In 2016, a No. 5 vs. No. 11 Bedlam bout decided the Big 12 Champion a year before the game in Arlington was brought back the following season. Oklahoma topped the Cowboys, 38-20, capturing their second straight conference championship with many more to come.
This weekend’s Bedlam matchup holds perhaps the highest stakes the in-state game has seen since then, as five seasons later, the tenth-ranked Sooners travel to Stillwater to play the seventh-ranked Cowboys in the final regular-season game where both teams will look to keep their College Football Playoff hopes alive. Oklahoma State punched their ticket to Arlington after shutting out Texas Tech last Saturday, while OU needs a win this weekend to advance to the conference championship for a rematch with the Pokes.
Now that the scene is set, I’ve come up with some keys to winning that each team must hit on to come out on top Saturday. I’ve followed both of these teams closely all year, and based on what I have seen throughout the course of the season, I believe both programs can and will win if they accomplish everything on this list or prevent their opponent from achieving the goals listed.
Get Sanders Involved in the Run Game
Quarterback Spencer Sanders has enjoyed the best five-game stretch of his OSU career up to this point. He has only thrown one interception during that stretch (a tipped ball at the line of scrimmage that was caught off the deflection) and has severely cut down on the “turnover worthy” plays that plagued at the beginning of the season.
With his speed and agility, Sanders deals much of his damage on the ground. In his last five games, he has averaged 8.8 rushes a game, with five rushing touchdowns on the year. He will have to become a focal point of offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn’s running game if the Pokes are to win.
Average 4+ YPC
In Oklahoma State’s win over Texas Tech, the Cowboys averaged just 3.9 yards per carry against a less-than-stellar Red Raider defense. If OSU even wants to sniff a home Bedlam victory this weekend, they’ll need to bring that average up to at least four.
That number was good enough to put up points on Tech, but this OU front seven is a whole different animal. Guys like Perrion Winfrey, Isaiah Thomas, Nik Bonitto and Jalen Redmond will make life hell for the Cowboys’ offensive line, and yards will be hard to come by on the ground if guys miss their assignments.
Keep Constant Pressure on Caleb Williams
As elite as Oklahoma State has been on defense this season, they haven’t faced a play-caller in the same echelon as Lincoln Riley. For OSU to suppress or even stop Lincoln Riley’s high-powered offense, they will have to consistently occupy the OU backfield. This will be Jim Knowles’ defense’s third straight matchup against a freshman quarterback. Now, Caleb Williams is obviously more talented than Chandler Morris or Donovan Smith, but the fact remains that he is still a freshman. He is prone to mistakes and all of the games the Sooners have struggled in are the ones that saw Williams make some crucial errors.
On the other side of that coin, Williams can just as easily turn it into second gear and play up to his “Superman” moniker, as we saw in the Sooners’ 21-point comeback in the Red River Showdown.
Win the Turnover Battle
The OU defense has been scrutinized this season for their inability to stop teams that have no business scoring on them. One thing defensive coordinator Alex Grinch’s unit excels at is forcing turnovers. Oklahoma is thirteenth in the country in turnover margin at +9, with eight interceptions and 12 fumble recoveries.
Forcing turnovers in this game may be crucial if the Sooners want to leave Stillwater with a seventh-consecutive win over the Cowboys. If you can revert Spencer Sanders back to his old ways of throwing errant passes and multiple interceptions, I’d say your chances of winning increase exponentially.
Feed Kennedy Brooks
One thing that has perplexed me about Oklahoma this season is how effective Kennedy Brooks has been, yet he is still being underutilized in the Sooners’ offense. For whatever reason, Lincoln Riley has been leaning more towards the passing game in third and short or medium situations, when he could just hand it off to one of the more, in my opinion, underrated backs in the country and easily have him pick up the first down with his legs. For his career, Brooks averages 7.1 yards per carry, but is only averaging 13 attempts over the last three games.
I believe Brooks NEEDS to have a bigger role in the offense if OU wants to make a push for the Playoff, and it starts with this game. The Sooners will face one of the best secondaries in the country, so establishing a run game, specifically with Brooks, will be key to finding offensive success.
Make Sanders Beat You with His Arm
Everyone knows the Cowboys’ identity on offense is to run the ball and control the clock, and something tells me that Alex Grinch will key in on that, going all-in on keeping Jaylen Warren and Dominic Richardson at bay. That leaves Spencer Sanders to lead drives with his arm, which is what you want if you’re Oklahoma.
Don’t get me wrong, Sanders is not a bad passer. He has, however, shown to be streaky when it comes to dropping back and making reads under pressure, something that became very clear in last year’s Bedlam in Norman. The Sooners took away the run game and made Sanders beat them with his arm, which was difficult enough anyways with how much penetration the OU defensive line got. If you can take away the Pokes’ identity and make them play a style they don’t want to play, you have a very good shot at stifling their offense.