By Shehan Jeyarajah
No. 6 Baylor came into its matchup against No. 10 Oklahoma with the top rated offense in the FBS, and one of the best in college football history. The game was meant to be a test of Baylor’s legitimacy on offense and whether it would hold up against elite competition.
Oklahoma came into Waco with an offense ranked in the FBS top 50. The Sooners averaged 435.0 yards per game of total offense through the first nine games. That offense was led by a top 20 rushing attack that put up 234.0 yards per game on the ground.
That is, until Baylor’s defense stole the show.
Senior defensive end Chris McAllister made a statement on Oklahoma’s first play of the game. On its first offensive play, senior Oklahoma wide receiver Sterling Shepard came across the formation for a reverse trick play. McAllister stayed home and stuck to his assignment to come up with a three-yard tackle for a loss.
Early in the second quarter, Oklahoma had a third-and-goal on the two-yard line. The defensive line got a stop on the third down play, but Oklahoma opted to try and push it in on fourth down. With quarterback Blake Bell trying to run the ball into the end zone, senior defensive back K.J Morton came out of the backfield and made a touchdown-saving tackle for a loss.
After a Baylor safety, the defense started its next drive with Oklahoma at Baylor’s 12-yard line. Despite starting in the red zone, Baylor was able to contain Oklahoma to just a field goal. Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett remarked that this wasn’t a play that we would have seen Baylor defense make in the past.
On the night, Oklahoma finished with 237 yards of total offense and 87 yards on the ground. The highly-ranked Sooners rushing game averaged 2.6 yards per rush on 34 attempts. The Sooners were worse through the air, finishing with 150 passing yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
Even 30 minutes before the game, Oklahoma and Baylor were already getting into it. When Baylor ran onto the field, three defensive backs, led by senior Ahmad Dixon, yelled at Oklahoma players from midfield.
“Oklahoma tried to turn this into a streetfight,” Dixon said. “I think they came out and tried to mess with our focus, but our coaching staff did a great job of keeping us focused. It really didn’t affect us but made us more aggressive and ready to get after those guys. We just told ourselves ‘hey, take no prisoners’.”
Baylor’s offense struggled early in the game, and the defense was relied on to keep things from getting out of hand. In the first quarter, Baylor managed only 56 yards of offense, well below its average of 179.5 yards per quarter in the previous seven games. Fortunately, the defense held Oklahoma to only 20 yards of total offense on 12 plays. In the first two drives, the Sooners had nine yards.
In the second quarter, Baylor’s offense showed up with 229 yards of offense in the first half, and stretched the lead from 3-0 in the first quarter to 24-5 at halftime.
“We knew that if we could just hold them off long enough, our offense would get going,” Bennett said. “We didn’t want to give them a play and we did a good job. These kids have a great understanding of what we’re trying to do. This is the best job we’ve done as a defense.”
Baylor’s defense forced Oklahoma into three three-and-outs. Seven Oklahoma drives resulted in punts, compared to Baylor’s three punts. The Bears also forced two turnovers.
Senior safety Ahmad Dixon led Baylor with 10 tackles, including seven solo, one tackle for loss and a pass breakup. Senior linebacker Eddie Lackey came up big with eight tackles, a tackle for loss, a quarterback hurry and an interception.
Oklahoma quarterback Blake Bell was held to 159 yards of total offense and two interceptions. Freshman Travis Knight was brought in to try and mix things up, but he managed 17 yards on five rushes. No player finished with more than 38 yards rushing.
With the impressive defensive showing, Baylor’s defensive unit will rank in the top 10 in the FBS. This is the same defense that ranked in the 120’s for most of last season in total defense. Baylor’s defense gave up 502 yards per game last season compared to 306.1 yards per game this year.
“I think we showed we can play defense and compete with any defense in any conference in the nation,” McAllister said. “If our guys put our minds to it, we can do anything we want.”