Recent Bedlam football games have featured quick-strike offenses.
Oklahoma has somewhat reversed that pattern in recent weeks on both sides of the ball heading into the No. 7 Sooners’ game at No. 21 Oklahoma State at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Nine of the Sooners’ past 12 scoring drives have been 10 plays or longer. The long, drawn-out possessions have helped OU wear down Iowa State, Baylor and TCU.
The grind-it-out possessions under coach Lincoln Riley aren’t uncommon, but watching them come in bunches has been different since his 2015 arrival as an offensive playcaller.
For Sooner Nation, there also has been a pleasant surprise in pass defense.
OU has only allowed one pass play of 40-plus yards in 2019, which was a 40-yard touchdown pass by Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy.
Last year, the Sooners gave up 15 plays of 40-plus yards, including a pair of 49-yard receptions against OSU.
OU’s resume entering Bedlam looks much different than in years past.
This game could come down to time of possession. The Sooners owned lofty advantages against Baylor (41 minutes, 11 seconds to 18:49) and TCU (39:25 to 20:35).
“We’ve had both (types of drives) over the years,” Riley said. “I definitely have a respect for the value of being able to drive it, too. I think we’ve still got a lot of quick-strike ability. We had three or four the other night that we probably combined miss by about 4 feet that were all monster, monster plays. Those will come.
“We’re going to continue to hit those and make a lot of big plays. But having the ability at the end of the season to move the ball, chew a lot of clock, dominate play numbers, I mean total play numbers, those have obviously been a big factor the last couple weeks and we’ll need both going forward.”
OU ran 43 more offensive plays than Baylor and 40 more than TCU in the three- and four-point wins.
Jalen Hurts has been a big part of OU’s offensive attack. In the past two games, the senior quarterback has carried the ball 55 times for 287 yards. He has been able to move the chains with first downs and eat clock.
Asked if he wishes Hurts’ number of carries was lower, Riley answered, “Probably a little bit.”
“But that’s part of who he is as a player,” he said. “(With his 180 carries), it’s not like he’s got that for 500 yards right now. He’s extremely, extremely effective. It’s been good. Our backs have been really involved here the past couple weeks getting them involved, but Jalen carrying it is going to be part of who we are.”
Hurts has a team-high 1,156 yards rushing and 17 of the Sooners’ 30 rushing TDs this season.
The OU defense will be introduced to OSU quarterback Dru Brown, who started last week in place of the injured Spencer Sanders.
Brown transferred to OSU after starting his career at Hawaii. Counting his days with his former team, he has only thrown one interception in his past 225 attempts.
When asked about Brown, OU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch quickly shifted the conversation to OSU running back Chuba Hubbard. But he understands all of the Sooners’ focus can’t be on the nation’s leading rusher.
“(They are) still dynamic in the pass game,” Grinch said. “They certainly do enough to keep you honest where you can’t say, ‘Let’s put 11 guys on the line of scrimmage to stop one guy.’ They’re too explosive on the outside to allow that to happen.”
Trying to contain Hubbard, who is averaging 166.6 yards rushing per game, will be a chore, Grinch said.
“Obviously you’re talking about an elite tailback. That’s where it all starts. I think back to my time at previous places, seeing like a (Christian) McCaffrey, where every time he touches the football you hold your breath, both in the pass game and the run game,” Grinch said. “It’s an 11-personnel-based offense — the use of the tight ends, the use of multitude of formations to spring both in the run game and catching you napping in the pass game, they’re still taking shots.
“Still athletic in the backfield. Does it change a whole lot? I don’t see it. Again, it’s only a one-game study. In any event, you better have eyes on 30 (Hubbard) and still making sure you stay on top of coverage.”
Grinch has coached in rivalry games in three consecutive seasons (Washington State-Washington in 2017 and Ohio State-Michigan last season.)
Coaching across the country, he knew what the word “Bedlam” means in college football.
“My head’s been underwater in a lot of ways,” he said, “in so many ways as we try to build this thing, but to suggest I understand the history of (Bedlam) yet, I’m not gonna pretend like I do, except from the standpoint you know it’s a quality football team up north and I know (what it means) when you hear ‘Bedlam.’ … and I’m excited to be part of it.”