Date: Nov. 28
Time: 12:30 p.m. EST
Venue: Gaylord Family Memorial Stadium (Norman, Okla.)
Vegas Line: OU -8.5
It’s Thanksgiving weekend, and that means Bedlam in Oklahoma. As usual, one team enters the game with dreams of BCS bowling, while the other hopes to spoil that party before it even starts.
This year, though, Oklahoma State has its eyes on an at-large BCS prize. The best perennial BCS participant Oklahoma can do? A Sun Bowl bid and New Year’s Eve in El Paso.
Even though the two programs have traded places, most in Green Country–and Vegas–still don’t appear to be buying OSU’s chances to pull one out in Norman. Current LSU head coach Les Miles made his name at Oklahoma State by upsetting the Sooners a couple times. Under Mike Gundy, the Cowboys have yet to get over that hump.
Whether or not OU coach Bob Stoops continues his string of dominance over Gundy will depend on:
1. OSU’s Play-Calling If Zac Robinson Plays
Last week, OSU coach Mike Gundy pronounced senior quarterback Zac Robinson ready to go prior to the Pokes’ game against Colorado. Robinson never left the sidelines.
Yet again, Gundy says he expects his signal caller to play. Is the OSU coach telling tales?
Assuming Robinson does play, one team that understands the difficulties that shoulder injuries can cause quarterbacks is Oklahoma. How Robinson holds up against the physical play of the Oklahoma defense is vital to OSU’s success. If Gundy sticks with some of the zone read and quarterback iso plays that he’s so fond of, Robinson might not make it to the second half. On the other hand, taking the quarterback run-option plays out of the Cowboys’ arsenal removes a key threat from their offensive scheme.
Unfortunately for the Pokes, it’s somewhat of a lose-lose proposition.
2. Brandon Weeden‘s Ability to Handle the Atmosphere
I’m guessing that OSU backup quarterback Weeden could be pressed into service at some point. Weeden played the hero last week against Colorado, but how will the second-string gunslinger fare in his first real action on the road?
Other venues probably have it beat in terms of atmosphere or history, but Owen Field may be the best home-field advantage in the country. The Sooners have a 29-game winning streak there and have lost just two home games in OU coach Bob Stoops’ 11 seasons in Norman.
Even if Weeden is a 26-year-old sophomore, that’s not the kind of place to throw a newbie into the fire.
Which brings us to…
3. OU’s Crowd
This year, the Sooners are playing the unfamiliar role of spoiler to OSU’s BCS dreams. The fact that OU is playing for nothing but pride obviously raises the question of where the Sooners’ heads are at.
Likewise, what will the mood be like among the Sooner faithful? Will the fans be fired up for Bedlam?
Given the general disappointment surrounding this season, how many OU ticket holders are pawning off their seats to Pokes?
4. Oklahoma’s Run-Pass Balance
The secret to OU’s success in its six straight wins against the Cowboys isn’t that hard to figure out: The Sooners have whipped the Pokes’ physically running the ball. Since 2004, the Sooners have run for an average of no less than 4.9 yards per carry in Bedlam games. When a team can line up against an opponent and run for five yards any time it wants–five years in a row–it’s pretty easy to see who’s winning the man-to-man battle.
Just watching them play, the 2009 version of the Sooner offense clearly hasn’t matched its recent predecessors in the physical department. The numbers in the run game tell a similar story, with OU generating just 3.87 yards per carry this year, ranking 75th nationally. In losses to Texas, Nebraska and Texas Tech, OU has run for well under three yards per attempt.
First-year defensive coordinator Bill Young has significantly improved OSU’s run defense, allowing 2.86 yards per rush (ninth overall). If the Cowboys can stuff OU’s running game–particularly on first down–it will put the burden on quarterback Landry Jones to win the game for the Sooners. Expect OSU to stack the box when possible, and keep an eye on OU’s ratio of pass attempts to runs. That goes double for the second quarter, after OU offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson has had a couple possessions to try to figure out what Young is up to.
5. How Wilson Uses DeMarco Murray
Earlier this year, I proclaimed that OU running back DeMarco Murray looked “like the man of old.” Man, was I wrong.
Through the 10 games in which he has played, Murray has run for 581 yards, a far cry from his total of 1,002 in 12 games in 2008. The fourth-year junior is averaging 4.4 yards per carry, down 1.2 yards from last year.
However, Murray’s role in OU’s passing game likely has cannibalized some of that ground production. As the Sooners have struggled all season to find reliable wide receivers, Wilson has had Murray lined up wide and in the slot with increasing frequency this year. In his 37 receptions in 2009, Murray is averaging 13.1 yards per catch.
If Young brings his safeties in tight and stacks the line to stop the run on early downs, look for Wilson to move Murray out of the backfield. Jones will try to hit Murray on the run and on bubble screens, giving the speedster a chance to make plays in space.