Get your popcorn ready, Saturday night is going to be fun.
No. 10 Oklahoma is set to hit the road for the regular season finale this weekend when they travel to Stillwater to battle Bedlam foe No. 7 Oklahoma State.
A win for the Sooners means a rematch between the in-state rivals the following week in the Big 12 Championship Game.
A loss also essentially eliminates the loser from any hope for a College Football Playoff bid.
Toss all the meaning onto the growing tension in recent months over Oklahoma’s impending move to the SEC, and this contest has all the storylines a college football fan could hope for going in.
For the Sooners defense, they know they will need to have their best game of the year to attempt to match the dominant stretch the Cowboys’ defensive unit has put forth over the last month.
To accomplish that, they will need to shut down Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders, who is quietly putting together his best season.
“He’s really doing a nice job,” Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley said of Sanders. “He’s improved. He’s improved a lot through the years. I mean, it was kind of like playing some of these quarterbacks that we played, multi times or several times over a multi-year period in this league historically. You know, you’ve seen play as a young guy, and then you’ve seen, I think probably, making a few less mistakes. You know, he’s always been a tremendous athlete. Everybody’s known that. But he’s obviously running well, in fact, with his legs and then and I do think he’s really improved in the throw game. Not that he was bad before, but he’s certainly done some nice things this year. So no, they’ve done a good job with him. He’s growing and learning, I’m sure going through some of that’s gone through a little bit that same process that we just talked about in depth.”
In last year’s Bedlam bout, Sanders was knocked out of the game due to injury in what wound up being a convincing Sooners victory 41-13.
Now, healthy once again, Sanders presents one of Oklahoma’s stiffest challenges of the year defensively.
“You see a guy that has a lot of game reps under his belt, a guy who has the get-out-of-jail free card with his ability to scramble and move in the pocket and extend plays to throw the ball downfield,” defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. “It’s not that he’s just quick to take off and run but he also knows that he has that ability to hurt you that way. His ability to kind of throw guys open in the pass game has certainly improved. Without question, you can see a guy with a complete comfort level with what they’ve asked him to do offensively. He understands the scheme, he understands the coverage. He doesn’t look surprised very often. I’ve watched him on film. That’s one of those things you are constantly trying to evaluate from a defensive standpoint. If you change a checker, if you show rotation, can you surprise the guy? You just don’t see that on film. I give him a lot of credit. He makes that thing go.”
While Sanders has been a maligned player at times in his Oklahoma State tenure, the undeniable agreement across college football is that he has made strides in 2021.
Namely, he has mostly avoided turning the ball over and stepped up his passing game in general to pair with his always-solid running ability.
“In all honesty, from what I’ve seen, I think he’s definitely improved in the throwing game,” defensive lineman Isaiah Thomas said. “We all know he’s very mobile, he can hurt you with his speed. But I think he’s improved throwing the ball. As I know at times early in your career, obviously you’re not the developed player you are later on into your career, and you can definitely see him making those strides and the work that’s been put in. That’s what I’ve been seeing on tape as an improvement standpoint by him. It’s actually good to see. Competitions are always fun, so the way he’s been out there playing, leading his team to where they are now, is impressive to see.”
“I think he’s just like a dual-threat quarterback,” safety Pat Fields said. “Being able to make plays with his legs, whether that’s through taking off and scrambling, or whether that’s through extending plays, getting out of sacks. Making crazy throws, accurate throws, on the run. In this day and age, it’s kind of difficult, because before, you’d have a quarterback who just runs the ball or a traditional pocket passer. Now you see quarterbacks like Spencer Sanders who are great at doing both. Which is difficult to gameplan against as a defense, because we gotta make sure we get him on the ground, because he’s so great at extending plays and making plays with his legs.”
Someone else who has seemingly noticed Sanders improved play this year is… Spencer Sanders.
The normally-reserved Cowboys quarterback expressed some significant confidence this week going into what could be Oklahoma’s final trip to Stillwater for some time.
“Well I already know what’s going to happen,” Sanders said. “Obviously, I’m going to say we’re going to win. I got confidence in our team. I can already feel it, you know. If we win, then they’re gonna bring up history stats and all that but I honestly am just gonna smile and you know what, we won, so it’s not gonna bother me. It’s like leaving somebody, like leaving a bad taste in somebody’s mouth when they’re leaving. It’s like you’re gonna have to deal with that. Like, your last game with me, you lost. So I don’t want to hear about no history, I don’t want to hear about stats.”
It seems safe to say those bold statements will be making the rounds around the Oklahoma locker room this week.
But, to be fair, Sanders has reason to be confident.
This is the best Oklahoma State team in some time, with some saying it may be the best since 2011 – a year in which the Cowboys dominated Bedlam 44-10.
Time will tell if that belief is warranted or incorrect, which is the beauty of sports.
We don’t have to wonder for long, eventually we get to find out.
Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will collide at 6:30 p.m. CT Saturday night at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, OK.
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Oklahoma Defense Ready for Test Oklahoma State QB Spencer Sanders Presents