November 24, 2006

Prepare for total BEDLAM

Bedlam suddenly got a whole lot more interesting.

While ABC is stuck with games such as Nebraska-Colorado and Kansas-Missouri this Thanksgiving weekend, Fox Sports Net will be getting a do-or-die game that will decide the Big 12 South Division winner and secure a spot in the Big 12 title game next Saturday.

Of course, only one of the teams has the shot. But the other has the chance to bring down newfound dreams that just cropped up when Texas A&M marched and gigged and barked in Austin and defeated Texas, 12-7, putting the Big 12 South into chaos. Now it stands that if Oklahoma can defeat Oklahoma State Saturday in Stillwater, the Sooners will play the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Arrowhead Stadium. But the Sooners still have to survive the Stillwater snakepit if they want to hit up the Plaza next weekend. A Bedlam loss sends the Longhorns to the City of Fountains. The game is set for a 1:40 p.m. kickoff and will be televised nationally by FSN.

Bedlam is always a big game for the two teams, no matter the records. While it might not have always meant as much to the school to the south, in recent years OSU (6-5 overall, 3-4 Big 12) has forced OU (9-2, 6-1) to take the series seriously. The Cowboys have cobbled together five wins in the series since 1995, which translates to about 30 percent of OSU's win total in the overall series, which stands at 76-17-7 in favor of the Sooners.

So while the Sooners have the games played in half-flooded fields on lockdown, the game isn't the gimme it once was.

Head coach Mike Gundy says there's no one on the schedule that his players think they can't beat.

"I think that these players feel like they can compete with anybody that we play now," Gundy said. "Last year when we were not a very good football team, we probably played our best games against Texas and Texas Tech. I do not think there is any question that our players feel like we can compete and win the game."

And those players - especially the ones from Oklahoma - realize just how important this game is. Beating the Sooners is something that gives you bragging rights for a whole year. Or, if you're an outgoing senior, like offensive lineman Corey Hilliard, for the rest of your life.

"Not being able to win against (Oklahoma) throughout my career is something I use as motivation," Hilliard said. "I do not want to leave knowing I did not beat them. I think the key is putting the loss to Texas Tech behind us and getting back to work. Oklahoma's defense is the best unit we will see up to this point in the season."

As an in-state player, Jeremy Nethon realizes just how big Bedlam is. He hails from Beggs, which is between Tulsa and Okmulgee.

"Growing up in Oklahoma, Bedlam means everything to me," Nethon said. "As a kid, you see the schools within the state and you do not know which one to go for. Some parts of your family will go for Oklahoma State and the other would go for Oklahoma. Being able to see the two teams clash together has always been a part of my life. It is a big game."

"Most of us players are looking forward to Bedlam," linebacker Rodrick Johnson said. "It is a big game for us and it is time to prove we are the best in Oklahoma. It is a big week for us. There is a lot of emotion in this game because we are playing an in-state rival. It is a football game we have to win. We are both good teams and we both have had some bad breaks this season. (Oklahoma) is a really good team and this will be another challenge for us."

The big challenge with the Sooners comes from their defense. It's a unit which ranks highly in nearly every team category. They will be looking to contain a balanced offense that can get big plays on the ground or in the air.

So what's the key to confusing that vaunted defense?

"I think they understand that we have to run the football," Gundy said. "It is pretty obvious that on offense we rely on getting big plays through our play-action passing game and defensively we have to be steady and get in our spots in pass coverage and then we have to force turnovers. Lastly the special teams, you have to play well on special teams. I think everybody understands what we have to do in order to be successful and win the game."

While Gundy thinks about ways to break through that defense, OU head coach Bob Stoops gets to address stopping OSU on the ground or air or both.

"They are a team that has a lot of balance," Stoop said. "They've been able to run the football very effectively on most everybody. And off of that, they try to get all their big plays with their excellent receivers. Bobby Reid has done a great job orchestrating the whole thing.

You've got to be aware of both (the running and passing game). We're going to have to be great with their running game and be solid in our coverage and try to make him uncomfortable when he's trying to throw."

The make-or-break matchup of the game might be the OSU defense vs. the OU offense. The Sooners have been decent on offense this season, but not all-world. The Cowboys defense has been suspect all season long. How does Sooner quarterback Paul Thompson view the OSU defense?

"Similar to how Baylor was, they are going to come after us with some blitzes," Thompson said. "Look to take care of those as well. Already been getting different looks (of their blitz packages) watching film and that is the main thing. They are going to try and bring pressure and try and rattle me. I am definitely confident in our offensive line and feel we will be able to air it out, as we have in the past."

Gundy said he was pretty happy with the defense last time out against Texas Tech, though there were a couple of situations that hurt OSU.

"Defensively in the last game we played good for most of the game, but we had three really big plays that we gave up. They (Tech) made some nice catches, their guys went up and made some plays. They made plays in the game and we did no. That is the reason that we lost the last game."

If the defense can keep OU from making plays, that might be enough to improve OSU's bowl hopes and send the Sooners back to Norman with a loss and a voided trip to Kansas City.

...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now!