With just three scheduled matchups left in the long-running Bedlam rivalry, every game counts just a little bit more. The Cowboys are never going to be able to claim historic supremacy over their in-state rivals, but they can send the Sooners packing to SEC country with a few Ls still.
To earn back-to-back Bedlam victories for the first time in over two decades, the Cowboys will need to answer these following questions.
1. Can the Cowboys Slow Down Eric Gray?
Senior running back Eric Gray has been one of the few bright spots for the Sooners’ offense this season, especially over the last month. The former Tennessee Volunteer figured into the Sooners’ RB depth last season behind Kennedy Brooks, but he hit the ground running (hard) when he was handed the reins for 2022.
Gray ranks third in the conference at 1,113 yards and has 10 rushing scores. His 6.75 yards per carry leads the league. He’s a tough runner who’s even tougher to take down. Gray is fresh off of a 211-yard (8.4 per carry) performance in a losing effort to West Virginia. He scored OU’s only two touchdowns of the day.
After a decent stretch to start the season, the Cowboys defense became porous up front. Starting with the TCU loss and running the four games leading into last week’s matchup with Iowa State, OSU allowed teams to rush for an average of 245 yards per game and 6.2 yards per carry. The defense got a break with the Big 12’s worst rushing offense in Iowa State last week, but the Cowboys won’t find things so easy against Gray. If OSU can find a way to at least slow No. 0 in red down, that will put that much more pressure on Dillon Gabriel and a passing attack that has struggled as of late.
2. Can the Cowboys Get to Gabriel?
A touted Oklahoma State pass rush started 2022 off hot, collecting 16 sacks over the first five games of the season, got opposing quarterbacks down just two times in a four-game stretch from the Cowboys game against TCU to their game against Kansas. But OSU sacked Iowa State QB Hunter Dekkers four times last Saturday. Is that the sign of the Cowboys getting things figured out or was it an aberration?
Gabriel is talented, but he and his wide receivers have not always been on the same page this season. If OSU can keep him on his heels, that should further throw off the Sooners’ offense and make it one-dimensional.
In the loss against West Virginia last week Gabriel was sacked three times. He incidentally turned in the worst QBR rating of his career at 20.7. So limit Gray and get after Gabriel. Those are the my two keys for OSU’s defensive success on Saturday. Now to my one key for offensive success.
3. How Healthy is Spencer Sanders?
We saw the late-game heroics against Iowa State, and we heard what Sanders said after the game (basically, there’s no way he’s missing Bedlam). But we also saw that ice pack that’s become a regular accessory this season. Mike Gundy said on Monday that he was unaware that Sanders had decided to go, but he was glad about it. (No kidding.) He also said that it was completely up to Sanders if he plays or not.
If Sanders wasn’t healthy enough to get out there, I have no doubt that OSU would have wrapped him in bubble wrap, with Gundy holding the tape, and that Gunnar Gundy would have finished the game last Saturday. But there’s a big difference between 100 percent and healthy enough. Sanders is somewhere in between. His ability to be effective as both a passer and a runner will determine the Cowboys’ floor and ceiling for Saturday and the rest of the year. But his ability as a leader is just about as valuable.
If I had to make a prediction (I will later this week), I’d say Sanders has a big game with a chance to put his last stamp on Bedlam. He could become just the second OSU starting quarterback to beat OU twice. But his health is definitely something to watch.