The game of the year for Oklahoma State is finally here.
After some Thanksgiving turkey and togetherness on Thursday, the Cowboys will look to a Bedlam match against Oklahoma for a chance to finish the 2006 regular season on a very high note. If OSU can find a way to win against OU this weekend, it would mean Bedlam would stand at a 6-6 tie since the end of the Pat Jones and Barry Switzer (via his longtime assistant Gary Gibbs) eras. It would also put the Pokes solidly into the bowl picture, instead of needing the Big 12 to farm out a higher-win team to ensure them a spot in one of the conference bowl tie-ins.
The Sooners are coming in on a roll, having won their last six games. You've got to give credit to OU coach Bob Stoops, who's had every reason to make excuses for this season. But while many expected the Sooners to cave in after the Rhett Bomar debacle and Adrian Peterson injury, they haven't. OU stands just outside the BCS picture and is headed to a very nice bowl destination, regardless of the outcome of Bedlam. As for OSU, their roller-coaster season ends at home, which is a good thing. This is just simply a team that is entirely different at Boone Pickens Stadium. This game has all the markings of another tight result, which has been the norm in Stillwater the last six years.
SOONERS AT A GLANCE
2005 record: 8-4 (6-2 Big 12); defeated Oregon in the Holiday Bowl, 17-14.
Record so far this season: 9-2 (6-1 Big 12)
Top player: Normally the answer would be simple here, but since Peterson has been out the last half of the season and has officially been shelved for Bedlam, we'll go with receiver Malcolm Kelly. This guy has some of the most-impressive abilities of any wideout on the collegiate level. He's a breakaway threat and can always work his way to where the ball is. So far this season, he has 839 receiving yards, good enough for third in the Big 12 and 25th nationally. He also has eight touchdowns. It would take the next three Sooner receivers (Juaquin Iglesias, Manuel Johnson and Joe Jon Finley) to equal his receiving yards and it would take those three along with Peterson and Jermaine Gresham to equal his receiving touchdown output. It's safe to say that Kelly will be the main focus for the OSU secondary.
Current ranking: No. 13 in the AP poll; No. 15 in the BCS
Fact of the week: OU's university logo has a farmer on it, which is ironic considering the jokes OU fans toss at Cowboy fans about OSU's agricultural traditions.
THE BIG THING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT...
...the Sooner offense: Their passing game doesn't put up huge numbers in terms of yards, but it is very efficient. While the Sooners are ranked 71st in passing offense (171 yards per game), they're 26th in pass efficiency, posting a 144.72 mark. They also ranked 23rd in scoring offense, at 30 points a game. Of course, OU really makes its hay on the ground. The Sooners have the No. 16 rushing offense in the nation, averaging 184 yards a game. The receiving situation has been mentioned above, but the running corps. still needs some mention. Peterson is definitely out. The return of Allen Patrick (502 yards, two touchdowns) is doubtful, though it's being reported by some in Norman he will play on Saturday. He's missed the last two games. To err on the side of safety, the starting running back spot will likely fall to Chris Brown, who has only played in three games all season. Even so, he's put up nice stats, rushing for 84 yards and two touchdowns against Texas Tech and a whopping 169 yards and a score at Baylor last week. Between Brown and Jacob Gutierrez, the Sooners should still have a good running threat - albeit not nearly as scary as what Peterson has single-handedly done to the Cowboys in the past. And not to be forgotten, Paul Thompson has risen to the challenge of switching back from quarterback and has probably saved the season for the Sooners. He has 2,092 yards, 17 touchdowns and only seven interceptions on the season. He doesn't do anything flashy, but he doesn't cost OU games. His best output was for 309 yards against Texas Tech, his only 300-yard game of the season. But that performance followed a horrible trip to Texas A&M, where he passed for only 39 yards on 3-of-12 passing.
...the Sooner defense: They will be quite a challenge for OSU, as the Sooners rank in the top 20 of every major statistical category on defense. OU is 10th in total defense (265 ypg), 20th in rushing defense (97 ypg), 18th in pass defense (167 ypg), eighth in pass efficiency defense (99.63) and 19th in scoring defense (15 points per game). If there's a weakness at all, its in their lack of sacks. The Sooners only have 19 on the season, which ranks them 84th nationally.
...the coach: In a year that some thought would see the Sooners decline because of the initial losses of Bomar and moving of Thompson from wide receiver to QB, then the loss of Peterson to injury, Bob Stoops has proven why he's worthy of being one of the highest-paid coaches in the game. You have to give him a ton of credit for keeping his team focused and poised in a year where the bad news could have easily meant disappointment. No matter what happens this weekend, Stoops has done a great job keeping OU together in 2006.
The gut feel here is that this game will be close like it was in 2004. While the Sooner defense is very solid this year, the OSU offense is balanced enough to go with the option the Sooners give them, whether it be the air or the ground. The big question is whether the OSU defense will play another Nebraska-style game against the Sooners. That's the kind of effort that will be needed against OU. While they won't pass for a ton on OSU, they're consistent enough to make them pay for any mistakes. The real key will be limiting the success of Brown (and likely, to some degree, Gutierrez) on the ground. If the front four can plug the running game, OSU stands a much better chance of winning. The Cowboys need big games from what could become "The Triplets III" in Bobby Reid, Dantrell Savage and Adarius Bowman. The key will be mixing and matching plays to keep OU guessing in how OSU wants to gain yards. If the defense can step up and force a couple of key turnovers, that could be enough for the Pokes. OU is listed as a six-point favorite by Las Vegas and Stoops has never covered a spread in Stillwater while at OU. Ans as far as intangibles, OSU always wants to beat OU more than vice-versa. It's tough to see what will happen, but since it's Thanksgiving, I'll be a homer and call for a 36-34 win for OSU. It definitely has the feel of a game that will be decided by less than 10 points either way.
*NOTE: All stats taken from NCAASports.com
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