Three keys for OU-OSU Bedlam battle

It will be a Bedlam Game unlike many over the years.

Oklahoma State can come close to nailing down a BCS at-large berth by beating Oklahoma on Saturday in Norman. The Sooners are merely playing for a better bowl berth.

Those scenarios have been the other way around for most of Bob Stoops’ coaching tenure. But at 9-2, OSU attempts to conclude its winningest Big 12 season. The 6-5 Sooners have already lost more regular-season games than any previous season with Stoops. They need a victory to defend their nation-best 29-game home winning streak.

Stoops is 65-2 at home, earning him the nickname “Home Game Bob” from Oklahoma pundits after his “Big Game Bob” mystique was punctured in recent years. His previous home losses came to Oklahoma State in 2001 and to TCU in the 2005 season opener.

Here’s a look at some of the keys that will help determine Saturday’s game.

For OSU:

  • Zac Robinson has to be close to normal: Despite backup Brandon Weeden’s big comeback in the second half last week against Colorado, the Cowboys’ best hopes of beating Oklahoma will rest with having Robinson back in the lineup and productive. Even with his recent injuries, Robinson can’t play tentatively and needs to be the same decisive leader both running and throwing he’s been throughout his career. Mike Gundy will consider that before deciding if he can play. But it’s hard to believe that Robinson would play like that if he’s in the starting lineup.

  • Jump on Oklahoma early: The Sooners' confidence has to be flagging after Texas Tech blew them out in Lubbock last week. It appeared that Oklahoma's defense was uninterested in playing late in the game. If OSU can jump on them early and take the loud Owen Field crowd out of the game, the Cowboys should have a great shot of stealing an upset victory.

  • Make their special teams special: OSU's Perrish Cox will be the most explosive player on the field for either team. If he can break a long return or dictate field position with his kickoff and punt returns, the Cowboys might be able to get some better chances to score. But he will be facing an Oklahoma team that leads the conference in punt coverage and leads the conference in punt returns. This edge will be critical in what appears to be an even battle between the two teams.

For Oklahoma:

  • Get the running game going: The Sooners have struggled on the ground in recent weeks, failing to crack 100 rushing yards in four of their past six games. An inexperienced offensive line has struggled away from home, but has played like world beaters in Norman, where they have averaged 203 in three conference games. It’s amazing that experienced running backs like Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray have sputtered this season after both rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season. They’ve combined for 1,251 yards this season while running behind a patchwork offensive line. Oklahoma has produced a 100-yard rusher in 33 of its past 47 Bedlam games. But Oklahoma State has not allowed a 100-yard rusher this season – one of only eight FBS. Something’s got to give Saturday at Owen Field.

  • Dig down deep for some defense: The dynasty crafted by Stoops – remember that one that still has an unprecedented streak of three consecutive Big 12 titles for one more week? – was built on its defense. The Sooners looked far removed from that last week against Texas Tech, when they allowed season highs in points, total yards, rushing yards and passing yards. They will be facing an OSU team that won’t try to be fancy, but instead will challenge them in the trenches with the Big 12’s best running game. OSU has the conference’s best offensive lineman in Russell Okung and the best one-two punch in the backfield in leading rusher Keith Toston and Kendall Hunter. Oklahoma will be further challenged without starting middle linebacker Ryan Reynolds. Can the Sooners rebound and return to the defensive roots that helped build Stoops’ immensely successful program?

  • Be unfriendly neighbors: It’s been a doomed season for the Sooners since the losses started piling up in the wake of the worst string of injuries in Stoops’ coaching tenure. The Sooners have little to play for Saturday except bowl positioning and continuing their home winning streak. The biggest impetus for the Sooners undoubtedly will be what they can do to spoil OSU’s best season in Big 12 history. An Oklahoma victory will insure that the Cowboys won’t make their first BCS trip, and will continue Stoops' domination over his cross-state rivals. Since losing back-to-back games to Les Miles in 2001-2002, Stoops has won six straight over the Cowboys, averaging 44.8 points per game in those victories. He’d like nothing more than to stretch that streak on Saturday.