OU vs. Baylor: Beating the Bears Would Be Sooner Magical


Up until four years ago, OU vs. Baylor was one of those games on the schedule you checked off as a win as a Sooner fan and moved on to bigger and better things in the weeks to follow. That is not the case any longer.

Baylor has consecutive wins over Oklahoma – by 39 and 34 points, respectively – after losing 21 or the first 22 games all-time against the Sooners.

In the past four seasons, the Baylor Bears, coached by Art Briles, have owned Bob Stoops’ Sooners like no other team. The past two seasons, the games haven’t even been close after the opening quarter. In a 41-12 loss the last time Oklahoma traveled to Waco, it was the running of then-freshman Shock Linwood that largely did in the Sooners. Linwood was pressed into duty as the team’s third running-back option when Baylor’s top two backs went down in the game with injuries, and he proceeded to shock the OU defense with a breakout 182-yard rushing performance.

Nov 7, 2015; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Durron Neal (5) is tackled by Iowa State Cyclones linebacker Reggan Northrup (9) during the second quarter at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, it was the arm of quarterback Bryce Petty and nearly 400 passing yards, with receiver Corey Coleman on the receiving end of 224 of those yards with 15 receptions, that torched the Sooner defense on the way to a 48-14 beatdown.

The bad news for the Oklahoma players and Sooner fans is that Linwood and Coleman are still on the Baylor roster, and the Sooners haven’t shown they can stop either of these two All-Big 12 performers.

Baylor is currently ranked No. 6 in the current College Football Playoff standings and one of two Big 12 teams that is still undefeated at 8-0. The Bears recognize that they must defeat 8-1 and 12th-ranked Oklahoma to keep their Football Playoff hopes alive.

The Bears have won 21 of their last 23 Big 12 games and 13 consecutive game playing at home against Big 12 opponents. In eight games this season, Baylor has scored 459 points and leads the country in victory margin, beating its opponents by an average of 32 points per game. The 459 points in eight games is the most scored by an FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) team since 1937.

The Sooners have some things going well for them, as well, as they head into the showdown with Baylor. Despite having one loss, OU is probably playing the best football in the Big 12 right now. The Sooners are performing well in virtually all aspects of their game, and they will need all of that, and perhaps a little Sooner Magic, if they want to upend the team with the most explosive offense in college football.

If the statistical comparisons of these two teams hold to form, this year’s game between OU and Baylor should be considerably more competitive. Both teams have proved they can move the chains and score, and they both play pretty decent defense, although the Sooners should have a slight edge in the latter category.

The big difference between this year’s edition of OU football and the team Baylor faced the previous two seasons is in the passing game. With a new Air Raid offense and Baker Mayfield manning the controls at quarterback for the Sooners this season, Oklahoma is averaging 338 passing yards per game.

In the two previous games with Baylor, the OU passing game averaged no more than 150 yards with a completion percentage below 50 percent. Blake Bell and Trevor Knight, who quarterbacked the Sooners in the past two games against Baylor, operated in a different offense than the one OU has in place now and weren’t particularly effective when they threw the football. With Mayfield, the Sooners have someone at quarterback who has been highly effective as a passer and also can get yards with his legs when the situation presents itself.

The past four games, Oklahoma has gotten excellent production out of its running game, which was the Sooners’ strength a year ago, averaging close to 300 yards per game with the thunder-lightning combination of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, both of whom are also effective catching passes out of the backfield.

The key matchup in the OU-Baylor game will be the Sooners’ defense against the prolific Baylor offense. In simple terms, that will represent the Big 12’s top offense going against the conference’s, as well as the nation’s, No. 1 offense. While it is true that the Sooners’ improved defense has not faced a team this season as good offensively as Baylor, it is equally correct to say that the Bears have not gone up against a defense this season that is as playing as well overall as OU has shown over the past four games, especially against the pass.

Oct 24, 2015; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) celebrates after a touchdown pass against the Texas Tech Red Raiders during the third quarter at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Any concerns that backup Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham wouldn’t be able to get the job done in replacement of starting QB Seth Russell (out for the rest of the season with a broken bone in his neck) were put to rest, at least temporarily, with his solid performance last week in leading the Bears to a seven-point win on the road at Kansas State in his first career start. The test he will get from Oklahoma, however, will be much different that what he experienced at K-State.

Four Key Factors to Watch for in the Game

Getting off the field on third down on defense: If the Sooners are going to win this game, they have to be able to make stops against the best offensive team in college football. The Bears have the weapons to go the length of the field on one play. OU must make Baylor sustain long drives and give the Sooner defense the opportunity to force a turnover. Also, limiting yardage on first and second downs (Baylor is averaging over eight yards per play this season) and being able to get off the field on third downs and turn the possession over to the Sooner offense will be a critical factor in keeping Baylor off the scoreboard. Baylor is capable of scoring every time it has possession. Limiting the number of possessions also limits their opportunities to put points on the board.

OU’s ability to run the football: If the Sooners are able to run the football the way they have in recent games – and as well as Kansas State was able to do against Baylor a week ago – and with the talented group of receivers OU has this season to complement its big playmaker, Sterling Shepard (who was injured and did not play in last year’s game with Baylor), Oklahoma will have a very good chance of winning this game.

Pick your poison wisely: It is not likely that the OU defense is going to be able to stop running back Shock Linwood or wide receiver Corey Coleman from getting their touches and yards, but the more the Sooners are able to limit the production and take away the big-gainers that those two superstars are capable of, the harder they will make the Baylor offense and its freshman quarterback work and the greater the opportunity to force a mistake or turnover.

Put pressure on the young Baylor quarterback: Oklahoma leads the Big 12 in sacks, and Baylor is at the top of the league in protecting its quarterback. He may be young and inexperienced at the college level, but Jarrett Stidham has loads of talent and the skills to make the Sooners pay if he is given the time to survey the field and find open receivers. If the OU pass rush is able to disrupt his timing and make him uncomfortable, his chances of making a poor decision and forcing a mistake go up considerably.

My pick: Oklahoma 45, Baylor 38. Several weeks ago, when I previewed the Sooners’ second-half schedule, I predicted Oklahoma would go 5-1 in its final six games of the regular season, and that the one loss would come against Baylor. I picked Baylor to come out on top in a 42-34 shootout with the Sooners. Candidly, though, that was before I observed the way OU responded after its highly unexpected loss to Texas, which I still cannot fully understand. Call it what you will, but losing to Texas – and, more so, the way the Sooners lost that game – may have been the best thing that could have happened to OU football this season. They needed to see what can happen when you go into a Big 12 game overconfident, unfocused and don’t take the opponent seriously. I don’t believe OU is in danger of overlooking or underestimating how good Baylor is, but the Sooners have seen what they are capable of and how good they can be when they play together and with good preparation and determination. This is a much different Oklahoma team that it was five games ago, and I believe it has the moxie and the magic to get the job done at Baylor.