Column: Cowboys couldn't seize Bedlam victory, which was within reach

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Chuba Hubbard finds a hole during the Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State football game on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019 at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, OK.

The memory of Tyreek Hill's punt return seems like it was decades ago.

The Sooners tallied another Bedlam victory, their fifth in a row, on Saturday, repeating a scenario we have become so accustomed to seeing in the recent history of the matchup.

The Oklahoma State football team kept the score close for most of the game and sat within striking distance, but it could never quite catch up with Oklahoma in the Sooners' 34-16 Bedlam victory at Boone Pickens Stadium.

Hill's 2014 punt return seems like a distant memory, and the memory of Brandon Weeden slinging the ball around on OU's defense in 2011, which was the last time OSU defeated the Sooners in Stillwater, seems like a lifetime ago.

This year's Cowboy seniors were early in their high school careers the last time OSU defeated the Sooners on the back of Hill's game-tying punt return touchdown in Norman in 2014. It was before the addition of the gargantuan Gary and Claudia Humphreys video board that now hangs over the east end zone of Boone Pickens Stadium. It was long before the passing of T. Boone Pickens, whose donations propelled OSU's expectations to new heights, which is what makes the annual loss to the Sooners that much more disappointing for Cowboy fans.

This one was not out of reach.

Jalen Hurts did not have his Heisman-clinching performance like Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray had in the previous two years of this matchup.

In fact, this was probably the most average-looking Sooner team to touch the turf for a Bedlam matchup in recent history, but their offense operated like it had control of the game, which it did. The Cowboys operated like they were scared to lose.

OU's play calls always seemed to be spot on, and the Sooners' actual offensive execution of those play calls was sensational. Whether it was quarterback Jalen Hurts scrambling his way to the first down marker as OSU tried to contain him or running back Kennedy Brooks barreling through the line of scrimmage on his way to 160 rushing yards, the Sooners seemed to always be one step ahead of the defense.

On the other hand, OSU's play calls seemed unsettled at times, with weirdly-timed runs called on third-and-long and constant rollout passes to the short side of the field that were thrown short of the first down marker on third-and-manageable.

OSU infamously "played not to lose" Saturday, which Cowboy fans will say is a Bedlam tradition, but the problem was that the Pokes were already losing, as the Sooners jumped out to a 7-0 lead fewer than two minutes into the game and never trailed.

"You can't kick field goals against an offense that can score like they can," said OSU coach Mike Gundy. "They are a good football team, we lost the turnover battle, didn't stop the rush and kicked too many field goals. In the end that's what it comes down to."

The Sooners positioned their safeties down into the tackle box on defense in an attempt to control Cowboy running back Chuba Hubbard, and it worked to a degree. Hubbard still rushed for over 100 yards for the 10th consecutive game, but a few shoestring tackles narrowly prevented Hubbard from breaking free for one of his signature big runs that have bolstered his Heisman Trophy campaign.

OU's commitment to stopping the run hindered OSU's offensive production.

The Cowboys couldn't find the end zone again after Hubbard rushed for a touchdown in OSU's opening offensive drive in the first quarter, which paved the way for the lowest scoring Bedlam game since the Sooners shut out the Cowboys 27-0 in 2009, and the first time since then that OU held OSU under 20 points.

"It's a disappointing loss because I just didn't feel like we played as good as we could've," Gundy said. "Let me say this, coaches and players. I didn't think we performed as good as we could have, coaches and players. But we did lose to a good football team.

"We should have played better, and we should have coached better, in my opinion."

The Cowboys have lost five straight to the Sooners, who will prepare to play Baylor for a Big 12 Championship while the Pokes take some time to rest their guys, especially their star running back, and rally back for bowl game preparation.

OU coach Lincoln Riley now has more Bedlam wins than Mike Gundy, though Riley has been OU's coach for three seasons while Gundy is finishing up his 14th season at OSU's helm.

For OSU fans, the Bedlam losses re-energize the same sense of frustration every year.

Yes, of course OU is a tremendous football team. One of the best in the nation. But, the bottom line for the Cowboys is, as OSU defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said, "We didn't get the job done."

sports.ed@ocolly.com