November 24, 2007

It's Bedlam Time

The Thanksgiving turkey has been demolished, that fourth slice of pumpkin pie is giving you a tummy ache and all the college football yesterday makes today seem like Sunday.

But it's not. It's Saturday. Bedlam Saturday, to be exact. For the 102nd time, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma will square off on the gridiron this afternoon. Two of the last three games have been decided by six points or less and today is six years to the day of the last win in Norman for the Cowboys, so it's anyone's guess as to what could happen at Gaylord Family Stadium - especially with the way this college football season has gone. The game is slated for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff and will be televised nationally by Fox Sports Net.

The Cowboys (6-5 overall, 4-3 Big 12) head to Norman with little pressure, as bowl eligibility was finally clinched last week with a win over Baylor. On the flip side, the Sooners (9-2, 5-2) don't have much pressure on them now either, as they are a near-lock to play in the Big 12 Championship game next weekend in San Antonio after the Texas loss to Texas A&M yesterday. Even if the Pokes win today, the Sooners should be heading to the Alamo City, barring some sort of weird numbers glitch in the BCS Rankings.

So while this game isn't a battle to see who plays for the Big 12 title, it is a game to see how potentially divided-up the Big 12 South division championship could be. If OU wins, the Sooners will hold the South title outright. If OSU wins, it would be split three ways between the Cowboys, Sooners and Longhorns, with OU representing the South in the Big 12 championship, as they should have the highest BCS ranking.

The Cowboys come into Bedlam this year with another strong offensive unit. This year, the unit is ranked sixth nationally and averages 250 yards on the ground and through the air. They'll be going up against a stout OU defense which has had a good season overall, but has had some issues of late, allowing 923 yards and 55 points in their last two outings. Even with those big numbers out there, head coach Mike Gundy has nothing but respect for the Sooner defense.

"They're as good as we've played so far on defense," Gundy said. "They're obviously very big and physical up front. DeMarcus Granger and Gerald McCoy and those guys in there are good players and they run well. Curtis Lofton moves well side to side and they're physical in the back end and they're good tacklers in the back end."

If the Cowboys are to have a realistic chance to win today, they'll need the offense to not get rattled early and limit its turnovers. And oh, keep seeing growth and improvement out of first-year starter Zac Robinson at quarterback. This will only be his 10th start in his career - all this season - and he's managed to put up big numbers both passing and running the ball.

"He gets better each game," Gundy said. "He gets a better feel for what's happening out there. Zac has good vision and he sees things. As he continues to get more reps and play more games, he'll get better each game and he has shown those signs of improvement. He made some throws in the last two or three games that he wouldn't have made five games ago because he just couldn't see it all. Now he starts to see it all and he learns to play to the speed of the game."

While Sooner head coach Bob Stoops calls Robinson an "excellent competitor" with great running and throwing ability, the OU leader says the first priority of his defense will be stopping the OSU running game - whether it be Robinson, Dantrell Savage or someone else.

"For me, it begins with rushing because you have to be great at stopping the run," Stoops said. "As you are doing that, they have a lot of play-action that you have to adapt to and play it and cover them and not give them big plays."

And because of OSU's high-octane, balanced attack, Stoops said his offense has to adapt depending on the situation at hand.

"We can't go out there and just run the football, regardless of our situation," Stoops said. "I always believe in balance, to some degree. I think you sometimes stick to what is working for you. We are not going to just strictly run the football, so we are going to try and do both and be efficient that way."

One man who wants to slow down that OU offense is Nathan Peterson. Like everyone else on the team, Peterson has never been on the field for a win over the Sooners. He'd like to change that today - his final shot at the school to the south.

"It is something I have grown up around ever since I was a little kid. I watched this rivalry every year," Peterson said. "It is really important to me and I haven't beat OU since I have been here. This is an important game and I would like to pull an upset for my senior year."

The offense he'll be going up against is somewhat depleted. Running back DeMarco Murray is out for the season, while Sam Bradford suffered a concussion against Texas Tech, but has been cleared to play. Even with those issues, the Sooner offense has been very potent, scoring an average of 43 points a game - fourth nationally. And they've only lost twice at home with Stoops leading the team. One of those came against OSU, six years ago today.

"That's a really hostile environment," said linebacker Jeremy Nethon about the Gaylord locale. Last time I was down there it was just insane. I have never seen anything like it. It is going to be tough to go down there and play because the fans are a tough crowd. You've got to get ready for it."

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