By Jeffrey Swindoll
Last season was one of those stories of “what could’ve been” for Baylor football. The team reached No. 3 in the AP Poll, but many say the Bears peaked a little too early in the season. It all came crashing down on a freezing cold night in Stillwater, Okla., against Oklahoma State.
The Bears’ hopes at playing in the final edition of the BCS National Championship game were completely shattered that night, after the No. 11 Cowboys broke the Bears with a 49-17 score line. This Saturday, at McLane Stadium, the Bears can right that wrong against OSU.
For senior quarterback Bryce Petty, Saturday’s game is a chance at redemption. Petty didn’t necessarily play a bad game against OSU last season. It was his inability to convert opportunities into points that prevented Baylor from earning a spot in the national championship discussion.
The score was tied roughly at the halfway point in the first quarter. It was a tight game on both ends. Somehow, Petty broke through the defense with a rush of his own. He nothing but daylight in front of him. Baylor fans across the country were out of their seats, looking on a play that they assuredly expected to end in six points for the Bears. This was the moment for the Bears to break the deadlock. Not so fast.
Petty tripped. He tripped on his own, falling right in front of the goal-line. The referees placed the ball at the one-yard line, and the Bears would have a fresh set of downs to knock it in after Petty’s blunder.
Miraculously enough, the Bears’ bad luck lingered even though they were just one yard away from a touchdown to take the lead. The Cowboys stuffed Baylor running back Shock Linwood for no gain on the first play of the goal line stand. One play later, the Bears gave the ball to Linwood again, but fumbled the ball and the Cowboys recovered on their own one-yard line, resulting in a massive momentum swing. Oklahoma State went on to score on that drive, and comfortably held the lead for the rest of the game.
“We wanted something that’s never been done before, and that was to go to a national championship. That dream came down,” Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon said in the postgame aftermath of that haunting night in Stillwater.
That series of unfortunate events basically summarizes that night in Stillwater for the Bears. Baylor failed to capitalize on any of their opportunities, and it cost them a shot at the national title.
“We want to right our wrongs. We learned a lot last year, and I think that’s why we adopted the motto `you don’t lose, you learn.’ I think that has helped us out a lot carrying over into this year. We learned a lot. I learned that I need to pick my feet up, so I’ll be looking forward to taking that back. You still have that sour taste in your mouth from years past.”
This year, Petty is poised to rectify what happened a year ago. Fresh off a bye week, having just stunned the then-ranked No. 15 Oklahoma Sooners in Norman, Okla., 48-14, the Bears offense is ruthless, firing on all cylinders.
“Two weeks ago, we had a lot of confidence offensively, and as a team, too,” Petty said. “I thought we played really well as a team. Once you catch it, you’ve got to hold onto it, because you don’t have it for very long a lot of times. We have to carry that into this week and throughout these next couple games.”
In that game, Petty looked as good as he’s looked all season long.
“Speaking personally, that’s one of the most comfortable games that I’ve been in,” Petty said. “We were just operating and executing, and that’s what you have to have. That part starts with me, so when I’m comfortable, that’s when our offense really rolls. I would love to say that we’re playing our best football now and that you haven’t seen it yet. It’s still down the road, so that’s what we’re working for and trying to be better every week.”
Petty was, of course, not entirely responsible for the loss in Stillwater. He threw for 359 yards, completing 28 of his 48 pass attempts, no interceptions and two touchdowns. Many quarterbacks would gladly take a performance like that. However, Petty said he holds himself to a higher standard.
“Like I said, it’s kind of hard to say that it’s a revenge game, but at the same time, it’s hard not to,” Petty said. “Last year we had one loss and it was to them, so we want to make sure we right our wrongs and definitely me as well. I’d love to come out and show them who Baylor football really is. Last year, I don’t think that we played that way and we weren’t happy. Last week, we played better when we were mad and upset, so that’s what we want to do.”
Petty isn’t the only one who sees this game as a sort of payback for the loss last year. Junior center Kyle Fuller played in that game too. He said “playing angry” against OSU on Saturday will be a little easier of an attitude to get into, compared to the other games this season.
“It’s kind of everybody’s mindset right now, to get back at [OSU],” Fuller said. “They ruined our year last year. It’s been all about redeeming ourselves this week. Everybody’s ready to just get out there, really.”
The Bears are so close to the finish line. Everything is out in front of them. Three games remain – OSU at McLane Stadium this week, Texas Tech at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington next week and Kansas State at McLane Stadium the week after that. If the Bears win out, they will have successfully defended their Big 12 Conference title from last year and will be in serious consideration for the new four-team College Football Playoff system being implemented for the first time this season. The road to the national title can start with redemption this week against Oklahoma State.
“We can’t get to the championship if we don’t win this week,” Petty said. “That’s what is most important for me and the most important for the leadership on this team – to make sure each guy takes this game seriously and that we’re out to prove.”