Sooners need their stars to shine

OU's Jordan Thomas breaks up a pass during the Red River Showdown, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Tx.

Where today ranks on the list of highly anticipated Bedlam game is up for debatable. The Big 12 Conference title that goes to winner makes it seem like the biggest one at Owen Field since 1984.

There were All-Americans and future NFL stars all over the field in that game. The 2016 version replicates the talent level. Here are the Sooners that need big games to secure another conference title.

Mixon and Perine need to run wild: It’s going to be a foul-weather game. Seems like that is becoming the Bedlam standard. It also means the team that runs the ball best has a distinct advantage. Running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine combined for over 300 yards in the Sooners’ last game at West Virginia. OU would love for something similar out of the tandem today.

Remember the last time the Cowboys played at Owen Field in 2014. Most remember Tyreek Hill’s punt return for a touchdown in the final minute and OU coach Bob Stoops’ decision to kick it to him twice as the defining play. In OU’s case, the game turned when Perine suffered an ankle injury, and most of its offensive firepower went to the bench.

Expect the Sooners to ride those running backs from the beginning to the end today. A heavy workload for them likely means a victory for the Sooners.

Jordan Evans needs to match his November play: The Sooners defense hasn’t been great this season, but it gets measurably worse when the senior linebacker is not a factor. He’s been one of the Big 12’s best defensive players over the last month. Evans is also the quarterback of the Sooners’ defense.

The severity of the hamstring pull he suffered against West Virginia remains a mystery. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said on Tuesday, Evans is going to play. But OU needs him playing at the level he did against Kansas, Baylor and West Virginia. That defense gave up yards, but forced turnovers. Evans made an interception in all those games. He can’t make those plays if he’s limping around.

Pressure on OSU quarterback Mason Rudolph is essential: OU caught a huge break when Rudolph missed last season’s Bedlam game with an injury. The OSU quarterback is one of the best pocket passers in college football. The Cowboys surround him with the deepest group of receivers in the Big 12.

The naturally defensive retort is to force Rudolph to make throws he's not ready to make. Pressure does that. The Sooners haven’t applied much this season. They have 23 sacks through 11 games. They’ll need more than two sacks today to slow Rudolph. Expect to see more blitzes than usual. Rudolph is talented in the pocket, but he’s close to a stationary target. He has just 26 rushing yards this season. The Cowboys have allowed 29 sacks. OU cannot afford for Rudolph to feel comfortable in the pocket.

Take the short throws: Playing in the snow at West Virginia should’ve taught OU something. Quarterback Baker Mayfield didn’t complete any throws beyond 10 yards until the snow subsided in the second half. The short stuff might be all there is when rain is pelting down.

Tight end Mark Andrews seems to have the ideal opportunity for a big game. Linebackers and safeties are likely to be occupied with OU’s running backs. His production level dropped in Big 12 play. It coincided with wide receiver Dede Westbrook turning into an All-American and one of college football’s most dangerous receivers.

The elements seem to favor small ball in the passing game. It’s Andrews’ kind of game.

Jordan Thomas must be consistent. The cornerback had an up-and-down. He’s been burned many times and been the Big 12’s best cornerback for other stretches. Bedlam is when he needs to be at his best. The Cowboys’ deep pool of receivers — which starts with James Washington — requires a lot of man coverage. If Thomas can win more of these battles than he loses, the Sooners should be in good shape.

Figure on OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops giving freshman cornerback Jordan Parker plenty of help. Thomas is going to be on an island against an offense capable of exploiting one-on-one matchups. He needs to have his best game of the season.

John Shinn


Follow me: @john_shinn

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