Kickoff for the last Bedlam showdown is just around the corner. Oklahoma State has rebounded from a rough start to the season, whereas the Oklahoma Sooners’ momentum has temporarily stalled.
Here are four critical factors to consider for the Sooners in tomorrow’s game in Stillwater.
Oklahoma’s offensive struggles can’t be attributed solely to the lack of a running game, but having an effective rushing attack would undoubtedly benefit the Sooners. This starts with selecting a primary running back and sticking with them. While players like Jalil Farooq and Gavin Freeman have seen time in the backfield, it’s essential to establish consistency with a single option. Gavin Sawchuck, despite an uneven season, has demonstrated game-changing potential when given more opportunities. Jovantae Barnes, though dealing with injuries, appears to be in practice. Oklahoma has hesitated to deploy freshman backs Kalib Hicks and Daylan Smothers, but they could provide a new dimension to an offense that has struggled to produce big plays recently. The key is for Oklahoma to commit to using their running backs as intended instead of resorting to the recent trend of using a receiver in the backfield.
Limiting Ollie Gordon
Oklahoma State’s offense isn’t entirely one-dimensional, but a significant portion of their success hinges on the abilities of their standout running back, Ollie Gordon. Despite an iffy offensive line, the 6’1”, 211 lb Gordon has been a challenging matchup for opposing defenses, with much of his yardage coming after contact. This means the Sooners will have opportunities to halt Gordon at or behind the line of scrimmage. The responsibility falls on Oklahoma’s linebackers, even if Danny Stutsman might not be available, to step up. If Oklahoma succeeds in stopping the run early in downs, it will allow them to intensify their aggression and exploit the Cowboys’ vulnerable tackles and relatively immobile quarterback, Alan Bowman.
Getting Gabriel Going
In the game against Kansas, Dillion Gabriel didn’t resemble his usual self. While some of this could be attributed to questionable play calling, there were also missed opportunities and a reluctance to push the ball downfield in rainy conditions. The weather for tomorrow seems more favorable for a sharp passing game. Consequently, it’s crucial for the offensive coordinator, Jeff Lebby, to get Gabriel into rhythm early. Oklahoma State’s secondary ranks near the bottom in terms of defensive efficiency, meaning open passing lanes will be available frequently. It wouldn’t be surprising to see a few deep passes to Farooq or Anderson on Oklahoma’s opening drive, as even one successful completion could significantly boost Gabriel’s confidence.
As hinted earlier, Oklahoma should enjoy the upper hand in the trenches tomorrow. The Cowboys lack the talent up front to dominate the Sooners consistently. If you’re seeking a game-changer along the defensive line, keep an eye on Ethan Downs. Being an in-state player, Downs understands the significance of this game for the state, and this motivation should drive his performance. Moreover, Downs has a favorable matchup where his combination of speed and power can put either Dalton Cooper or Jake Springfield on the defensive.