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OU football: Chuba Hubbard to be focus of Sooner defense during Bedlam

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Multiple Sooners pull back an Oklahoma State player during the Bedlam game Nov. 10, 2018.

When No. 7 Oklahoma (10-1, 7-1 Big 12) takes the field against No. 21 Oklahoma State Saturday, the Sooners will face an offense largely wrecked by injuries.

Most notably, the Cowboys (8-3, 5-3 Big 12) will be without star wide receiver Tylan Wallace, who has been out since early November with a torn ACL, and quarterback Spencer Sanders, who underwent surgery on his thumb and won't return all year. Wallace, a Biletnikoff finalist in 2018, led the Big 12 in receiving yards with 903 prior to his injury, and Sanders struggled at times but showed promise with his 16 touchdown passes.

But even without two of their star players, the Cowboy offense will still live and die with running back Chuba Hubbard, whose 1,832 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns rank first and second nationally, respectively.

Specifically, Hubbard has a knack for combining his elite strength and speed to either run past slower defenders or bulldoze his way through smaller ones.

"To think that you're going to make a living now in one-on-one situations, the film suggests that you're not," defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. "It's all hands on deck here to make sure that from a percentage standpoint ... once the play is established, there's no longer a gap  there's no longer a man. Those 11 guys have better be running to the football for us to have any type of success on Saturday night."

Hubbard has a history of shining in Bedlam, as he ran for 104 yards and three touchdowns against Oklahoma's abysmal 2018 defense. Fortunately for Sooner fans, the defense of years past appears to be gone and replaced under Grinch.

The Sooners ranked 105th in total defense last season, allowing roughly 453 yards per game. With Grinch at the helm, they're currently ranked 31st, with 336 yards per game through 11 games.

But the defensive resurgence hasn't been a massive change in scheme or overhaul in personnel, as Oklahoma returned the majority of its starters from 2018. Grinch and head coach Lincoln Riley have made it clear that the change has been centered on mentality, so the Sooners are focusing on keeping steady and playing with the same mentality that has made them successful. 

"We just have to do the same thing we do every week," sophomore safety Pat Fields said. "We have to focus on our job, do it to the best of our ability and play violent and aggressive. (Hubbard) is a phenomenal back, so of course it's going to be a challenge, but we have to keep it the same as we do every week."

With all the attention needed on Hubbard, Grinch is trying to also remain balanced when attacking the Cowboys' offense as a whole.

In lieu of Wallace, the Cowboys' new top target has been Tulsa native Dillon Stoner. In his last three games, Stoner has reeled in 16 passes for 305 yards and two touchdowns, proving he's a force to be reckoned with in the air. 

And instead of Sanders, senior Dru Brown will be under center for Oklahoma State. In his lone start of the year, a 20-13 win over West Virginia last week, Brown looked more than competent. He completed 22 of 29 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns. 

"I have a lot of respect for (Wallace). He's a dynamic playmaker, and he's in the elite category," Grinch said. "I think they're still dynamic in the pass game, and they certainly do enough to keep me honest where you can't say that, 'Let's put 11 guys on the line of scrimmage to stop one guy.' They're too explosive on the outside to allow that."

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