I don’t really how to quantify this or whether it can be quantified at all, but I was thinking about Bedlam 2017 recently and which players stood out in that game.
Two Oklahoma State players — Justice Hill and Tyron Johnson — played the best games they’ve ever played in their lives (more on that in a minute), and I’m not totally sure that makes sense.
They joined a legion of other OSU players who have risen to the top in Bedlam games in recent years. From Rashaun Woods’ 2002 performance to Justin Gilbert’s kick return in 2010 to Joe Randle’s 180-yard Big 12 clincher in 2011 to Tyreek Hill’s kick return in 2014, it’s often the greatest talent (all of those guys were pros) that assumes the biggest stage.
This is all anecdotal, of course. There have been plenty of talented, big-time OSU players who haven’t risen to the occasion in Bedlam. But last year’s game has stuck with me and specifically the fact that when the chips on an entire era were down, it was the only 5-star player on the team whom they called on.
Tyron Johnson has only had two 100-yard games as a collegiate receiver. One was against South Alabama earlier this year (which makes sense because Tyron Johnson is supremely more talented than anyone at S. Alabama), and the other was a 118-yard, 2-TD performance against OU. That Sooner secondary wasn’t exactly the Legion of Boom(er), but Tyron gained nearly half of their average total receiving yards given up per game by himself.
Tyron’s other best games include outings against Kansas, Baylor and Iowa State — these are more the teams I would expect somebody of his caliber to put up numbers against.
Justice Hill has had four games of 160+ yards in his career. Two against Kansas (yep), one against Texas Tech (sure) and a monster 228-yarder against OU last year in which he was the best player on a field that included the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
That’s not … nothing. It’s something. OU’s rush defense was no joke last year, either. They averaged giving up 3.56 a pop, No. 26 in the nation and 144 yards a game (top 50 nationally). Justice hit ’em for nearly 8 a carry and tacked on nearly an extra hundy on that 144 number by himself.
Tyron downplayed his role last year as he came in for an injured James Washington and was one failed corner route from tasting Bedlam lore.
“Just try to do my job,” said Johnson this week of the performance. “When my number’s called, make the play. Same thing I’ve been doing, just waiting until my number’s called. If I gotta make the play for us to win, that’s what I’ll do.”
There are innumerable reasons for why your best players would have some of their best games ever against a great team like OU. Maybe this is all silliness and I’m making something out of nothing. But when your top games include Kansas, South Alabama Baylor and OU, that doesn’t feel like nothing. It feels like a unique situation that allows for talent to seep to the top.
“It’s a special weekend for everybody,” said Mike Gundy this week. “It always has been. Everybody wears orange or red this week. It’s a big game. I think that works to our benefit. I know they will be riled up too. They will be excited to play in this game. They are going to prepare and work their butt off.”
He went on to say that playing spoiler won’t necessarily be a boon for OSU, though it might be.
“I don’t know what motivates different young men,” added Gundy. “I think the most important thing is control what you can control. We all have things we do in life that we can control and other things are out of our hands. Their preparation, commitment, effort, film studies and the things that they do to get ready to play in this game. We can only control what we do here and that’s the way we approach it each week.”
I’m not sure if this is a matter of motivation as much as it is an answer to the chaos and anxiety surrounding a massive game. Games like these go so fast, they’re sped up. So it makes sense that 1. You would fall back on the players you trust can rise to the occasion most and 2. That the game would slow down more for the most talented players.
There’s something so raw and primitive about this game that elicits elite performances from the best guys. It’s almost like playing sandlot football where, I’m guessing, Tyron and Justice would be among the top players picked.
The second-highest rated recruit on this year’s OSU roster behind Tyron is Tylan Wallace, a member of the nine-player 1,000-yard receiving club in Stillwater. His best game ever came two weeks ago against a top-10 ranked Texas team with more talent than anybody OSU has played this season (so far). Tylan was the best player on the field.
Biggest players play their career best in the biggest games. It’s been a theme in recent years. OSU better hope it is on Saturday because it will have to match blows with one of the great offenses (so far) in Big 12 history.