NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — It’s only fitting that in this final Bedlam matchup before Oklahoma leaves the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference, the Sooners’ chances against rival Oklahoma State will largely hinge on their ability to contain an elite running back.
Back in the day, the Sooners contended with the likes of Walt Garrison, Terry Miller, Ernest Anderson, Thurman Thomas and Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders. In recent years, Justice Hill and Chuba Hubbard have been the biggest threats on the ground.
On Saturday, the challenge will come from Ollie Gordon II, the nation’s leader with 1,077 yards rushing. He has 858 yards from scrimmage the past three weeks and has rushed for at least 100 yards in five straight games.
Gordon ran for 271 yards and two touchdowns in a 45-13 win over Cincinnati last week. He has helped Oklahoma State (6-2, 4-1 Big 12, No. 22 CFP) win four straight games heading into its home game against the Sooners.
“Ollie Gordon has just been fantastic,” Oklahoma coach Brent Venables said. “He’s got power, he’s got speed, he’s patient. He’s got great quickness. Lateral quickness. And he’s explosive. He can run right through you and run right by you.”
Venables was blunt about the task ahead for his 10th-ranked Sooners (7-1, 4-1 Big 12, No. 9 CFP) in dealing with Gordon, especially since the Sooners gave up 225 yards rushing in a 38-33 loss to Kansas last week.
“If we don’t tackle better than we did last week, Gordon is going to pull away from the pack when it comes to college football in rushing,” Venables said.
The game is for much more than bragging rights this time. The teams are part of a five-way tie for the Big 12 lead, so the result likely will play a role in which teams reach the Big 12 Championship Game.
Oklahoma State started the season 2-2 before reeling off four straight wins.
“Several weeks ago, people had written Oklahoma State off after losing to South Alabama — a good South Alabama team — and they’ve just gotten better,” Venables said. “They’ve responded.”
Oklahoma will learn if it can do the same. The Sooners were undefeated and riding high before the loss at Kansas. But Oklahoma can still reach its goals.
“It’s all still in front of us, still somewhat in the driver’s seat of it all and just putting our best foot forward each week to go 1-0,” Oklahoma receiver Drake Stoops said.
Oklahoma quarterback Dillon Gabriel leads an offense that ranks fourth nationally in scoring and seventh in total offense. Gabriel has 19 passing touchdowns and eight rushing scores this season and ranks among the nation’s leaders in most categories.
“They love to get the ball out here,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “Play-action pass effectively, lob deep over routes and stuff. And he runs better than you think he does.”
Oklahoma’s Danny Stutsman has been nursing a knee injury. This week, he was named one of 12 semifinalists for the Lombardi Award, which goes to the nation’s best offensive or defensive lineman or linebacker. He leads the Sooners this season in total tackles (73), solo tackles (35) and tackles for loss (11.5).
“I feel good about Danny,” Venables said. “He feels pretty confident, but we’ll see. May not be something we know until close to game time.”
Oklahoma State has a new weapon in receiver Leon Johnson III. He was a Division III All-American last season who had five catches for 149 yards in his first game with the Cowboys, last week’s win over Cincinnati.
“He has shown signs in practice of performing at a high level,” Gundy said. “Practice is one thing, games are another. Until we get a young man on the field in a game, we never know what they can do.”
Oklahoma State quarterback Alan Bowman has been strong since Gordon’s presence has drawn so much attention and given the receivers one-on-one matchups. Bowman has thrown six touchdown passes and just two interceptions the past three games.
“He’s manufacturing, and we’re productive,” Gundy said. “I like his ability to distribute the ball where it needs to be.”
The Oklahoma defensive end played for Oklahoma State last year. He has 10 tackles, including two tackles for loss, an interception, three pass breakups and two quarterback hurries.
Ford talked about the move back in April.
“I know it was a bold move, but it was best for me,” Ford said at the time. “I’m not going to regret that at all. I’m sure that’ll happen again (someone transfers to a rival) at some other school somewhere. Someone’s going to do it. Just whenever that happens, you’ve got to have the guts to do it.”
Gundy on how players in the Bedlam rivalry interact versus back when he played in the 1980s: “Used to be much different because we used to not like each other. Nowadays it’s different. It’s a lovefest, right? You ever watch a pro game, before the game and all the players out there are hugging each other? The Bears and the Packers are out there hugging each other, talking about who your agent is and commercials and how much money you’re making. You think Dick Butkus did that? No. Nowadays times are different.”
Get alerts on the latest AP Top 25 poll throughout the season. Sign up here ___
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football