Manage the Crowd
It’s a rare thing when Oklahoma State is favored to beat Oklahoma. It’s rarer still when the Cowboys actually do. And it’s even rarer when OSU has a reservation for the Big 12 Championship Game — as in, this is the first time.
Knowing they have a chance to 1, beat OU, 2, eliminate the Sooners from Big 12 title contention and end their six-year reign of the conference, and 3, do all that in potentially OU’s final conference game (final game ever?) at Boone Pickens Stadium, ensures that the Cowboy faithful will be at an all-time fever pitch.
How OU manages that roiling froth could influence the outcome of the game. Remember, this is freshman quarterback Caleb Williams’ first trip to Stillwater. He’s had sketchy road performances before — at Kansas, at Baylor — and those atmospheres aren’t on OSU’s level.
“Honestly, their fans make it really tough,” said OU senior Jeremiah Hall. “I’ve only been up there a couple of times, but those paddles kind of get to you. The fans and how loud they are, how much they're into the game. Kind of like our stadium, there's not much space between the sideline and the stands. So if you let that get into your head, then you're in for a long ride up there.
“But we've been in these types of environments before, so I think we'll be prepared.”
Run the Ball
Oklahoma State’s defense leads the nation in sacks and tackles for loss. Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams has been painfully indecisive in his last two starts against Baylor and Iowa State.
That’s a bad combination for OU.
As much fun as it might be for quarterbacks and receivers, Lincoln Riley’s offense is predicated on a powerful, explosive ground game. That worked last week at home against the Cyclones, as OU rushed for 209 yards. But the previous week in Waco, the Sooners finished with just 78 rushing yards on 28 carries (just 2.8 yards per carry). The week before, in an otherwise easy victory over Texas Tech, OU gained just 72 yards on the ground on 20 carries (3.6-yard average).
Kennedy Brooks needs to have a big game. Brooks' 115 yards against Iowa State was a boost for the Sooners, but it was his first 100-yard game in a month. The OU offensive line needs to have a big game. And maybe as vital as anything, Williams needs to become an active and willing member of the OU rushing attack.
It won’t be easy blocking up that O-State defense. The Cowboys rank No. 4 in the nation against the run, and the OU o-line has been a work in progress all year. But if the Sooners can sustain a few drives, punch in a couple red-zone possessions and then make field goals — and possibly get a timely turnover or big play on special teams — then they can sit across from the table from the Cowboys again next week at AT&T Stadium.
Oklahoma’s defense can stand up to the OSU running game. As good as Jaylen Warren has been for the Cowboys this season, Warren’s numbers can be negligible, meaning simply, he’ll get his — and as long as it’s not 140 yards or more, Oklahoma can live with it. (Although, Warren has been over 100 yards in just one of his last five games. The Sooners would certainly take that.)
Where the OU defense really needs to step up and not give up surprise plays is when quarterback Spencer Sanders takes off and runs it.
Tackling will be at a premium for Oklahoma’s defenders. Being physical at the point of attack — punishing Sanders when they tackle him — is a must. And fanatical pursuit needs to be on the list as well, although that’s where Sanders can utilize bootlegs, draws and scrambles to his advantage. He’s skilled enough to make the OU defense look foolish.
Sanders has run for 40 yards or more six times this season. He’s averaging 42 rushing yards per game and, including sacks, is still averaging 4.2 yards per carry. He’s also scored five touchdowns on the ground.
Oklahoma has done a mostly adequate job defending the QB run game this season — the notable exception being Baylor’s Gerry Bohanon, who ran for a career-high 107 yards and two touchdowns in the upset in Waco two weeks ago. That can’t happen this time.
Maybe the best comparison on OU’s schedule this year when it comes to defending Sanders was Nebraska’s Adrian Martinez. Martinez wasn’t the greatest thrower but was a tough and talented runner, and ran the football 17 times for only 34 net yards and a 4-yard rushing TD.
Those would be acceptable numbers for the Sooner defense as they take on the task of stopping yet another dynamic dual-threat QB.