This year’s Bedlam matchup could be a tale of two Spencers.
Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler and Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders hold the keys to a critical game in the Big 12 race. No. 14 Oklahoma State (5-1, 4-1 Big 12) remains in control of its path to the Big 12 title game with a win. No. 18 Oklahoma’s (5-2, 4-2) run of consecutive Big 12 championships likely ends at five with a loss.
Rattler, a freshman, leads the Big 12 in passing efficiency. He had some rough moments early in the season during losses to Kansas State and Iowa State, but is now in a groove during a four-game win streak.
“He’s a much better player now than he was six weeks ago,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “He’s getting some games under his belt and getting adjusted a little bit and making plays. Obviously, he’s got a strong arm and got some savvy. He can move around, make some plays with his legs. He’s come quite a ways in four or five weeks.”
Sanders, a sophomore, has proven capable of doing big things. He passed for 400 yards and four touchdowns against Texas, and ran for 71 yards and a touchdown in a win over Iowa State.
“You can cover down perfect, you can have everything right and the guy can extend plays and either beat you with his feet or get into scramble situations, and it’s tough when a guy’s as athletic as Spencer (Sanders),” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said. “Even if you assign somebody to him, he’s still tough to handle one-on-one because of how gifted an athlete he is.”
The quarterbacks lead what appears to be two evenly matched teams. Though the series has often favored Oklahoma, the Sooners know that doesn’t matter this year, especially with so much on the line.
“Watching this rivalry, obviously OU has won more of the games than what OSU has, but they’re always close games, always competitive games,” Oklahoma center Creed Humphrey said. “I’m just going in with this game knowing it’s going to be a competitive game, going to be a physical game. Just getting ready for that. It’s going to be fun.”
The Cowboys, long known as an offensive juggernaut, are relying more on their defense this season. They rank 15th nationally in scoring defense and 16th in total defense out of 124 programs that have played. Riley said the Cowboys’ experience shows.
“They aren’t making mistakes, they are on the same page,” he said. “When you turn game film after game film, year after year, it’s all the same numbers out there. They are a really good defense.”
Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard rushed for 2,094 yards and 21 touchdowns last season and finished eighth in the Heisman balloting. This year, the going has been tougher with a young offensive line. He has 581 yards and five scores in six games.
Riley said Hubbard still is as good as any running back in the nation.
“It’s going to be a challenge because you can stop him five times in a row and with his speed and combination of speed and power, he can pop one and make you forget about those five or six stops pretty quick," he said. "He’s a tremendous player.”
In two games since returning from suspension, Oklahoma running back Rhamondre Stevenson has rushed for 191 yards and five touchdowns and caught six passes for 73 yards. The Sooners have scored 62 points in both games he has played in.
“Rhamondre is a good back,” Humphrey said. “He’s a tough back to bring down. It’s going to take more than one guy to bring him down.”
Oklahoma linebacker Nik Bonitto is tied for the Big 12 lead with his 5.5 sacks, with all of them coming in the past four games. Defensive tackle Isaiah Thomas has 4.5. Defensive end Ronnie Perkins has 1.5 sacks in just two games since returning from a suspension. In Big 12 play, the Sooners lead the conference with 21 sacks and lead the league in fewest yards rushing allowed per game.
Oklahoma State’s star receiver leads the Big 12 with 98 yards per game during league play. He’s known for acrobatic catches in traffic and the ability to turn short passes into long gains. Wallace has 3,100 yards receiving and 24 touchdown catches in his career.
“We’ve got a lot of respect for him,” Riley said. “Tremendous player. Certainly, we have a lot of respect for the challenge of trying to contain him.”
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP.