The vibes surrounding each team are strikingly different. Oklahoma is coming off of their first loss of the season, to Kansas, no less. That loss was preceded by a scare at home from UCF coming out of their bye week.
Meanwhile, Mike Gundy has his Cowboys on a four-game winning streak and isn’t lacking in things he needs to say to motivate his team for this particular game.
Oklahoma will lose this game if they play like they have the last two weeks. In a rivalry game, mistakes are magnified.
There is nothing more Oklahoma State fans want more than to beat Oklahoma as the Bedlam series comes to a close with the Sooners’ departure to the SEC.
The last two games have shown us Oklahoma is improved. However, they are still capable of losing games if they don’t bring their best.
What do the Sooners need to do to come away with a win. Here are five keys to this week’s matchup.
Balance is key
Jeff Lebby had a rough week if he paid attention to anything said about him by the fans and media after their loss to Kansas. Late-game decision-making and play-calling have come under fire.
Whether you agree or not, Jeff Lebby had a hand in Oklahoma’s loss. The weather won’t be an issue this weekend. Tawee Walker is hoping to be healthy enough to go. If not, the recent resurgence of the run game will be on the shoulders of sophomores Gavin Sawchuk and Jovantae Barnes.
Oklahoma will certainly get back to throwing the football with more regularity this week. And they need to. Dillon Gabriel has played as well as anyone in college football this season. Sure, the running game almost carried the Sooners to the finish line last week, but balance is necessary.
Continue to run the ball, but make sure Gabriel and the passing attack are a big part of the offensive gameplan.
Contain Ollie Gordon
It doesn’t seem likely that the Sooners will completely shut down Ollie Gordon. No one has this year, certainly not over the last month. The Oklahoma State offensive line is in a groove, and they are opening some holes for their talented teammate. Here’s the thing: Stopping Gordon is likely a fruitless ask.
However, if we set the benchmark to no more than 150 yards and force Alan Bowman to be a hero, Oklahoma’s chances to win go way up.
Oklahoma State has some injuries to their wide receiver corps, and the Sooners are getting starting cornerback Gentry Williams back.
Ted Roof and Brent Venables will take their chances with Alan Bowman over letting Gordon run over them for 200 yards like he’s done the last two game.
Oklahoma has lacked the aggression and fire the team had leading into the Texas game. The Sooners jumped out to a 7-0 lead vs. UCF and stalled. They went down 14-0 against Kansas before fighting back.
This team is a different team; when they get off to fast starts and on the road in a hostile environment, that could be the difference in a win or loss.
Furthermore, will the Sooenrs treat this game with the level of aggression it deserves? Will Oklahoma continue to attack Oklahoma State even if they get up early? Or will the Sooners resign to conservative playcalling on the road in a hostile environment?
Oklahoma better believe Mike Gundy will force the issue. Brent Venables and his staff need to match the intensity and aggression they’ll get from their opponent from the outset.
Let Gabriel Cook
With the possibility that Tawee Walker may not be 100 percent, the burden of the offense shifts even more to Dillon Gabriel.
Gabriel has taken a step forward as a player this season. In these big games, it would be nice to see Lebby understand that and allow his talented veteran QB to have the ball in his hands to dictate the outcome.
Oklahoma will have the better quarterback and receivers, and ultimately, if the Sooners need a play late, that’s who should be in charge of making the play.
Special Teams matters
In a game like this, kicking, punting, and securing the ball on special teams could be all the difference. Saturday feels like a game where Oklahoma’s issues at specific points with kicking and punting could be a significant factor. They were in Stillwater in 2021.
Will they show up in a big way for Venables, or will the lack of consistency at punting or kicking be a net negative and potentially cost the Sooners the game?
Against the Jayhawks, a bobbled catch on a kickoff to defensive end Marcus Stripling gave Kansas an extra possession. That play happened because Kansas took advantage of the Sooners willingness to put a player with minimal ball skills out there on the kick return team. Couple that with bad weather, and just like that, Kansas stole a possession.
Maybe this is the week the Sooners pull out a fake field goal like they did against Iowa State last year.