When the Sooners and Cowboys meet, great football games tend to follow. Four of the last six contests in the series have been decided by nine points or less, and two have gone to overtime.
Moreover, since the Big 12 downsized in 2011, OU and OSU have met with at least of share of the conference title on the line four times. Saturday’s edition will make it five.
The winner gets a trip to the Sugar Bowl and some new hardware for its trophy case. And more importantly, bragging rights for a year.
Oklahoma State at Oklahoma
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 3 at 12:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Oklahoma -11
1. Running and Rudolph
Oklahoma State’s ground game took off in November, culminating in 334 yards on 45 carries in the Pokes’ last game versus TCU. Mike Gundy and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich have established a productive rotation between veteran power back Chris Carson and explosive freshman Justice Hill.
However, since the dawn of time – or Bob Stoops’ arrival in Norman, whichever came first — the offenses that give the Sooners the most trouble have quarterbacks who can run. No one in Oklahoma will mistake Cowboys QB Mason Rudolph for Jamelle Holieway, but he has shown that he can take off when the opportunity presents itself.
If Rudolph forces OU’s defense to take him seriously as a runner, it will open up more options for his weapons at the skill positions.
2. Staying in Front of Receivers
Both of these teams like to throw it downfield. In 11 games this season, OU has completed 11 passes that have gone for 50 yards or more; OSU has nine.
Conversely, they will give up the deep ball. The Sooners have allowed nine completions of 50 yards or more this year; the Cowboys have given up seven.
Expect the two sides to call for deep routes early and often. Not letting pass catchers get behind you will be paramount for defensive backs on both sides.
3. Can OSU Handle OU’s Physical Ground Attack?
The Cowboys have overcome a run defense this season that gets pushed around by opponents that like to pound it. Coordinator Glenn Spencer’s unit allowed more than five yards per rushing attempt against Pittsburgh, Texas, Kansas, West Virginia and Kansas State already this season. OU’s bruising backfield duo of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon might be Oklahoma State’s stiffest test yet.
If the forecast for rain during the game holds up, look for OU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley to lean heavily on the ground game until the Pokes prove they can stop it.
A year ago in Stillwater, Oklahoma blasted Oklahoma State on Thanksgiving weekend to cap off a conference title and College Football Playoff bid. Truth be told, it wasn’t a fair fight, as a leg injury rendered Mason Rudolph completely ineffective. The Cowboys had virtually no shot with J.W. Walsh at the helm.
Whereas the Pokes were heading for a ditch 12 months ago, they arguably played their best ball of the season in their last game, a 31-6 blowout of TCU in the Horned Frogs’ house. The emergence of a consistent running game also bodes well against the Sooners, who have struggled to stop teams on the ground in the second half of the season. (West Virginia ran the ball 38 times at a stunning clip of 10.2 yards per carry two weeks ago.)
Frankly, neither team should count on getting many stops here. That gives OSU a legitimate shot at an upset if it ramps up the tempo on offense to generate more plays, more possessions and more scoring opportunities versus the Sooners’ lackluster D. It may not end in an upset, but the Cowboys should at least have a chance to win the game on a late possession.
Prediction: Oklahoma 41, Oklahoma State 35
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.