Oklahoma football: Four downs on an Oklahoma give away

Oklahoma's Eric Gray (0) runs the ball in the fourth quarter during a college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Baylor Bears at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022.Ou Vs Baylor
Oklahoma's Eric Gray (0) runs the ball in the fourth quarter during a college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Baylor Bears at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022.Ou Vs Baylor /

The spread in the Oklahoma football game with Baylor on Saturday was three and a half points, and that proved to be the difference in the game, only in favor of Baylor instead of the pre-game favorite Sooners.

The Baylor defense picked off three Dillon Gabriel passes in the first half, two of which led to 10 points, and the Bears held off Oklahoma late to preserve a 38-35 victory. It was only the second time in the 33-game series history that Baylor has beaten Oklahoma in two successive years.

Oklahoma outgained Baylor 499 to 413 yards, but the Baylor run game, and especially fifth-year junior running back Craig “Sqwirl” Williams, proved to be the difference offensively in the game. Williams carried the ball 25 times for 192 yards, an average of 7.7 yards per attempt, and scored twice.

It was Williams’ 43-yard run to the Oklahoma seven-yard line on third-and-three from midfield that put the game away. Williams could have scored on the play, but smartly slid down to keep the clock running. Baylor went into victory formation from there and ran the final 2:06 off the clock as the Sooners had used all of their timeouts. Game, set, match.

OU scored first in the game, marching 75 yards on 10 plays after the opening kickoff. Gabriel won a race to the left pylon from 10 yards out to put the Sooners ahead 7-0 four minutes into the game. Baylor quickly countered with a scoring drive of its own on its first possession, going 63 yards in 11 plays to tie the score at 7-7.

Two minutes later, Baylor capitalized on Gabriel’s first interception of the game, which gave the Bears the ball at the OU 25-yard line. It took Baylor just three plays to put it into the end zone on a six-yard run by Jordan Nabors to take a 14-7 first-quarter advantage. The Bears never trailed in the game after that.

Baylor led 24-21 at halftime and started the third quarter with a 10-play, 75-yard drive to increase the lead to 10 points, 31-21. The Sooners scored touchdowns in both the third and fourth quarter but could never make up the three-point halftime difference.

Oklahoma was in field goal range with less than 10 seconds to go in the first half, but a personal foul penalty moved the Sooners back 15 yards from the Baylor 24 to the 39-yard line and Zach Schmit missed a 55-yard field goal attempt as time ran out in the half. Minus the costly 15-yard penalty, the game probably would have been tied heading to the locker room.

What may have been the biggest play call of the game came on the first play of fourth quarter. Trailing 31-28 and faced with a fourth-and-four at the Baylor 46-yard line, Brent Venables elected to punt the ball to Baylor and take his chances his defense could get another stop rather than risk not making the first down and giving the Bear offense a short field.

Baylor proceeded to march 80 yards in 11 plays to extend the lead to 38-28 and, more importantly, burn five minutes off the clock. Oklahoma responded with a 14-play, 75-yard scoring drive of its own, taking five valuable minutes off the clock in the process, but it was too little, too late.

Baylor moved to 6-3 overall and becomes bowl eligible with the win. The Sooners are now 5-4 overall and fell to 2-4 in the Big 12.

Here is a four-down breakdown of the game and what went wrong and right for Oklahoma:

First down

Dillon Gabriel entered the game on Saturday having thrown just one interception and 14 touchdowns in 201 pass attempts. He was intercepted three times in the first half alone on Saturday. In his defense, all three balls were tipped, but he is still charged with the interceptions. Two of three picks led to 10 points that proved to be the difference in the game and the three squandered possessions probably cost Oklahoma the game.

In addition to the three interceptions, Gabriel also had several misfires that couldn’t be brought in by Sooner receivers. He still managed to complete 67 percent of his 34 pass attempts (22 of 34) for 261 yards and two touchdowns.

Second down

The much-maligned Oklahoma defense actually played fairly well in this game. The Sooners gave up a lot of yards on the ground, but everyone knew coming in that Baylor intended to pound the ball right down OU’s throat. While the major concern coming in was true freshman Baylor RB Richard Reese, who had two consecutive 100-yard rushing games, he only had four carries for a total of seven yards. Instead, it was Craig “Sqwirl” Williams who ran through and around OU defenders for a game-high 192 yards. Prior to Saturday, Williams’ biggest game had been 68 rushing yards in a loss at BYU.

Third down

Eric Gray played his heart out for the Sooners in this game, and it was his ability to run the football against an elite Baylor defensive line that is probably the best in the Big 12 and one of the best in the country that kept Oklahoma in the game.

A game ball should go to the senior running back for sure. The former Tennessee transfer recorded his third consecutive 100-yard game and sixth of the season. He gained 106 tough yards on 23 carries in the run game, his most rushing attempts this season, and also caught a team-high eight passes for 58 more yards. Gray now has 903 yards rushing on the season, a career high and is closing in on the exclusive 1,000-yard mark for the season with three regular-season games remaining.

Speaking of third down, the Sooners did a terrific job on third down, allowing just 4 of 13 third-down conversions by a Baylor offense that come into the game converting 48 percent of its third-down opportunities. But Baylor was three of three on fourth-down tries, something they have been among the nation leaders in all season, 17th best at the FBS level (21 of 30).

Fourth down

The strength and size of the Baylor offensive and defensive lines was a major factor in the Bears winning this game. They were able to get giant push on both offense and defense, which was a problem for Oklahoma the entire game. To the huge credit of the Sooners, however, OU’s 238 rushing yards against the nation’s 21st best rushing defense was a prime reason Oklahoma was able to move the sticks and stay in the game. Oklahoma offensive line also deserves a game ball for holding its own against the more physical and highly regarded Baylor defensive front.