We could argue about whether or not Bedlam is a true "rivalry", lord knows they've done so all week on the local sports talk radio stations. Can you call someone a rival when they'd have to win 65 consecutive games in a row just to pull even in the all-time series record?
Who am I to say.
We're not here to argue that point. We're here to discuss what Oklahoma needs to do in order to prevent consecutive Bedlam losses. That discussion could not start with anything or anyone other than Mike Stoops.
The heralded defensive coordinator has come under fire in recent weeks and coming off the worst statistical defensive performance in program history, deservedly so. While the last two weeks have been miserable to witness, they do not erase the improvements this OU defense had displayed prior the Baylor and West Virginia games.
There had been considerable improvement and at the risk of oversimplifying things, the last two weeks really appear to be a case of simple overcompensation. The brothers Stoops looked to have emphasized stopping one particular aspect of the opposing offenses while sacrificing success in the other. However, that wasn't their failure. The failure was in their inability and/or refusal to adjust, in the moment, as it became clear this strategy was not working.
So in a certain sense, it's back to the drawing board for this Oklahoma defense as Bedlam approaches.
Linebackers are not a bad thing. No one is under any illusion this is an all-time great OU linebacker unit. That said, the decision in recent weeks to employ a seven defensive back/zero linebacker formation has been an unmitigated disaster. It was an experiment, they tried it, it failed. There is no scenario imaginable where it should be a part of what Oklahoma plans to do on defense this Saturday.
Expect Mike Stoops to put two linebackers out on the field and return to the more familiar 4-2-5 base defense. This OU front four has proved incapable of (1) slowing down a rush attack and (2) generating a consistent pass rush on their own, so Stoops is going to have to give them some help this week. The only way to do that is with putting his linebackers back on the field. In a perfect world, given how OSU is likely to attack them, those linebackers would be Frank Shannon, Corey Nelson, and Aaron Franklin but expect to see plenty of Tom Wort as well.
On an island. The blueprint for beating this Oklahoma defense has been to spread them out and attack them with your run game. All of which Oklahoma State does on a weekly basis and as a result will present a significant challenge on Saturday. The Sooners will very likely have to commit an extra defender or two to help defend the run, which will force them to put Demontre Hurst and Aaron Colvin on an island in coverage.
Both are more than capable and should match-up favorably with the Oklahoma State receivers. The danger of course is when you're on that island as a corner, it's typically up to you and you alone to make a play and/or tackle to prevent a touchdown. It is a lot of pressure to put on your secondary, but it's not exactly as if that would be something new this season.
Attack the edge. This is making a repeat appearance as it was something we called for heading into the Iowa State game and proved to be very successful. A similar strategy is necessary on Saturday as Oklahoma State will bring arguably the conference's best defensive tackle duo to Norman.
The repeated insistence of Josh Heupel to run between the tackles, with marginal success, cannot be the plan in this one. If it is, as many of us fear it will be, it's going to be a long day for this Oklahoma offense and much will be asked of Landry Jones and company. As in every game, OU's ability to run the ball consistently will only increase their chances of winning this game.
Slotted for success. For so many years, we've watched opponents exploit the middle of Oklahoma's defense with maddening success. Saturday, it would appear, the tables have turned. Jalen Saunders emergence in this OU offense since being ruled eligible the week of the Texas game has been nothing short of outstanding. Add true freshman stud Sterling Shepard to the mix and this should be a significant advantage for Oklahoma.
Both have the ability to take a short pass and turn it into a huge gain. Working out of the slot, many of the routes they run allow for easier throws on the part of Landry and figure to be a big part of the offensive game plan this Saturday. Given the time, which will be key of course, Jones should be able to pick apart the middle of this Oklahoma State defense with Saunders and Shepard.
You could not convince an OSU fan that even with their third string quarterback getting the start, that they don't have a monumental advantage at quarterback heading into this game. Obviously, that is retarded.
Their opinion is permanently skewed based on last year's game and their cursory (at best) knowledge of Jones' career at Oklahoma. To be fair, OU fans own relationship with Jones has certainly been a bit of a roller coaster. Despite the downs, it's difficult to imagine him not playing well in his final home game, especially coming off what could arguably be called the most impressive win of his career.
And he may have to be exceptional for a second consecutive week if this game proves to be the shootout many of us expect it to be.
What'd we miss? Make sure to tell us your keys to the game in the comments below.