There are many ways the Bedlam rivalry games can unfold, but no matter how it happens, it usually ends in an Oklahoma victory. That held up again Saturday night as No. 18 Oklahoma used a strong 14-point fourth quarter to pull away from No. 14 Oklahoma State in a 41-13 win to take its sixth straight victory in the Bedlam series.
The Sooners have now won five games in a row after starting 1-2 and have the Big 12 Championship Game in their sights. Two more games against West Virginia and Baylor are all that separate this team from yet another trip to Arlington, Texas.
The start to Bedlam made it seem as though Oklahoma was about to run away with the game. The Sooners scored touchdowns on their first three possessions to go up 21-0, one of which was aided by a short field thanks to an athletic David Ugwoegbu interception. However, Oklahoma State's top 15 defense showed up after getting burned early. For more than two quarters, the Cowboys held the Sooners to just six points.
But then, a steady dose of running back Rhamondre Stevenson paid dividends for OU. Stevenson, who had been bottled up most of the night, started breaking off bigger runs and finished with 141 yards on 26 carries. That also allowed Oklahoma to get more creative and aggressive with its play calls. The first touchdown in the fourth quarter came on a fake reverse that hit H-back Jeremiah Hall out of the backfield for a 30-yard score. The second was a fourth-down toss from Spencer Rattler to Theo Wease for 31 yards to put the game away for good.
Oklahoma State's offense was never able to get going. Quarterback Spencer Sanders was knocked out in the first quarter with an apparent head injury. That meant freshman Shane Illingworth was thrust into duty, but he finished the night 5 of 21 passing for 71 yards and a touchdown. Though the Pokes coaching staff was initially cautious with putting Sanders back in the game, he reentered in the fourth quarter. By then, it was too little too late.
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy falls to 2-14 all-time against Oklahoma. Here are the takeaways from tonight's game:
1. Stevenson was the MVP
The Sooners' ground game was already improving by the time Stevenson returned from his NCAA suspension against Texas Tech late last month, but he's launched it into another level. Stevenson was bottled up as a runner early on Saturday, but credit Riley for refusing to abandon the run. It helped that Oklahoma got out to a big lead, but eventually the 2-yard Stevenson runs became 9-yard runs, and those became chunk yards.
The run game also opened up Oklahoma's offense in more aggressive situations. The first of two fourth-quarter touchdowns started with Stevenson taking a direct snap before giving the ball to Rattler, who faked a reverse and hit Jeremiah Hall for the touchdown. The second, a touchdown from Rattler to Theo Wease, was on a fourth-and-4 when running Stevenson was very much a possibility. Without the ground game ramping up, Oklahoma isn't pulling away like it did.
2. Illingworth wasn't ready to lead a comeback
I'm not saying Illingworth is a bad player, though he did have a bad night. But that's largely because of Oklahoma's defense. The Sooners had a disruptive night with four sacks, seven TFLs, four QB hurries and at least two or three batted passes at the line of scrimmage. The weakness of Oklahoma State's offense has been the offensive line. It wasn't great tonight, and Illingworth isn't the type of quarterback who can extend plays with his legs. Sanders can, but out of caution, Oklahoma State elected not to play him for most of the game. I won't criticize that move -- player safety is important -- though I wonder what the difference was in Sanders' health between the second and fourth quarters. In any case, Sanders is better equipped to pick up necessary yards with his arm and legs. Illingworth just doesn't give Oklahoma State that option and that's tough when you're trying to play from behind.
3. Playing to win vs. playing not to lose
There were two moments in the fourth quarter that proved to be critical coaching moves. The first was Gundy's decision to punt on a fourth-and-8 at the Oklahoma 39-yard line with about 12 minutes remaining. The Pokes were down 21 points, and while the punt worked -- a delay of game penalty helped Oklahoma State pin the Sooners at their 1-yard line -- it was still an overly conservative call. Time is running out and Oklahoma State had just 13 points on the board. They needed to make up ground. Keep in mind: Sanders was back in the game at that point, so it was obvious Oklahoma State was doing what it felt it needed to do to win. Punting didn't do anything, either, as Oklahoma went 99 yards and scored to put the game away for good. In fact, it was Riley who opted to go for it on fourth-and-4 that ended the game. That was a big difference in coaching.
Good observation from @TRowOU on OU radio.— Eric Bailey (@EricBaileyTW) November 22, 2020
Those last 2 possessions showed difference between Riley/Gundy
Gundy is conservative, punts on 4th-and-8 from OU 39 when down 21.
Meanwhile Riley goes for it on fourth-and-4 from OSU 31. And throws the ball into the end zone for TD.
CBS Sports was with you the entire way updating this story with the latest from the game, which you can read below.