NORMAN- The Oklahoma Sooners are preparing to host their in-state rivals for the first time under the lights in Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
Though there have been prime time Bedlam matchups before, this will be the first time in 115 meetings where the Cowboys and the Sooners will have the national spotlight in Norman.
Both teams will enter Saturday’s matchup ranked, something that has only happened 14 times previously in the history of the matchup (the Sooners hold a 13-1 edge in such meetings).
As the game has risen in national prominence over the past decade, Bedlam has become synonymous with crazy offensive explosions. Despite NFL caliber players on both offenses, the defenses have stolen most of the headlines for both squads this season, and 2020’s Bedlam matchup could shape up to be a defensive struggle.
Jim Knowles’ system taking shape
Oklahoma State will enter Norman touting a defensive unit ranked number 16 in the country in total defense. Allowing just 17.8 points per game, the Cowboys have been rewarded in their patience with defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, who has his unit humming in his third year on campus.
Lincoln Riley praised the progression of the Oklahoma State defense under Knowles’ leadership the past three seasons.
“It’s funny. Even over the years we’re playing the same players,” Riley said. “There’s very few new faces even from the first year that we went up against those guys, so you know you’ve got a lot of guys that are good football players and they’ve grown in the system.”
Knowles brought a certain aggression to the Cowboys sideline, unafraid to bring plenty of pressure to wreak havoc and try to force mistakes out of opposing quarterbacks.
The conference’s second best pass rush led by standout Trace Ford paired with great safety play have allowed the Cowboys to force six turnovers to date this season.
Kolby Harvell-Peel and Trey Sterling have played themselves into the NFL draft conversation on the back end of Oklahoma State’s defense, playing a big factor in both the run and pass game.
“Those two guys have been playing forever and they’ve really improved,” Riley said. “They’re tremendous players, no question about it.”
Both Harvell-Peel and Sterling are asked to do a lot within the scheme, but they do a good job of handling the load and making big plays, Riley said.
Facing their toughest test to date in the Cowboys defense, the Oklahoma offense will have to focus on exploiting individual matchups when the chances present themselves, Riley said.
“There’ll be some opportunities because both teams are aggressive and there’ll be some opportunities for big plays,” Riley said. “When you get those times you have to cash in, especially against good defenses.”
Rhamondre Stevenson could be the key
Since the return of Rhamondre Stevenson into the lineup, the Sooners have rushed for an average of 5.9 yards per carry, a big jump from the beginning of the season.
As a result, Oklahoma has also posted their two biggest scoring outputs with Stevenson leading the rushing attack.
Establishing the run will be essential for the Oklahoma offense to keep the Cowboys honest and to help Spencer Rattler.
Creed Humphrey said he is looking forward to the challenge on Saturday.
“They have a really talented defense,” Humphrey said. “It’s a fun challenge to go into, there’s not a lot of defenses that do the same stuff they do, so it’s going to be very fun.”
Stevenson said he thinks establishing the run will be essential against Oklahoma State.
“I think my line is ready… I think we’re ready for that,” he said. “It’s going to be mandatory that we run the ball well.”
When Kennedy Brooks opted out of the 2020 season, Stevenson was projected to be the feature back upon his return to the lineup. A big play-back who was used to close out games last season, Stevenson has taken his game to the next level.
After leading the country in yards per carry last year, Stevenson has improved his production to an eye-popping 7.9 yards per carry in his two games this year.
Humphrey said the biggest reason for Stevenson’s leap forward was just the additional year of experience under his belt.
“At this point, he knows what to expect,” Humphrey said. “He does a great job studying film and seeing what the defense does.”
“He’s an elite back,” he said.
Stevenson will have a big role to play Saturday. Not only will he be able to help the Sooners wear the Oklahoma State defensive front down, but if Stevenson can continue to pick up the tough yards on third and short situations, he can help keep the explosive Cowboys offense on the sidelines.
Kickoff between the Sooners and the Cowboys is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. and the game will be broadcast in ABC’s prime time spot.
Complete coverage before and after the Bedlam tilt can be found on the Flagship Station for Oklahoma Football, 107.7 FM The Franchise.
Pre-game coverage begins at 9 a.m., and live coverage will continue all the way through the post-game festivities, hours after the game goes final.