Berry Tramel: The OU defensive game plan was apparent. Stop OSU tailback Ollie Gordon. It was successful, and came with a cost.
STILLWATER — The final Bedlam will sting for a long while for the Sooners. Elimination from College Football Playoff consideration. Big 12 Championship Game hopes wounded, perhaps mortally. A century of Bedlam domination countered by the loss of the last meeting, a sort of perpetual recency bias.
OSU beat OU 27-24 Saturday in a wild affair between evenly-matched teams.
“I hurt for our guys,” Brent Venables said. “They really laid it on the line. We didn’t always play great today. We made too many critical mistakes against a good football team.
“I loved the fight, the grit of the team. We gave ourselves a chance to win at the end. As we saw, again, the errors that we made, the timeliness of the errors, we couldn’t overcome. We didn’t get into a rhythm on offense in the second half. I’m proud of how the defense responded not playing well early.”
Pretty good summation of the events, from a crimson perspective.
But let’s go past summations. The OU report card lifts the curtain on how the Sooners fell short in a game that would have set up Venables’ squad for the rest of the season:
Receivers: D. Six-year veteran Drake Stoops had a monster day, with 12 catches for 134 yards and a touchdown, on 15 targets. Remarkable production. Jalil Farooq had great numbers – seven catches, 98 yards. Nic Anderson turned a crossing pattern into a 49-yard gain. But inside those numbers were a hollow day. Anderson dropped a wide-open deep ball that seemed destined for a 67-yard TD in the second quarter. Brenen Thompson dropped a short, fourth-down pass late in the third quarter. Farooq had two false start/offsides penalties. Stoops himself bobbled the game’s final pass, after running a route short of the first-down marker on a fourth-and-5 from the OU 46-yard line with a minute to play.
Stopping Gordon: A. The OU defensive game plan was apparent. Stop OSU tailback Ollie Gordon. The national rushing leader had been on a tear, with 553 yards the previous two games. The Sooners held Gordon to 137 yards on 33 carries. Gordon had runs of 35, 20 and 12 yards. But he also had 17 runs of two yards or less. In back-to-back third-quarter possessions, OU stuffed Gordon on fourth-and-1 plays from Sooner territory. The stack-the-box game plan meant OU was vulnerable in the passing game, but that was a trade Venables was willing to make.
Containing Presley: B. OSU’s other big-play threat, Brennan Presley, had a big day, with eight catches for 97 yards. But a key statistic is the targets for Presley; quarterback Alan Bowman threw Presley’s way only nine times. Remarkable that the Sooners could shut down Gordon while also keeping Presley from being too free. OU mostly prevented the swing and screen passes that make Presley so dangerous on the perimeter.
Third-down Dillon Gabriel: A. The OU quarterback was superb on third downs, when he completed six of nine passes, for 122 yards. Eight of those passes were third-and-long plays, when OU needed at least seven yards for a first down. Five times Gabriel threw on third-and-double-digits — he completed four of the five, converted for a first down on three of the five, and the lone incompletion was the late fade to Stoops that easily could have been called pass interference. Also, the Anderson drop that would have been the 67-yard TD? It came on a third-and-7.
Running game: A. The Sooners ran it well. Tailback Gavin Sawchuk zipped through a big hole on OU’s third offensive play and went 64 yards for a touchdown. He finished with 111 yards on 13 carries. Tawee Walker took over much of the duties in the second half and had good production — 59 yards on eight carries. That’s 170 yards on 21 carries from the tailback spot, not counting a nine-yard loss attributed to Javontae Barnes on an errant snap. The only downside? After Walker’s 11-yard run on OU’s first play of the fourth quarter, with the Sooners at the OSU 45-yard line and nursing a 21-17 lead, Walker carried three straight times, for gains of 3, 2 and 0, leading to a pooch punt.
Bedlam 2023 in pictures
Pass rush: C. The Sooners did not sack Bowman. They often flushed him from the pocket — sometimes after quality coverage — but the OSU quarterback flung the ball away. OU was credited with two quarterback hurries, one each from Ethan Downs and Kobie McKinzie. The focus on stopping Gordon probably prevented some blitzes that could have put Bowman in harm’s way.
Poise: D. The wild Boone Pickens Stadium crowd seemed to get to the Sooners. Center Andrew Raym snapped wildly in the first quarter, sending the ball to Barnes at tailback instead of Gabriel. The resulting fumble squelched momentum. In the fourth quarter, Raym snapped the ball prematurely – Sooners later said the noise was a factor – and low, bouncing off Gabriel’s lower leg when he wasn’t ready. The Cowboys recovered at the OU 19-yard line and kicked a field goal. Venables lost his poise and argued a call some 25 feet onto the field, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that fueled the Cowboys’ fourth-quarter touchdown drive. The Final Bedlam environment did not bring out the best in the Sooners.
Replacing Stutsman: B. Linebacker Danny Stutsman, OU’s defensive and emotional leader, missed the game with an ankle sprain. The Sooners held up well without him. Replacement Kip Lewis had a monster game, with 15 tackles, nine of them solo. Stutsman’s absence was not felt much in the run defense. Truthfully, the Sooner defense played winning football Saturday.