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Despite High-Powered QBs, Rushing Attacks Matter Most in Bedlam

All of the signs point to both teams’ rushing attacks running wild on Saturday

NCAA Football: Oklahoma at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday’s weather: a low of 40 degrees Fahrenheit. 90% chance of precipitation, 95% humidity. Winds, as always, will be rolling down the plains. This Saturday’s forecast isn’t necessarily a pretty one for the Bedlam quarterbacks, but the running backs, on the other hand...

We’ll start with rushing defenses. The Pokes’ rushing defense leaves a bit to be desired, giving up just over 202 yards per game. Sure, those numbers are inflated a bit due to the high-scoring nature of the conference, but they aren’t pretty, especially compared to Oklahoma’s average of 150 rushing yards allowed per game.

Many times in college football, however, it comes down to ‘what have you done for me lately,’ and the Cowboys have improved in the latter half of the season. Before their Thanksgiving bye week, OSU’s defense absolutely shut down TCU’s rushing attack, allowing Kyle Hicks (who ran for 192 and five TDs the week prior vs. Baylor) just 47 yards on 27 touches.

The best defensive lineman in the game is a Cowboy: Vincent Taylor. He’s 6’3” and 310 lbs. of run-stopping mass, and he may bludgeon Perine and Mixon on runs up the gut. Taylor has racked up 11.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks on the season.

Both teams, funnily enough, give up an average of 4.5 yards per rushing attempt. Given the weather (and not to mention the personnel on both sides), expect those rushing averages come up a bit.

If you’re reading this, you probably don’t need to know about Oklahoma’s very own thunder-and-lightning duo, Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. They’re the best backfield tandem in the nation for my money, and as we saw in Morgantown, the Sooners aren’t afraid to lean on them in adverse weather conditions.

Perine and Mixon play the most pivotal role for the Sooners on Saturday. Tempo will be the name of the game, and controlling it will be the key to victory. Oklahoma State’s offense—like Oklahoma’s—has the propensity to strike quick, sometimes to the detriment of its own defense. For this reason, I can see the Sooners heavily leaning on Perine to wear down OSU’s defense and take valuable time off of the clock. The less time Mason Rudolph and James Washington are on the field, the better.

Mixon, on the other hand, could be used as a change-of-pace back, and thus may not see as many attempts as Perine. He’ll still be critical in stretching OSU’s defense out, both laterally and over the top. Expect some big runs in the third and fourth quarters as OSU’s defense begins to wear down from a heavy dose of Perine punishment.

One last thing about OU’s rushing offense: it sets up the play-action pass really, really well. 10 of DeDe Westbrook’s 15 touchdowns have come as breakaway routes set up by a Baker Mayfield fake to either Perine or Mixon. The play-action keeps defenses honest. If they cheat, moving up to attack the run, Mayfield won’t be afraid to go over the top of them.

Oklahoma State’s running attack hadn’t found its legs until quite recently. They’ve averaged just over 241 rushing yards per game in their last three contests (against K-State, Texas Tech, TCU). That’s over 6.6 yards per carry.

Although freshman Justice Hill can be credited with reinvigorating their ground attack, Chris Carson has been most impressive. He’s reinvented himself as a punishing, brutish runner, which certainly matches his 6’1”, 210 lbs. frame. In the past five games, Carson has run well alongside Hill, notching 362 yards an six touchdowns.

Oklahoma’s depleted defensive line (and defense as a whole) will have their hands full enough trying to stop Gundy and Rudolph’s over-the-top attack before even having time to consider Hill and Carson. Here’s to hoping that part of the game plan didn’t go overlooked by Mike Stoops.

It’s likely to be a nasty, cold, wet, and windy Bedlam Saturday. While many are predicting a colossal shootout, the trends suggest that this may be a shorter and lower-scoring affair than previously envisioned. In an age of dominant passing offenses, this game could be a throwback to simpler, closer-to-the-ground eras of football. Mixon, Perine, Hill, and Carson will look to run wild en route to a Big 12 title.