Wednesday night we were joined on Sooner Nation by a guest co-host to help us get a perspective on Bedlam football from an OSU fan. Now we're reaching out to SBN's Oklahoma State fansite and getting the lowdown from Samuel Bryant, editor of Cowboys Ride For Free.
CC Machine: I'm not gonna buy into the, "We expected to be here" statements from OSU fans so tell me how pleasantly surprised you are with this season and how special it has been for you to watch.
SB: Well honestly, I haven't heard any Cowboys fans seriously say they expected this... and if there are some then it is more than likely just a case of them making a homer prediction every year and this is the year that it worked out. For me, this has been one of the more enjoyable seasons of my fandom. Partly because of the season itself, and partly because of the statement it makes about the football program as a whole. I have never thought of OSU as a program that could lose 15 starters and 30 or so lettermen and contend for the conference title (that is what OU and Texas do), but now OSU has proven that it is possible. It is a nice indicator that OSU is capable of taking a step in the direction of becoming the program we hope it can be.
CC Machine: Talk about the ticket policy that isn't going to allow this game to be a sellout. Are you in favor of it?
SB: We discussed this in great length on our podcast this week... and on there I think I changed my stance on it 30 times. For those that don't know, every season the OSU athletic department labels one game as the "Premium Game" and only season ticket holders and the 5000 visitor tickets will be sold to that game. There are no individual tickets available.
Point 1: OSU isn't the only school that does this
Point 2: I get the reason for it (increase the base of season ticket holders and keep the stadium orange)
But as someone who lived out of state for the first few years after graduation, it sucked trying to get tickets for one game. I think in the end the policy is good for OSU (even though it is not great for how OSU is perceived and can screw over certain types of fans), and it is hard to argue against its success. I get that as an OU fan it is probably hard to see 10,000 empty seats as successful, but we are not OU. We don't have the numbers or the culture to just sell everything out... but this policy is driving the culture in that direction.
CC Machine: This is the biggest game in Stillwater since...?
SB: I honestly felt like there was more hype for our opening game last season against Georgia. That was a product of a nationally hyped OSU team, a big name opponent, and an entire off-season to get excited. But as far as biggest in scope for the program and what it would mean for the fans to finally be able to at least win the division and have a shot at the conference... I don't know that there has ever been a bigger game in Stillwater.
CC Machine: How concerned are you that Justin Blackmon may not be 100%? How does that impact what the Cowboys' offensive game plan.
SB: Depends on the injury. I have heard everywhere from: "he is totally fine" to "he has a high ankle sprain and is 50% at best". Obviously an ineffective Blackmon changes a lot about this offense (just look at the box score of the K-State game for proof -- 511 yards, 17 points). Aside from his 160 yards and a TD, he also stretches the defense and really opens up the opposite side of the field and prevents the safeties from cheating up to help with the run. On the flip side of that, when OSU lost him for K-State, they were also without his 2 most likely backups (Tracy Moore, Hubert Anyiam) as well and still had 511 yards... they just couldn't finish drives. With Moore and Anyiam playing this week I don't think it would hurt OSU as much as it did in the K-State game... but it definitely would hurt.
CC Machine: The Cowboys are 9th in the Big 12 in passing defense. Are you at all concerned with Oklahoma's passing offense or are you banking on the Sooners to continue to struggle on the road?
SB: Its hard to look at total defense rankings to evaluate this defense. OSU plays at an incredibly fast pace and as such OSU games end up with a lot more plays being run than the national average. The OSU defense is on the field for 79 plays per game (that is the highest in the nation). When you look at the Football Outsiders defensive stats which remove pace of play, the Cowboys rate out at the 44th ranked defense (as opposed to 79th in total defense). Still, 44th isn't amazing, but it is better than average and that is about where I think the OSU defense is... they aren't great, but they are better than the season stats would lead you to believe. This defense definitely has weaknesses... and I will highlight those in the next answer.
CC Machine: Put yourself on the Oklahoma sideline for a quick second (Yes, I realize how dirty that must make you feel) and tell us three things that the Sooners need to do to pick up a win Saturday night.
SB: The number one thing that you have to do is throw the ball downfield. The offenses that have had the most success against the OSU defense were A&M and Nebraska who were able to air the ball out (it helped that Taylor Martinez turned into Randall Cunningham for one game). The Cowboy defense is super fast (definitely the fastest that has ever worn the Orange and Black) so if they don't have to cover much field then the game becomes easy for them. The opposing offenses that have kept forcing the sideways and underneath passes have not been able to move the ball. It is only after stretching the secondary vertically that some space underneath opens up. If I were an opposing OC I would do what Kansas did and air it out on the first series. If you can connect on a long one early (or even a couple of 20 yard post or sideline routes), and then prove with another one or two that it wasn't a fluke, there will be all kinds of room open in the middle and in the flats.
On defense, I don't know what to do to stop the Cowboy offense, but I know what not to do. You definitely don't want to go with the "pick your poison" approach and over-commit to either the run or the pass. The teams that have tried this have not been anywhere close to successful. There are just too many weapons and this offense is just too balanced. The best examples were Tulsa, who put 26 guys in the box and let the WRs run wild, and the first half of the Nebraska game where they only kept one LB up on a lot of plays and Kendall tore them apart. You absolutely have to just play straight up, try to get pressure on Weeden, try to force some turnovers, and hope your offense can keep the OSU offense on the sideline.