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Guerin Emig: Bedlam is no different -- OSU's hopes ride with defense

Guerin Emig: Bedlam is no different -- OSU's hopes ride with defense

111720-tul-spt-emigcolumn osudefense

Oklahoma State's Tyler Lacy (top) and Amen Ogbongbemiga (bottom) bring down Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts during last year's Bedlam football game in Stillwater.

Defense has carried the Oklahoma State Cowboys to four of their five victories. It won’t be any different if OSU is to win Bedlam Saturday.

It needs to be different. Mike Gundy needs his offense to complement his defense for the first time since blowing out Kansas on Oct. 3, since the Sooners are 100 times more dangerous than the Jayhawks and beating them requires more than the 8 points OSU required to beat KU six weeks ago.

Don’t bet on that happening, however. Not with an offense whose personnel filled a medical file last time out at Kansas State two Saturdays ago.

It’s hard to tell whether the Pokes will be any healthier at Bedlam.

“Offensively, we just haven’t had very many guys that are practicing,” Gundy said Monday of players including Tylan Wallace and Chuba Hubbard, the receiver a no-go at K-State and the running back a barely-go.

It’s easier to tell whether the Pokes will be any sturdier on their stitched-together offensive line. They won’t be.

That’s another barricade to playing a complete game.

“We’re down three offensive linemen. We’re playing two freshman guards,” Gundy lamented. “When you’re playing freshman guards you have two things that are going on. It’s no secret. They’re not as strong as they need to be to play at this level, and they’re not as experienced.”

With OU getting stronger and more confident across its defensive front, the matchup here does not bode well for the Cowboys. Or not as well as it seemed it would in preseason, when we wondered if the Sooners could hold Wallace, Hubbard and quarterback Spencer Sanders under 50.

Now the Cowboys must hold Spencer Rattler, Marvin Mims and Rhamondre Stevenson under 30. It can be done.

The last time we saw OSU defensive coordinator Jim Knowles was right after the 20-18 victory at K-State, when he said of his men: “They always believe they’re going to make the play. When you’ve got a defense like that, you’ve got a chance.”

Knowles’ defenders do make plays -- OSU ranks No. 8 among FBS teams in sacks and No. 13 in tackles for lost yardage -- but what stands out is how hard opposing offenses must work to make them.

“They don’t make many mistakes at all,” OU coach Lincoln Riley noticed Monday. “Their communication has been sharp. Guys are in the right place.”

The Cowboys fill the right gap and make the sure tackle up front. They don’t get tangled up in back. They make plays on passes, not pass-catchers, a precious commodity among college football secondaries anymore.

This is OSU’s experience coming through. These guys are seasoned enough to get the basics right nearly every play. They are seasoned enough in Knowles’ complex, aggressive scheme to foul up the opponents’ basics.

Tulsa, West Virginia, Iowa State and K-State all suffered as a result. Texas did not, ultimately, because Sam Ehlinger is as seasoned as OSU’s defenders, and just as equipped to make big plays.

Now comes Oklahoma.

“Defensively, this is a real challenge for us because of the skill set Oklahoma has on the perimeter,” Gundy said, “and the most athletic quarterback we’ve played to this point.”

Spencer Rattler’s quick feet are a dangerous complement to his powerful arm. He will be tough to contain. So will receivers like Marvin Mims, Austin Stogner and Theo Wease.

It is a dynamic group. It is also a young group.

OSU will try to seize on that youth and discombobulate the Sooners, something they could not accomplish against more experienced OU offenses quarterbacked by upperclassmen Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts the past five years.

Average point total for OU over those five Bedlams: 48.

The Cowboys aim to cut that in half Saturday night in Norman. They have no choice.

They aren’t built to win a shootout. Not the way injuries have stripped away their offense.

OSU must prevail, once more, on the strength and savvy of its defense.

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Sports Columnist

I'm the proud father of Gretchen and Holden. Devoted husband to Christy, who has been my best friend since biology class at Booker T. Washington. I covered the OU Sooners for 15 years. That was both challenging and rewarding. Now I get to write columns.

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