NORMAN — Based on events that unfolded Saturday deep in the heart of Texas, this week’s Bedlam game will feature two undisciplined football teams.
Both No. 6-ranked Oklahoma and unranked Oklahoma State are coming off difficult road games in the Lone Star State in which they repeatedly committed costly penalties.
OSU’s 12 penalties for 133 yards eventually resulted in a 35-31 loss at Baylor. OU’s 10 penalties for 113 yards nearly cost the Sooners in a 51-46 victory at Texas Tech.
Players from both OU and OSU were called for personal foul infractions that either kept the opponents’ drive alive (Calvin Bundage’s late hit out of bounds on Charlie Brewer gave Baylor life) or truncated their own possessions (CeeDee Lamb’s two 15-yarders killed a scoring opportunity).
As Bedlam week has dawned, last week’s games stand out, of course. But these problems have surfaced for both teams throughout the season so far. OU ranks fifth in the Big 12 in penalty yards per game (65) while OSU ranks ninth at 77.7. Only Tech (76) and Texas (71) have committed more penalties than OSU (68), and OU is not far behind (58).
Safe to say, this week’s 2:30 p.m. kickoff in Norman will be an emotional game.
“We said after the game, we absolutely have to do better,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said Monday during his weekly news conference. “There was a couple of ‘em that were just bad on our part. This game’s going to be intense. Emotions are going to be high, like they should be in this game. But we’ve certainly gotta manage it and do a better job and not give a good football team extra yards.”
“We’ve had that issue a majority of the year,” said OSU coach Mike Gundy. “We’ve had more facemasks, more late hits, more 15-yard penalties, more chop blocks than I have had in years.”
When Lamb made a spectacular third-down catch to give OU a first-and-goal situation and he got up demonstratively and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, the first Sooner in his face was quarterback Kyler Murray, who tried to calm down his star receiver.
“We definitely killed ourselves a little bit,” Murray said. “I think that’s something we’ve done a little bit all season that’s kind of stopped us. I don’t think a lot of teams can stop us for four quarters. When we make dumb penalties and hurt ourselves that can hurt the drive or whatever.”
OU linebacker Kenneth Murray also plays on an emotional edge, but as the quarterback of the defense, he’s required to remain calm and analyze things through a more practical prism. He said it’s not that hard to contain oneself.
“I think what happened Saturday was just us being undisciplined,” Kenneth Murray said. “It’s something that us as a team have all brought up to one another as teammates, and it’s what the coaches brought up to us right after the game. So I think the issue has been brought up and we’re owning the issue, and I think it’s gonna get taken care of.”
The Sooners got tagged with personal fouls early against Kansas State. Things got chippy again in Lubbock. Keeping cool and playing with poise could be a challenge this week as the Cowboys know they can wreck the Sooners’ season, and players from both teams will be trash-talking and maybe even instigating physical confrontations after the whistle, trying to get under their opponents’ skin.
“It’s gamesmanship,” Riley said. “You see that each week, certainly, but I think for the most part you have to be able to respond the right way. You’ve got to understand that no matter what somebody does to you, no matter what they say, you’ve got to keep the bigger goals in mind. You’ve got to keep the team in mind.”
Riley said the best retaliation is simply winning the football game. Kenneth Murray echoed those sentiments, referring back to a play Saturday on which he was held but it wasn’t called, and he got angry about it.
“I think the secret to fixing that is just maintaining your focus, maintaining your poise,” Murray said, “even in situations that you feel that are unfair or you feel like somebody has went over the line. At the end of the day, just maintain your focus, remember it’s about the team, it’s about getting the win, and just going out and playing ball for each other.”
Gundy said he’s probably reminded the team about keeping its composure “literally a hundred times” this season. And then Saturday happens.
“Sometimes (penalties) are going to happen if you’re playing aggressive,” Gundy said. “There’s a point where coaches coach and there’s accountability, players have to play and there’s accountability.
“That’s what I told the team, that’s what I told the coaches. We’ve got to do a better job. The illustration Saturday tells us we’re not doing a good enough job of coaching disciplined instructions. Now, there’s different ways to do that. Some people spank their kids, some people put them in timeout, some people ground them, some people take their phone. There’s different ways to handle that, and so we will address those issues.
“But we certainly can’t play good football and have a chance to be successful when the clock expires with all those different situations that happened on Saturday.”
It’s likely that after last week, Saturday’s officiating crew will put both teams’ behavior under the microscope. And that’s where things get tricky. Knowing officials may be trying to quash any extracurricular activities by anticipating it ahead of time and flagging the first sign of it — especially in an in-state rivalry game — means some players might be inclined to curtail their own naturally physical mindset.
“There’s a fine line,” Kyler Murray said, “between being physical (and drawing a penalty). You don’t want to tell your team not to be physical. It’s a physical game. We’ve got to play with that mindset of being physical, the most physical team on the field. At the same time, we made a couple penalties Saturday we can’t do, going forward, to beat better teams.
“I think it was a good learning experience for us. We’ve got to learn to control those moments.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “The Franchise Drive” every weeknight from 6-8 on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and appears throughout the day on other shows on The Franchise. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Hoover also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.