STILLWATER -- The game Oklahoma State fans have had circled on their calendars for months is finally here, and it’s once again a big one for the Cowboys.
Rivalry games excite fans like nothing else, even if the series is lopsided, especially if you’re a supporter of the team that’s lost more than it’s won. Those fans want to close the gap, which might not happen, but only the next game matters.
That next game is here.
This Saturday in Norman, a pair of ranked teams will battle for bragging rights. But, it’s much more than that, everyone in this state knows this. Sure, it won’t alter the all-time series much either way, but it’s a chance to prove who’s best this year.
The higher-ranked Cowboys come into Saturday having won their last game two weeks ago. That win at Kansas State was much needed after a home loss to Texas that should have gone to the Pokes – and nearly did if not for too many turnovers.
OSU hasn’t put a complete game together this season. Will this be the week it happens? The defense has played exceptional most weeks, but the offense has sputtered throughout the first six games.
Meanwhile, OU got off to a sluggish start, losing two of its first three games before a wild, sloppy overtime win in the Red River Rivalry sparked a turnaround. The Sooners have won four straight games and have looked more like the team that earned the preseason hype.
Now, throw all of that out the door. Stats and records mean nothing when rivals play each other. Time to settle it on the field in Norman, and the winner takes a leg up in possibly playing in the Big 12 Conference Championship next month.
Here are four keys for OSU fans to watch for Saturday.
1st Down: Can OSU limit turnovers?
It’s no secret, in the loss to Texas, it was turnovers that doomed the Cowboys. Take one of those away and the Cowboys likely win that game. It was sloppy and it led to a loss that shouldn’t have happened.
If OSU wants to take down their rivals, it can’t put the ball on the turf or throw careless turnovers. Taking care of the ball is a priority. Creating turnovers would be a good recipe for success, but not committing them might be a bigger ingredient to leaving Norman victorious.
2nd Down: Which Cowboy running back will shine?
Chuba Hubbard will eventually have one of his big games, right? Seems like that has to be possible, but hasn’t happened. The preseason Heisman Trophy hopeful hasn’t reached the potential everyone thought he would this season after an amazing 2019 campaign.
Hubbard has been fine most games, but has yet to break a big run this year. Is he due for one this week?
If not, backup running back LD Brown has been a much-needed spark to the ground game. The OSU senior has broke big runs at various times and has given Hubbard a nice break, while also forcing defenses to be aware of his big-play ability.
It’s probably best if both players have big days. A solid rushing attack might help free up the passing game while scoring points and moving the chains.
But seriously, will Chuba break out this week?
3rd Down: Will the Cowboys’ defense rattle Rattler?
OSU has won five games thanks to its defense. It’s been solid on third down and kept opposing offenses out of the end zone. Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles has folks in Stillwater talking about defense and it’s not in reference to the great teams from the late, great Eddie Sutton.
Knowles should receive help from previously injured players returning to the field. The Cowboys have missed safety Kolby Harvell-Peel and if he’s back, it’s a big boost to the secondary.
The Cowboys will need another tough defensive effort, and in doing so, might be able to rattle or pressure OU freshman quarterback Spencer Rattler. A few hits or sacks early can get to a young player. OSU can’t let Rattler get into a rhythm early Saturday, because it will likely spell disaster for the Pokes.
4th Down: Is this the year to snap the streak?
The Bedlam series is well documented as being in favor of the Sooners. They’ve won the past five games, and most of the contests during the Mike Gundy era – same could be said for any OSU coach.
OSU last beat its rival in 2014 thanks a heroic punt return by Tyreek Hill. “There goes the Cheetah” has been played over and over since that improbable victory in Norman.
Since that game, there has been plenty of drama in the annual Bedlam game, but OU has left victorious every time. Lincoln Riley has never lost to Gundy.
Is this the year the Cowboys end that five-game skid? Or do OSU fans suffer another almost predictable loss to the Sooners?
We’ll find out Saturday night.
Jimmy Gillispie is a sports reporter for the Stillwater News Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.