Sooners must be ready for Pokes' secret weapon

Kyle Phillips | CNHI Sports OklahomaOklahoma's Rhamondre Stevenson runs with the ball during the Red River showdown Oct. 12, 2019, at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Stevenson averaged exactly 8 yards per carry last season and is averaging the same after returning to the team this season.

NORMAN — Having given it some real thought, it’s clear Oklahoma State has a secret weapon as Bedlam approaches Saturday evening and here it is:

The Pokes aren’t very good.

If not preferred, it’s bold and born of necessity; not that OSU’s inclined to mention it, rally around it or acknowledge it in any way.

But if it’s playing the hand it’s dealt, and how can it not, it may be all it has.

It’s even worked.

It almost worked in 2000, when a straight up bad bunch of Pokes that finished the season with three wins pushed a national championship Sooner team to the limit, OU only putting the game away after Josh Heupel converted two huge third downs, completing a toss to Curtis Fagan from the shadow of his own end zone with 2 minutes remaining and running to a new set of downs inside the last minute

The final? 12-7

It actually worked the next two seasons … well, maybe just the next one, when a four-win band of Pokes knocked off the fourth-ranked Sooners 16-13. The next year, a good-but-not-great eight-win OSU squad knocked off No. 3 OU 38-28.

Those games remain proof that even when a gulf separates the two programs, either can beat the other and the Sooners should heed the lesson.

To do that, they might have to drop the facade Lincoln Riley was trying to pass off during Tuesday’s weekly zoom call with media.

On OSU’s offense, Riley laid it on thick, spreading the praise among three would-be game-changers: quarterback Spencer Sanders, running back Chuba Hubbard and receiver Tylan Wallace.

“Those guys are really, really good players. They are all dynamic,” Riley said. “I think where they present problems is those three guys can all win. The only way you can get a lot of people around them is to have 13-14 players out there and I don’t think they will let us do that.”

That’s fine and dandy, but something doesn’t wash because OSU is plainly a bad offensive football team.

The Pokes have scored 40 points once, against Kansas, and more than 30 only one other time, against Texas, a loss. And should you point out a bunch of turnovers that cost them points against the Longhorns as evidence their offense is actually quite good, please take a look at their last game, when they rang up a big 20 at Kansas State.

For many, Hubbard has earned hero status on the field for what he did last season, running for 1,936 yards, or 6.3 for each of his 309 attempts, as well as off the field for calling out his values-challenged head coach, Mike Gundy, for embracing an alleged news network — OAN — known best for its abhorrence for facts and thirst for conspiracy theories.

Yet, this season, on the field, Hubbard’s averaging a comparatively scant 4.6 yards per rush, and has only eclipsed 6 per carry once (against Kansas, of course).

It’s true OU’s Rhamondre Stevenson was mostly used late in games a year ago after Trey Sermon, Kennedy Brooks or both had softened up the opposing defense and his sample size this season is legitimately low: two games, 24 carries. However, it’s also true Stevenson averaged 8 yards per tote on the nose last season and is averaging 8 on the nose again this one, which is more per carry than Hubbard in both.

That, and if Spencer Rattler isn’t the best quarterback in the nation or even the Big 12, he’s at least the best quarterback in the Big 12 who answers to “Spencer.”

Yes, the Poke defense may be stout, second best in the conference at allowing yards and points, but the Sooners are third in both and have played their best defense lately in wins over TCU, Texas Tech and Kansas.

There’s the matter of the rankings — OSU’s No. 14 and OU’s No. 18 — but that’s easily explained.

Such a topsy-turvy season, the Pokes made it easy on the rankers by never looking terrific four games into the season but also not losing, allowing a climb to No. 6.

Despite the rankings, most handicappers have the Sooners a touchdown favorite and that after opening a 9 1/2-point favorite.

Yes, OU should prepare for its Bedlam opponent’s best game. Also, the Sooners should be prepared for the Pokes’ secret weapon.

They’re just not very good, and sometimes not being very good can lead to you not being very good, too.

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