Slice this holiday pie any way you want, but this Saturday's Bedlam Brawl in Stillwater essentially equates to a one-game season for the Oklahoma Sooners.
For the Sooners to share the Big 12 South crown, at worst, OU MUST win Saturday against Oklahoma State. For Oklahoma to receive a possible big money, high-profile BCS bowl game (Orange or maybe even the Sugar), the Sooners MUST beat the Cowboys. To accomplish what looked to be virtually impossible earlier in the season, and that is having a 10-win year the Sooners must venture into T. Boone Pickens Stadium, which will be turned into an asylum of crazed, orange-clad fans and knock out the Pokes in the equivalent of a "Last Man Standing" match.
The fist fight commences at 1:30 p.m. Oklahoma time on Fox Sports. It will not be for the weak at heart or the squeamish. One might consider leaving the women and children at home. Thanks to the brilliant marketing strategy employed by OSU's athletic department, tickets are still available.
The 9-2 Sooners are on the cusp of a truly amazing season and a win Saturday may nudge coach Bob Stoops closer to Big 12 Coach of the Year honors. The job Stoops and his entire staff of talented assistant coaches has done this season is nothing short of extraordinary, especially when one goes down the grocery list of unfortunate things that have occurred this year that have adversely affected the Sooner football squad. I could painfully list them again (Gordon Riese, etc) but most of us remember every bump in the road and don't need to be reminded any further of how emotional this roller-coaster of a football season has been.
However, one can't grieve forever.
I suggest we not focus on what could/might have been but what can be still be, and that is winning 10 regular season games and going "bowling", which might include an Orange Bowl or Sugar Bowl bid if we are, finally, really fortunate. It could be the Gator Bowl or another bowl game, the bowl schedule is released on December 3, but we would go as a 10-win team who by all rights should be 11-1 IF Oklahoma can beat a "nothing to lose" Cowboy team. This one has Slobber-Knocker written all over it.
A win in Stillwater this Saturday will take an ample amount of "Sooner Magic" for this team that has won six-straight games, despite losing the best running back in America AND his talented understudy, who we said in the pre-season could start for most Big 12 teams.
If Allen Patrick is a factor in this Saturday's game, I will be the most surprised Sooner fan wearing a black hat in Stillwater. Patrick's severely sprained ankle, that occurred ironically on the last play of the game against Texas A&M, has improved and Patrick has practiced this week. But will it be good enough to allow Patrick to slash and cut as he did prior to the injury? I certainly hope so, but I am skeptical.
True freshman running back Chris Brown has done an amazing job since being called into duty for a couple of carries against Colorado, and then having excellent games against Texas Tech and Baylor. Ball protection may be Brown's biggest issue at this stage of his young career as one knows that the Pokes will be trying to strip the seemingly fumble-prone Sooner ball carriers of the pigskin at every opportunity. One thing is for sure; Chris Brown, who is tougher than a $2 steak, will always remember his first Bedlam Game and let's hope those memories is positive ones.
This game has a better than average chance to be a high scoring affair. (Did some one say take the "over"?) OSU's offense has plenty of firepower and talent, and is especially suited to make big plays. Big plays plagued the Sooners early in the year when secondary problems haunted the the defense, but those homeruns by the opposition have been greatly reduced by Brent Venables defense over the past several weeks.
Oklahoma State will no doubt test the Sooner secondary and looking for the big play may be the Poke order of the day. Stopping OSU's big play offense is a key to a Sooner victory. Luckily for OU fans, the Sooner defense is playing great football and seems to improve every week.
Have you noticed how much the Sooner front four and sometimes front three have improved over the course of this season? No. 97 Cory Bennett has had flashes of brilliance and his best days are still to come. Plus, DeMarcus Granger, Carl Pendleton and Steve Coleman have been making plays and dominating up front.
The Sooner defense making things uncomfortable on OSU QB Bobby Reid is a must. Reid is 6'3", 235, which makes the Houstonian a big running back who can throw the ball and just happens to call the signals. Reid is a future superstar and hopefully he doesn't get famous against OU this Saturday.
Ironically, Sooner defensive line coach — the intimidating Jackie Shipp — is a Stillwater native who caused quite a stir back in the day when he bolted Stillwater and OSU to sign with Barry Switzer's Sooners and then become a No. 1 draft pick of the Miami Dolphins.
But remember as Bobby Reid goes so go the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
General James S. Patton, OU's outstanding, young offensive line coach, has his big eaters playing physically and playing much smarter, as evidenced by being called for fewer false starts and non-contact penalties. Continuing that trend along with DOMINATING the line of scrimmage may be the biggest key to this football game.
OU's front five is young and talented and have received great leadership from Senior Chris Messner, the converted quarterback from Frederick, Okla., If this unit plays lights out OU will win Bedlam. However, OSU is second in the Big 12 in sacks with 33 in 11 games and Mike Gundy's defense will bring it from all parts of the field with a variety of blitzes. Not surprisingly, good blocking once again is a major key for an OU victory this weekend.
The kiss of death for Oklahoma against OSU will be turnovers. The Sooners had five turnovers last week at Baylor and if that number is equaled in Stillwater Saturday the Sooners lose. That's about as straight forward and honest as I can make it.
From what I understand, the Sooners have had an outstanding week of practice. The team seems focused and ready to roll up their sleeves and chip a tooth if necessary against a vastly improved Oklahoma State team, who has playmakers and who will play with passion.
OSU will not play a bigger "bowl game" even if they get a bowl invitation. The atmosphere will be electric Saturday, which should bring out the best and worst of all involved. T. Boone's tax write-off of a stadium will be rocking with raw emotion ,which is why college football more often than out-delivers the NFL.
The OSU student section is mere feet from the OU bench, and as former Sooner and now Chicago Bear Dusty Dvoracek once told me the most aggressive fans with the most colorful language he ever played before was the OSU faithful. The Sooner sideline will be located in the middle of a battle zone.
One of the reasons I moved back home to Oklahoma was to be able to attend this football game. I love my state and I am a Sooner fan without question, but I do feel the national TV audience will see two, excellent football teams on display this Saturday and will witness the true passion and enthusiasm we Oklahomans have for college football, which has been a vital part of our state's heritage for generations.
For the handful of Sooner seniors who all provided great leadership and who have put their arms around this young team all year during a season marred with controversy, I hope these players can win their last game on Oklahoma soil and get win No. 10, which weeks ago seemed like the impossible dream.
We are one, huge victory away from concluding one of the most memorable seasons in Oklahoma football history.
Bedlam … aptly named.
* To email J.R. and shop his online store for Sooner Slobber-Knocker merchandise and J.R.'s BBQ sauces, check out his website at www.jrsbarbq.com.
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