Oklahoma football: Five factors that will decide Baylor game

WACO, TX - NOVEMBER 19: Terrance Ganaway #24 of the Baylor Bears runs during a game against the Oklahoma Sooners at Floyd Casey Stadium on November 19, 2011 in Waco, Texas. (Photo by Sarah Glenn/Getty Images)
WACO, TX - NOVEMBER 19: Terrance Ganaway #24 of the Baylor Bears runs during a game against the Oklahoma Sooners at Floyd Casey Stadium on November 19, 2011 in Waco, Texas. (Photo by Sarah Glenn/Getty Images) /

Both teams have been building up to the Saturday night showdown at Baylor’s McLane Stadium for several weeks now, as it became clear that the Bears were going to present the biggest stumbling block to Oklahoma football’s quest for a fifth straight Big 12 crown.

Baylor brings a perfect 9-0 record into the game along with a No. 13 standing in the College Football Playoff rankings. The Bears have played several close games in recent weeks, including last weekend’s triple-overtime victory over TCU, but the fact remains that they have yet to suffer a blemish in the loss column. And they are home to host the mighty Sooners, with ESPN’s “College GameDay” present to add to what is certain to be a fired-up game atmosphere and a national TV audience primed to see how good these under-the-radar Baylor Bears really are.

Despite having one loss, Oklahoma (8-1) continues to rank higher than Baylor in the polls — No. 10 in current view of the CFP selection committee, 10 in the Associated Press Poll and 8 in the Coaches Poll — a situation that certainly doesn’t sit well with the Baylor fans and players and only adds to their motivation to prove everybody wrong.

Both teams have plenty to play for in what most likely will be a preview of the Big 12 Championship game to be played three weeks from now at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.

Before the 2011 season, Oklahoma owned a 23-0 record in games with Baylor. Since that time, however, the Sooners are just 2-3 against the Bears, and two of the three losses have been in Waco. a factor that Baylor hopes weighs in its favor on Saturday night.

Here are five other factors that will determine which team comes out with the higher number on the scoreboard in this marquee Week 12 showdown in the Big 12:

  • Baylor’s best chance of winning the game is to take a page out of the Kansas State playbook and keep Jalen Hurts and the nation’s No. 1 offense on the sidelines for as long as possible. The Bears will want to extend and finish drives, eating time off the clock in the process. To counteract this, the Oklahoma defense must be able to finish tackles on the initial hit and get off the field on third down, something it has too often failed to do in the last two games.
  • Oklahoma’s offense is largely predicated on its effectiveness running the football. Baylor’s defensive front is playing extremely well, a big reason why the Bears ranks second in the Big 12 and 31st nationally against the run. Kennedy Brooks will be the Sooners prime rushing weapon, in addition to Hurts. If OU is unable to run the ball effectively, Baylor’s win chances go up considerably.

  • The Baylor defensive line and linebackers are the strength of that defense. Oklahoma’s 2019 offensive line is young and not as experienced as the Sooner O-line that won the Joe Moore Award a year ago as the best offensive line in college football. The OU offensive line has generally played well this season, but this will be its biggest test. Sooner starter Adrian Ealy was injured in last week’s win over Iowa State, and his status is unknown for Baylor. The Sooners have suffered other injuries on the O-line, so they’ve been going with different combinations for much of the season. To win this game, Oklahoma must win the battle in the trenches –both offensively and defensively. The Sooners’ ability to establish the run and, most of all, protect Hurts, giving him time to survey the field and make good decisions, rests with the offensive line performance.
  • One of OU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch’s primary goals this season was to improve the number of takeaways. The Sooners have six (four interceptions and two fumble recoveries) through nine games and none in the last five games. Baylor, on the other hand, has a plus-6 turnover margin with 18 takeaways over the same number of games and ranks 17th in the country in that category. The Sooners could use one or more defensive takeaways in this game to stall the Baylor offense, but can ill afford a turnover of their own in a game where every point is going to matter.

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    The Sooners have had little trouble starting strong — outscoring opponents by 135 points in the opening half (they actually led Iowa State 35-14 at the intermission). On Saturday they will need to complete the cycle and finish strong. OU was outscored 17-0 by Kansas State in the third quarter and 20-0 by Iowa State in the fourth quarter.