By Shehan Jeyarajah
It’s no secret; Baylor has had Saturday’s game circled on its calendar since the beginning of the year. Despite whipping the Sooners 41-12 in the meeting between these two teams last season, Oklahoma was picked to win the Big 12 by the media.
“That game from OU last year, that should have showed you that product was nowhere near as good as the product that Baylor was putting on the field,” junior defensive end Shawn Oakman said. “You could tell we were on a different level from OU, just straight out.”
Things have not worked out as expected for the Sooners, who now sit tied for fourth place in the conference with two losses. However, No. 12 Baylor has not lost any of its focus as it readies to try and earn its first ever road win over the Sooners.
“They are a storied program without a question,” head coach Art Briles said. “If you’re a casual football fan that keeps up with college football, the name Bud Wilkinson may mean something to you. Barry Switzer, Bob Stoops may mean something to you. They’ve done a tremendous job for decades as a program up there.”
In its last game, Oklahoma blew out Iowa State 59-14 last Saturday. Quarterback Trevor Knight accounted for six total touchdowns, three of each through the air and on the ground. Knight also added 146 yards rushing while leading the Sooners to 510 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
“[The Sooners] are really utilizing his skill level set and it adds a different dimension any time you play around a running quarterback,” Briles said. “You’ve got to account for him in the run game now.”
Oklahoma has three elite running backs on its roster in Samaje Perine, Alex Ross and Keith Ford. Along with Knight, the run game has been the driving force of its offensive production this season. The Sooners have averaged nearly 232 yards rushing per game, good enough for No. 22 in the nation.
“Those guys are good, and they do a good job,” Briles said. “They scheme it up well and they run plays a little bit to keep you off balance.”
Leading wide receiver Sterling Shepard has been outstanding this year, producing nearly half of Knight’s passing yards (957) and ranking third nationally in receiving yards per game. However, the junior sustained a groin injury in OU’s win over the Cyclones. Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops thinks he will still be able to play on Saturday.
“The best I’d say it now is we’re optimistic that it will heal enough that he’ll be full speed by the end of the week,” Stoops said.
If Shepard is slowed, no other receiver averages even 50 yards per game.
Defensively, the Sooners have performed below expectations. The rushing defense has ranked in the top 20 nationally, but the passing defense has been surprisingly poor.
The Sooners allow 265.8 passing yards per game, good enough for No. 105 in the nation out of 125 teams. That does not bode well against a passing offense that ranks fifth nationally and averages 349.0 passing yards per game.
Baylor comes into Saturday’s weekend matchup fresh off a 60-14 manhandling of Kansas. Senior quarterback Bryce Petty threw for 277 yards and three scores in the win. Sophomore running back Devin Chafin added 112 yards and two scores on only 14 carries.
Baylor’s defense has showed flashes of being an elite unit for the second year in a row. The Bears rank No. 17 in total defense, giving up only 322.6 yards per game. The rushing defense is even better; the Bears are one of only eight FBS teams and five Power Five conference teams to allow under 100 yards per game. In the win over Kansas, Baylor allowed 16 yards rushing on 27 carries, which works out to only 0.6 yards per rush.
Oakman has led the way with 12.5 tackles for loss, six sacks and two forced fumbles in only eight games this year, matching or eclipsing his numbers in each of those categories from last season.
Even though Oklahoma is all but eliminated from the College Football Playoff race, this game holds major national implications. A road win over a top 15 team would catapult the Bears in the rankings, and allow Baylor to control its destiny for a share of the Big 12 title.
“I’m just really excited about this week,” Petty said. “It’s a big opportunity for us and a big opportunity for them, so there’s a lot of hype around it.”
Depending on the result of the Kansas State-TCU matchup in Fort Worth, Baylor could potentially move into a situation where they control their own destiny. If Kansas State beats TCU, it will set up a highly touted matchup between likely top 10 teams in the first week of December in Waco.
“It’s important for us. Not to be cliché, but it really is about us,” Petty said. “We can’t get in that spot unless we take care of what we do. We’ve got to take care of what we can take care of, and the rest will take care of itself.”
No. 12 Baylor will travel to play the No. 15 Oklahoma Sooners at 11 a.m., on Saturday at Gaylord Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla. The game will be nationally broadcast on Fox Sports 1.