Oklahoma running back Rhamondre Stevenson is averaging 8.0 yards per carry and that’s extremely important to the remainder of this post. In two games this season, Stevenson has run with the ball 24 times yielding 191 yards and five touchdowns. That’s exactly the type of production the Sooners will need on Saturday to push their winning streak to five in a row and remain in the hunt for a sixth-consecutive conference title.
Like may other outlets, and water cooler conversations, we’ve given into the temptation to narrow Bedlam down to the Battle of the Spencers, but Saturday night is more likely to be settled by what happens on the ground as opposed to what happens through the air. Since Stevenson’s return, Oklahoma’s rushing attack has gone from a solid average of 148.4 yards per game to an even more scary 206.5 yards per game. Even more impressive, the Sooners have boosted their yards per carry average from 3.64 without Stevenson to 6.0 with him.
It would be easy to say that Stevenson’s two games this season have come against Texas Tech and Kansas and just leave it at that, but that would also be an egregious mistake. Stevenson gives Oklahoma a running back who keeps linebackers focused on the gaps and safeties on their toes and, in doing so, he also gives Lincoln Riley complete access to his entire playbook.
In last year’s Bedlam clash Stevenson only carried the ball three times but it produced 50 yards. He also caught a pass that went for 23 yards. It was one of just thirteen completed passes, in sixteen attempts, by Jalen Hurts which brings me to the primary point here. Lincoln Riley has a roadmap to beating Oklahoma State and it’s running the football.
Riley called 44 running plays against Oklahoma State a year ago to just seventeen passing attempts. One of those attempts was a 4-yard toss from Nick Basquine back to Hurts that went for a score early in the second quarter. The Sooners averaged 9.8 yards per pass attempt on their way to 167 yards, and two scores, through the air during Bedlam 2019. They also went for an average of 6.4 yards per carry, and two more scores, on their way to 283 yards on the ground.
That brings us back to Rhamondre Stevenson. The safe bet is that he gets waaay more than three carries against Oklahoma State on Saturday night. This game last season was one of the few in which an Oklahoma running back carried the ball more times than Jalen Hurts. Kennedy Brooks toted it 22 times and Hurts 16. Lincoln Riley directed 44 running plays to go to five different players. The OSU defense was off balance not knowing where or how the ball was going to be advanced on the ground and Riley was masterful in keeping it that way for four quarters.
The Cowboy defensive front and the Sooner offensive front are practically the same personnel from last season with another year of experience under their belts. Both units are playing better than they were a year ago which makes me think this position battle is a wash and we could easily have the same results in terms of spacing and opening up gaps for the running game.
Spencer Rattler isn’t the running threat that Jalen Hurts was but he’s a much stronger threat to go vertical in the passing game than his predecessor was. They are two quarterbacks with different styles but they will both dictate what the safeties do. If the Pokes play up then Rattler can throw deep or test the seam, if they play deep then there’s more room to run. It’s a chess match where Riley finds himself with an advantage because the deep ball must be respected and therefore he won’t need to use as much misdirection in the running game as he did a year ago, but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see him sprinkle it in there anyway.
Oklahoma State’s defense must account for Rhamondre Stevenson on every snap that he’s on the field but they have to do so without dedicating additional personnel to the task. To do so would be a massive advantage to Lincoln Riley who is a master at exploiting mismatches against opposing defenses. Oklahoma State’s best option is to try and win one-on-one battles at the line of scrimmage which is something they couldn’t accomplish a year ago. In that scenario I really like Stevenson and his 8.0 yards per carry.
Rhamondre Stevenson is the key for Oklahoma’s offense on Saturday night because he’ll be the focal point of the O-State defense. The Cowboys are going to have to “pick their poison” when it comes to defending him. My guess is they are going to load up inside and see if Rattler can effectively attack a very talented OSU secondary. That could easily be a winning proposition for the Sooners as well though. Riley often passes to run, in that he softens up the defense for the rushing attack because of what his teams do through the air.
The more Jim Knowles focuses on Stevenson the more potential Oklahoma’s talented young quarterback has for success. The more Knowles focuses on pressuring the freshman quarterback the more potential there is for the star running back to have success. This is the conundrum that defensive coordinators didn’t have against Oklahoma through the first five games of the season. That’s how much of a difference Rhamondre Stevenson makes!
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