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Stoops, Sooners hungry for more than spoiling Pokes' season in Bedlam Game
Trying to bait Oklahoma into the spoiler role will get you nowhere.
Four Big 12 teams are in action this weekend, and only one of them isn’t in contention for a conference title league’s spot in the BCS. Instead, the Sooners are — in the short term — playing for bowl positioning.
Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard rolled his eyes at reporters who asked if the Sooners relished the spoiler role for Oklahoma State’s bid at an outright Big 12 title.
“The fact that you call us the spoiler against Oklahoma State, I’m not even going to answer that,” Ikard told reporters.
Sooners coach Bob Stoops called the spoiler role “the lowest form of motivation that a competitor can have.”
Fine. So here are a few other things at stake: Oklahoma is seeking its fourth consecutive 10-win season and 12th of the Bob Stoops era. Oklahoma State is seeking its second outright Big 12 championship in three seasons, something the Cowboys haven’t done in either the Big 12 or the Big Eight.
Bedlam has traditionally been one of the most lopsided rivalries in college football in OU’s favor, but it is in danger of tilting toward Oklahoma State in the short term. Oklahoma won eight in a row from 2003-10 and never lost from 1977-94 and 1946-64. The Pokes won the last meeting in Stillwater 44-10 and the last two meetings in Norman have gone the Sooners’ way but by less than seven points each time.
In other words, Oklahoma State has good reason to feel it’s on even footing with Oklahoma these days. The Sooners have another chance to prove otherwise Saturday.
Oklahoma at Oklahoma State
Spread: Oklahoma State by 9.5
Oklahoma’s key to victory: Tighten up in the red zone
The Sooners’ defense has been up and down for most of the season, in part due to injuries in the front seven and inexperience. One thing that’s been consistent is Oklahoma’s poor red zone defense. The Sooners are getting better at forcing field goals, but they haven’t recorded a red zone stop since the second game of the season against West Virginia. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State leads the Big 12 in touchdown rate in the red zone, scoring six on 76.8 percent of trips inside the 20. A major part has been Clint Chelf’s mobility and Oklahoma State’s ability to keep him upright, despite a rotating cast on the offensive line.
Oklahoma State’s key to victory: Take the turnover edge to Trevor Knight
The secret to Oklahoma State’s success on defense in recent years, despite changes at defensive coordinator, has been the ability to force turnovers. The Cowboys again lead the Big 12 in takeaways with 29 in 11 games to go with a plus-16 turnover margin. The back end of the Cowboys’ defense is led by Thorpe Award finalist Justin Gilbert, who has six interceptions and two touchdowns this season. The Cowboys’ linebackers also excel in pass coverage. Oklahoma redshirt freshman Trevor Knight will be making his second consecutive start after a good showing against Kansas State. The Sooners would like to use Knight in the run game, and Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said he’s expecting the pistol formation and veer option plays at quarterback. But Knight may need to make some plays in the pass game on the road against an opportunistic defense for the Sooners to win.
Key player: Brennan Clay, Oklahoma
The Sooners played without running back Damian Williams against Kansas State and still rushed for 301 yards and three touchdowns on 52 carries. Williams has since been dismissed, diminishing the Sooners’ running back depth. Now the clear-cut top option, Clay rushed for 200 yards against Kansas State and has been a reliable big-play threat. But he’s facing the top ranked run defense in the Big 12 that has allowed only eight rushing touchdowns all season. Oklahoma State recently held Baylor’s similarly depleted running back group to 94 yards on 36 carries.
Oklahoma State has become one of the most improved teams in the nation largely because of changes on offense. Clint Chelf quickly lost his starting quarterback job and reacquired it as the Cowboys began their hot streak. The Pokes also found a running back rotation that works with Desmond Roland leading the way. Oklahoma hopes it is undergoing a similar transformation with Knight, who like Chelf began the season at quarterback and lost the job. But this is also a matchup of the top two defenses, statistically, in the Big 12. Oklahoma leads the league in total D while Oklahoma State boasts the top run defense and top pass efficiency defense.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 27-17