. They did a nice job a couple weeks ago in Fort Worth forcing TCU to throw the ball more than they would have liked too. That is exactly what Oklahoma State needs to do on Saturday.
Oklahoma State wins if they are able to slow down the Sooner ground game. If the Cowboys are able to do this they should find themselves victorious. They key number for me would be 180. If the Pokes can keep Oklahoma under 180, I like their chances at winning this game.
Oklahoma wins if they can create pressure on Mason Rudolph. Even though the Cowboys have been running the ball more, they still love to sling the football around. Mason Rudolph can be rattled at times on the road and getting to him often would be trouble for their offense.