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Bedlam football: Why high scores of recent years are less likely Saturday

STILLWATER — Looking back on Bedlams past is always fun. Certain scores bring up instant memories.

61-41. Oklahoma’s shootout win in 2008.

16-13. Oklahoma State’s shocker in 2001.

12-0. OSU breaks 19-game Bedlam losing streak in 1995

21-20. OU completes late comeback with field goal in 1983.

But look back at final scores of Bedlams of the past decade, and it’s not just the memories that pop. It’s the numbers themselves.

48-47. 62-52. 51-48. 47-41.

Those are some big numbers. Historic ones really. Since 2010, Bedlam teams have scored 40 points or more 10 times. In the three decades before that, teams in this rivalry only reached the 40-point plateau eight times.

Never before has this rivarly seen anything like this. Of late, Bedlam watchers have been way more likely to see a team score 40 points than 20 or less. It’s the way the Big 12 has gone in recent years, and Bedlam has gone right along with the trend.

Offenses rule. Defenses drool.

But not this season.

“The league’s been different this year,” Cowboy coach Mike Gundy said. “The game hasn’t been played as fast. Defenses have rallied and played better.”

Sooner coach Lincoln Riley said: “You can just feel it. I just feel like everybody is a little bit better defensively. You can see scoring is down. Across the conference, there’s been way more low-scoring games.”

So, are we in for a low-scoring Bedlam on Saturday night?

Sure seems like it.

Even though the Sooners and the Cowboys rank high nationally in points scored per game and have big-play options in their offenses — Chuba Hubbard and CeeDee Lamb can strike like bolts from the blue — both have been trending toward lower-scoring games.

OU has scored less than 40 points in each of its past two games, 34 against Baylor and 28 against TCU. Of the Sooners’ past six games, six have had final tallies below 40 points.

OSU has been below that mark every game of Big 12 play. The Cowboys have actually had three games where they’ve only scored in the 20s – but two of them were victories.

So, what’s going on here?

The defenses in the league are improved. Look at yards allowed per games, and half of the Big 12 teams rank highly. OU – yes, OU! – leads the way at 31st followed TCU (33rd), Baylor (41st), Iowa State (50th) and Kansas State (52nd).

But look at scoring defense, and the league has more than half of its teams in the top half nationally. Baylor, K-State, Iowa State, OU, OSU and TCU all rank in that upper half and are holding teams to an average of 27.0 points or less.

While Texas Tech, Texas and West Virginia rank out of the top half nationally, none of them are allowing more than 30.0 points a game.

Offenses in the Big 12 may still rule, but the defenses no longer drool.

“I know what I see on tape, and week in, week out, I’m seeing a lot of good defenses in this league,” Riley said. “I think there are a lot of quality defenses in this league, maybe more than we’ve had in a long, long time.”

But that isn’t the only part of the equation.

Offenses aren’t as dynamic as they have been in recent years. Even though both OU and OSU still have quick-strike, high-score capabilities, we’ve seen them downshift. Neither Sooners nor Cowboys are running the up-tempo style we’ve seen both do in recent years. They are as likely to snap the ball with less than 10 seconds left on the playclock as they are with less than 10 seconds elapsed.

Longer drives have become more normal. Last week, half of OU’s four touchdown drives lasted 10 plays. Both of OSU’s touchdown drives went more than 10 plays.

These teams are grinders.

Which brings us back to Saturday.

Is this going to be a ball-control Bedlam? A low-scoring affair? A defensive battle?

“It’s Bedlam,” Sooner center Creed Humphrey said. “Those games are always crazy.”

Crazy, sure.

But 38-35 crazy seems way more likely than the 48-47 or 62-52 variety.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or jcarlson@oklahoman.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.

Related Photos
<strong>Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard can strike quickly, but with the uptick in the Bedlam defenses, Saturday's game may be more about extended possessions and grinding drives. [BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN]</strong>

Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard can strike quickly, but with the uptick in the Bedlam defenses, Saturday's game may be more about extended possessions and grinding drives. [BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-a46c501825f611788c39fed6508310b8.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard can strike quickly, but with the uptick in the Bedlam defenses, Saturday's game may be more about extended possessions and grinding drives. [BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN] " title=" Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard can strike quickly, but with the uptick in the Bedlam defenses, Saturday's game may be more about extended possessions and grinding drives. [BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN] "><figcaption> Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard can strike quickly, but with the uptick in the Bedlam defenses, Saturday's game may be more about extended possessions and grinding drives. [BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-f05b247e6957071e3115e4ce4f98ee22.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb has made lots of big catches this season, but Oklahoma State cornerback Rodarius Williams and the rest of the Cowboy defense hopes to make life tougher Saturday for everyone on the Sooner offense. [SARAH PHIPPS/THE OKLAHOMAN] " title=" Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb has made lots of big catches this season, but Oklahoma State cornerback Rodarius Williams and the rest of the Cowboy defense hopes to make life tougher Saturday for everyone on the Sooner offense. [SARAH PHIPPS/THE OKLAHOMAN] "><figcaption> Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb has made lots of big catches this season, but Oklahoma State cornerback Rodarius Williams and the rest of the Cowboy defense hopes to make life tougher Saturday for everyone on the Sooner offense. [SARAH PHIPPS/THE OKLAHOMAN] </figcaption></figure>
Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›

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