Tramel: Don't expect a 62-52 score for OU and OSU as Bedlam football 2020 arrives
OSU quarterback Mason Rudolph passed for 448 yards in Bedlam on Nov. 4, 2017. He was 150 yards shy of being the game’s leading passer.
OSU tailback Justice Hill rushed for 228 yards that night. He did not have the most scrimmage yards in that game.
The Cowboys scored 52 points. They lost by 10 points.
A year and a week later, OSU lost Bedlam again, 48-47.
Ninety-nine points in back-to-back Bedlams for the Cowboys. Without a victory.
Fitting for a rivalry that had soared one into the offensive stratosphere: 61-41 in 2008, 47-41 in 2010, 45-45 (regulation) in 2012.
But as we reach Bedlam week, culminating with a showdown in Norman matching Big 12 title contenders, the game has assumed a different tone.
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The Sooners are playing a little defense. The Cowboys are playing a lot of defense. This game could be won by a team in the 20s.
OSU has one of the Big 12’s two best defenses, along with West Virginia.
OU appears to have its best defense since 2015, the last season in which the Sooners didn’t tarnish the Selmons/Bosworth/Casillas legacy.
“It’s a combination of a lot of things,” Lincoln Riley said of a defense that still isn’t near Big 12 supremacy but has fled the depths of 2018, when OU had the worst defense in the conference.
“Evolution of the system. But the players and coaches make the evolution happen. These things don’t happen just because. You’ve got to go make ‘em happen. And players have continued to buy in on the way we want to play.”
Meanwhile, OSU’s defensive ascension has been obvious since last season, when the Cowboys had a so-so year, by their standards, primarily because of offensive inefficiency.
Same as this year. OSU’s defense is far superior to the OSU offense.
That’s not the case in Norman, of course. Not even the chaos of 2020 could produce such an outrageous result. But still, OU’s defensive improvement joins OSU’s defensive rise to project a new slant on the Big 12.
Same as the Bedlam Series, this no longer is a conference likely to produce a 62-52 game.
“It’s a cycle,” Mike Gundy said. “It goes this way in football. Offenses got way ahead with schemes, RPO (run-pass option) concepts, playing fast, attacking down the field vertically, then great quarterback play.
“The defenses have rallied and come up with answers for what offenses were doing.”
Both Gundy and Riley hit on diverse defensive coordinators. At OSU, Jim Knowles is in Year 3. At OU, Alex Grinch is in Year 2.
Led by Iowa State d-coordinator Jon Heacock, the Big 12 has become a more varied, innovative defensive conference. Scoring is down substantially.
“I think it’s just a matter, they’re all different,” Texas coach Tom Herman said of Big 12 defenses. “There’s very little carryover for offenses week to week. One week it’s a three-down team that plays like Iowa State with a hybrid guy in the middle of the field. The next week you’re playing a dyed-in-the-wool four-down team.
“There’s very little carryover for offenses, and trying to get prepared for such wide-ranging variances in scheme and philosophy, it’s difficult.”
OSU has morphed into a 3-3-5 hybrid, with heavy reliance on blitzes and man-to-man coverage from cornerbacks. OU’s Speed D philosophy places heavy emphasis on takeaways; the Sooners are starting to get them in spades after opponents seldom committed turnovers a year ago.
It’s all very different from Bedlams of the past, when Baker Mayfield would throw for 598 on just 36 passes, and Hollywood Brown would have 265 receiving yards, and the unheralded Taylor Cornelius would throw for 501 yards.
Don’t get the wrong idea. There’s no Steel Curtain in Norman or Stillwater. No Doomsday. No People Eaters, purple or otherwise.
But into mid-November, OU is playing good defense and OSU is playing great defense.
Come Saturday at Owen Field, we might not recognize Bedlam.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at oklahoman.com/berrytramel.