3 Sooners Takeaways: Concern Grows After Loss In Final Scheduled Bedlam

Oklahoma State wins the final scheduled Bedlam, but for Sooners fans, the frustrations are mounting.

Saturday, November 4th 2023, 7:52 pm

By: Ryan Welton


The final scheduled Bedlam football game lived up to the hype with Oklahoma State claiming 'eternal' bragging rights, 27-24. The word 'eternal' is in quotes because while the Sooners are headed to the SEC, who knows where schools will be in a decade?

Everybody could be playing in a European-style Premier League for American college football. Or perhaps we just go North-South-East-West with it.

Maybe we just do away with conferences altogether.

However, for now, Oklahoma State gets all the bragging rights, deservedly so -- and they shouldn't just have them for this game, but for the season. After a slow start and an embarrassing loss to South Alabama at home (a Jaguars team that has gone on to a 4-5 record), the Cowboys have found themselves.

They have an identity.

They have a quarterback.

They have a marvelous running back.

Mike Gundy might be in the running for Big 12 Coach Of The Year.

Who says Oklahoma State can't win the Big 12?

Oklahoma has an identity, too, but in the second year of Brent Venables' reign in Norman, that identity isn't the one Sooners fans wanted.

They started the season strong and have since regressed. Happened last year; it's happening again this year.

Oklahoma has employed a perplexing offensive strategy. It's been productive, just not very strategic when it needs to be.

And, man, have the Sooners made mistakes at the worst of times, especially the past couple of weeks.

Does Oklahoma still have a lot to play for? Sure, there's pride and a better bowl trip. However, there is no guarantee of a three-game sweep over West Virginia, BYU, and TCU. Admittedly, finishing the season 10-2 with a chance to go to 11-2 with a bowl win is mighty enticing though.

That's something to play for -- and that would be considered a big improvement over Year 1 of the Venables era, a 6-7 season that saw the Sooners start strong and then quickly fade.

On the other hand, an 8-4 or 7-5 season is going to leave Sooner Nation mighty restless. In the NIL era where college players now get paid, it might even be bad for business. Keeping donors happy is part of the deal, always has been. It's more important than ever now. To suggest there's restlessness in Sooner Nation might be a heavy understatement.

Takeaway 1: Too Many Mistakes

The Sooners have committed more penalties than their opponents the past two weeks. This week it was eight penalties for 55 yards, and last week it was 11 for 101 yards. You have to go back to the Cincinnati game before that to see the Sooners with more penalties than their opponents.

One of those penalties was against Venables himself. It came with 11:27 to play in the game. Oklahoma State had started on its 3-yard line. A defensive pass interference penalty on Makari Vickers moved the Cowboys to the 23 for a first-down. Venables was not happy about it, and he came well onto the field to argue about it and was promptly flagged, more likely for how far onto the field he was than for his language or tone.

That is a huge mistake, one that some would argue makes it harder for the coach to preach discipline to anybody else.

News 9 Sports Director Dean Blevins may have said it best:

That mistake ultimately led to an Oklahoma State touchdown, the touchdown that gave OSU a 24-21 lead. It was the game-turning point, indeed.

After not calling a timeout last week late against Kansas, Venables claimed that he "blew it."

To be fair, by any standard, the officiating in this final Bedlam wasn't great. There was a non-call on what was awfully close to a brilliant touchdown catch by Drake Stoops late in the game. But that kind of thing usually goes both ways and almost always happens.

Takeaway 2: No Real Kicking Threat

Nobody wants to pile onto a college student, but this is the NIL era now. Some accountability is warranted. It doesn't even have to be said by any columnist because it's being said by the Oklahoma coaching staff by their actions.

The Oklahoma Sooners are leaving points on the table because they don't trust their field goal kicker.

Zach Schmit was one for two today with three extra points, but it goes without saying that the literal numeric difference in the score was those three points. Oklahoma State's Alex Hale was two for two with three extra points. One might look at the final score Saturday as 27-24, but one might also look at the score as 2-1, Hale over Schmit. The Oklahoma City junior has made under 70 percent of his kicks the past two seasons, which puts him tied for 85th in the nation.

That is a weak spot that should be easy to remedy through the transfer portal. Just remember though: there's probably nobody harder on the kicker than the kicker himself.

More problematic than the kicking inconsistency is the confidence this gives opposing defenses, which know that the Sooners are going to be going for it on fourth down in what would otherwise be convertible territory. It's also a real problem for the offense strategically. The week before against Kansas, Schmit didn't attempt a single field goal but at least twice the Sooners' offensive strategy was altered considerably because of an inability to trust the kicking game.

The impact of a poor kicking game goes beyond field goal percentage.

Takeaway 3: Running Game Improvement Both Encouraging, Frustrating

If I would have told you that Oklahoma would outrush the Cowboys before Bedlam, considering OSU has Ollie Gordon II at running back, you would have bet for sure that the Sooners came out winners on Saturday.

OU did outrush OSU but didn't win. However, the Oklahoma running game was much improved, which was at once as frustrating as it was encouraging for Oklahoma fans.

Gavin Sawchuk ran the ball 13 times for 111 yards including a 64-yard trek in the first quarter. Tawee Walker was solid as well with 59 yards on eight carries. It's the best the running game has looked, although it's also the first game that Dillon Gabriel wasn't a big part of the running game strategy, which was also odd.

Perhaps beyond any other element of OU's offense this season, it's been the running game that has left fans wondering, "What is (offensive coordinator) Jeff Lebby doing? Where's he going with this?"

One week it would be Marcus Major and Jovantae Barnes, and then the next it would be Walker and then the next Sawchuk. It has always felt like something that should have been figured out in camp or at least by Game 4. Coincidentally, that's when Oklahoma State landed upon Alan Bowman as the Cowboys quarterback instead of continuing with a rotation with Gunnar Gundy an Garret Rangel.

It might be considered reasonable to anticipate that, barring injury, the combination of Sawchuk and Walker should be the 1-2 punch Oklahoma needs to get them to 10-2.

However, based on what Sooners fans have seen so far in 2023, there are no guarantees what they might do. Oklahoma has nailed it offensively a few games only to deviate in subsequent ones -- and it's driven fans a little crazy. There's no sense of a consistent plan, especially offensively, and very little sense outwardly of internal concern about it.

And regardless of losing what will be the final Bedlam at least for a while, Sooners fans just want to feel like there is a real plan to right the ship.

Whether OU can course-correct over the next three games will determine whether the 2023 season was truly an improvement.


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