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Oklahoma head football coach Lincoln Riley met with the media to preview the Sooners’ battle in Stillwater, Okla., against Oklahoma State.
After Oklahoma State landed at No. 7 in the newest College Football Playoff rankings and the Sooners checked in at No. 10, Bedlam is officially a top-10 showdown Saturday night at 6:30 p.m. on ABC.
Similar to years past, there’s so much at stake in this latest edition of the Bedlam Series.
“Exciting week. Another episode of Bedlam, and as it’s become here in a lot of the years I know that I’ve been here, it’s a game with a lot of important things riding on it. So, that’s what makes it more fun. There’s no question about it. These rivalry games are always great, but when you’ve got two good football teams that are going at it with a lot at stake, it makes it even better. So, excited about the opportunity to get down to Stillwater, play an outstanding Oklahoma State team playing at a high level,” Riley said.
It will be the best defense Oklahoma has seen all season. Oklahoma State ranks No. 3 nationally in total defense, surrendering just 267.8 yards of total offense this season.
The Cowboys possess the country’s No. 4 rushing defense, allowing just 85.8 rushing yards per game. Oklahoma State is good against the pass, too. OSU surrenders only 182 passing yards per game to rank No. 10 nationally in that department.
The Cowboys are tops nationally in third-down conversion defense, letting opponents convert just 24.5 percent of the time. Oklahoma State ranks just 83rd overall in turnovers gained, so OSU is stopping opponents in large part without a bunch of turnovers.
“I mean, like we’ve said, it’s one of the more experienced defenses that, man, I can remember coaching against maybe in my entire career. I mean, it’s got to be top five as far as the most experienced defenses. You look down the depth chart, it’s senior, senior, senior, senior. I think occasionally there’s a junior in there, but not very often. And you know what they’ve done? They’ve played at a high level this year. They’ve played very consistent,” Riley said of Oklahoma State’s defense.
In its past four games, Oklahoma State has allowed just one offensive touchdown and the Cowboys shutout Texas Tech last week. It was the first time the Red Raiders had been shutout in a game since 1997.
“The front has done a good job creating pressure on quarterbacks. They’ve obviously had a lot of tackles for loss, sacks, all that. And just they’ve really played pretty clean football. They haven’t given up a lot of big plays, haven’t had a lot of penalties, haven’t had a lot of busts. And so they’ve made people, when people have moved the ball or scored points, people have had to earn it. And that’s what really good defenses do, and they’ve done it. Like I said, it’s just been a very consistent group. They’ve stayed very healthy, a lot of the same guys, same scheme. They’ve added their wrinkles like everybody does. But it’s a good group top to bottom, and I would say as you watch them you don’t just see like a ton of weaknesses on tape. Like, they don’t have an area where you just point to and say, ‘Man, that area is just killing them.’ They’ve got good playmakers at all levels,” Riley said.
It sets up massive road start for Oklahoma true freshman quarterback Caleb Williams. After becoming just the third Sooner quarterback in program history to throw six touchdown passes with zero interceptions in a single game against Texas Tech, Williams suddenly looks somewhat lost each of the past two weeks.
Versus Baylor, Williams completed just 9-of-18 passes for 142 yards with a pair of interceptions. Then, last week against Iowa State, Williams was held to just 8-of-18 passing for 87 yards with one touchdown pass to Mario Williams and an interception.
Riley is selling confidence in his signal-caller.
“I still have a lot of confidence in him because when he and when he as an offense around him have played at a high level, we’ve played [really well]. We’ve had a stretch of games, a set of games since he’s been the starter where we’ve played just as high of a level as we’ve ever played. Now, have we had some bouts of inconsistency? We have. But again, my confidence comes from the progress that he’s making that I see on Saturdays and behind the scenes, and then my confidence comes from I think some of the times when we have not been good [where] it’s not just us getting our butts kicked,” Riley said.
One of the charges Riley has shared with Williams is to make more of the routine plays against Oklahoma State.
“I think the thing I would say for him is just I think we need just a big stack of routine plays out of him. And they certainly don’t make that easy. But the more routine plays that he can make, then I think the big ones from him and from other players on our offense will come that way. And, honestly, when he’s done that, when we’ve done that as an offense, we’ve played pretty well. And again, that routine play can be described a lot of ways. Whether it’s a run, whether it’s a down-the-field throw, whatever it is, we just need to be steady and go execute and not make a lot of mistakes because you know you’re playing a group, again, like I referenced, that has so many starts, that has so much experience,” Riley said.
It will be the biggest challenge of Williams career and another performance like Oklahoma got last week out of redshirt junior running back Kennedy Brooks would go a long way toward making life easier for Williams and this Oklahoma offense.
“Yeah, no, I mean, when he’s played good, we’ve played pretty good. And it’ll be important. He’s had some good games in the past against these guys and has been key to some victories before. And we know this year is a new year, new challenge, but he and our run game are obviously a big part of what we do. They obviously help with a young quarterback. There’s nothing like being able to run the football at a high level on the road. And so it’s important every single week. And like you said, against a group like this that’s been good defensively against the run, it’ll be probably one of the keys to the game,” Riley said.
Brooks carried 17 times for 115 rushing yards against Iowa State. Asking for those numbers against Oklahoma State will be a tall task, but, if the Sooners are to set up a Bedlam rematch in the Big 12 championship game, then something similar is probably a necessity.