We've had matchups all week going back to last week and even before Thanksgiving. So instead of matchups for Bedlam we will shift to keys to getting the job done and bringing home a Big 12 championship to Stillwater on Saturday.
Anybody that listens to my radio show or reads Go Pokes on a regular basis understands that I am full of enthusiasm for this team on Saturday. I like the way they work and prepare. I like their attitude and demeanor. I like the way Mike Gundy and the coaching staff have handled this. They have not been tense and seemingly under pressure, but confident and at the same time respectful of the caliber of team Oklahoma State is facing in Oklahoma on Saturday.
I've heard more than once that the goal was to prepare for this game in a similar fashion to how they prepared for TCU and the trip to Fort Worth. In my opinion, that was really smart because the 31-6 win over TCU on the road was as impressive a win for the Cowboys over a good opponent since the back-to-back performances in the 2013 season over No. 23 Texas on the road with a 38-13 win and the next week at home with a 49-17 win over third-ranked Baylor.
Those were very solid wins but so was the win at TCU. Oklahoma State is playing well in all three phases at the right time. Confidence mixed with respect is a good way to go into this game.
Here are the keys, in my opinion, to beating Oklahoma on Saturday.
1. Show some superiority inside the game before halftime.
I know you just read that and said, "Are you kidding? You better show superiority right out of the gate." No, you don't have to. Oklahoma State fell behind TCU on the fumbled punt and trailed 6-0 before scoring later in the first period. This team has made a living out of falling behind and not showing any panic and at the same time had the resolve to fight back and take over the game. When you are on the road against a tough team there is a decent chance that they might break out and score first. You can't let them take over but you can remain calm and take over the game and momentum even after falling behind. This Oklahoma State team has been good at it. Now, if they can come out and take control early and create doubt in the Sooners there is no problem with that start at all.
2. Avoid the big play in special teams.
I'm very worried about kickoff coverage for the Cowboys. The day is projected to be cold and rainy and on natural grass that leads to shorter kickoff distance. The Cowboys cover unit better be extremely sound against the caliber of players OU uses on returns. Dede Westbrook and Joe Mixon are especially dangerous. The Cowboys will have a plan and it needs to be executed well. Punts are okay and the return game is okay. I would expect to see Jalen McCleskey back on punt returns. You don't need to break returns for big games, just don't have a negative play. I like the chances for a blocked field goal or PAT with Vincent Taylor and Motekiai Maile.
3. On offense, be patient.
Oklahoma has struggled on defense and there is no need to score 50 points in the first quarter. In fact, Oklahoma has outscored opponents in the first quarter 135-57. The second is 155-105 much closer. In the third, OU is leading 125-80, and in the fourth quarter opponents are outscoring OU 94-83. You can't fall behind and wait until the fourth quarter as that is not a winning formula, but winning the second quarter on certainly can be. Let Oklahoma reveal its defensive plan and then be observant and go attack it.
4. On defense be aggressive up front and careful in the back.
The best way to beat power, and the Oklahoma run game with Semaje Perine and Joe Mixon, is with power. The Cowboys need to cover their gaps and make the fits to stop the run game. When presented the opportunity make sure you make tackle attempts count and hit them hard and low, see the Cowboys run defense versus Texas in the second half. Even if Perine of Mixon goes for 10 or more yards, when they are stopped then gang tackle and be physical. Make them feel each run. On the back end learn from the Baylor game as Westbrook is one of the best in the Big 12 at double moves. Don't bite on first movement, quick analysis and then close ground. Keep him and the other receivers in front of you because if they get behind Mayfield has the arm to make you pay with six.
5. Stay focused and believe in the plans.
I can only remember one game this season where I felt the other side had a better plan than the Cowboys staff. The two losses this season weren't due to game plan but lack of executing it. The one game where the opponent had great answers and plans was Iowa State and the players overcame that. Believe in what you are doing and stay believing. Do that and a win will result.
6. Numbers are important. I have these as barometers.
OU Rushing: Keep them below 200 yards (avg. 228.1) OSU Rushing: Gain 185 yards or more (avg. 165.0)
OU Passing: Keep them below 280 yards (avg. 322.7) OSU Passing: Gain 320 yards or more (avg. 335.2)
OU Scoring: Keep them under 34 points (avg. 45.3) OSU Scoring: Score 35 points or more (avg. 40.4)
Win the turnover battle by plus two! (on the season OU is 0 and OSU is plus-9)
Bedlam Prediction: Oklahoma State 38, Oklahoma 24
Big 12 Predictions
@TCU 35, Kansas State 24
I had this closer earlier, actually a one-point game, but K-State is really beat up.
@#16 West Virginia 42, Baylor 20