By Collin Bryant | Sports Writer
Baylor football entered the 2017 season with a 19-game non-conference winning streak, excluding bowls, dating back to a 45-10 loss to TCU on Sept. 18, 2010 before the Horned Frogs joined the Big 12. Its non-conference success has helped Baylor enter Big 12 play undefeated each year since 2011. However, after losing all three of its non-conference games this season, Baylor faces unfamiliar territory when it welcomes No. 3 Oklahoma to McLane Stadium on Saturday.
One of the areas that has doomed Baylor this season has been its lack of success on third down as well as the success of its opponents in third down situations.
Against Liberty, Baylor allowed the Flames to convert on 15 of their 24 third downs. However, the defense has improved in the Bears’ last two games against the UTSA Roadrunners and the Duke Blue Devils, with the Bears allowing a 16.7 percent conversion rate over the last six quarters against those two teams.
Baylor’s defense will face its toughest challenge yet as the Sooners have been excellent offensively thus far this season. Led by senior quarterback Baker Mayfield, the Sooners have completed 23 passes for at least 20 yards.
Head Coach Matt Rhule said that the defense is improving and if the Bears can increase the pass rush, they will help get more stops.
“Well, the defense was good. The defense was four for 18 last week, so the defense kept us in the game. I think since halftime of the UTSA game, they’re four for 24, so they’re getting better,” Rhule said. “To me, as I use a simplistic thought process, it comes down to whether or not we’re getting a pass rush. Whether it’s from [Eric] Ogor or whatever, we had five sacks, and we probably could’ve had three or four more. When you have a pass rush, it speeds up the offense, and that’s why we’re winning on third down.”
While Baylor has improved defensively, the offense still struggles to extend drives. The Bears went two for 11 on third downs against the Roadrunners and one for 12 against the Blue Devils. Oklahoma is tied with the University of Mississippi for fewest passes of 20+ yards allowed. The Sooners and Rebels have both only allowed two such completions this season.
Coach Rhule said he understands the reason for the team’s third down issues, but that there is a solution to the problem.
“Offensively, the other team has a pass rush, and we’re not able to hang in there. We’re not in third and three or third and four, so that’s a function of our inability to run the football right now,” Rhule said. “So, when you’re in third and 10, and you can’t really protect, that’s an issue. So how do you get that better? You’ve got to run the football.”
In his Monday press conference, Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley said when looking at the game film, Baylor is a better team than its record indicates.
“They’ve got off to a bit of a tough start, had several close games, but when you turn the film on, you see the potential, and you see the growth in them from game one to game three,” Riley said.
A second issue that has plagued Baylor this season is the amount of penalties it is committing each week. The Bears committed 10 penalties in the first half of Saturday’s 34-20 loss to Duke. This marks the third straight game where the Bears have committed at least 10 penalties.
Head Coach Matt Rhule said that while he is the first to put losses on himself, the issue with penalties is a team issue.
“We had 10 penalties in the first half. I’ll stand up here and sometimes say that’s on me. No one has coached no penalties harder than I have and harder than our staff has,” Rhule said. “At some point, our guys need to step up and say, ‘You know what? I’m going to stop jumping offside.’ And I say that with love, I don’t say that calling them out. You want to win? Go win.”
The Bears look for their first win Saturday at 5:30 p.m. in McLane Stadium against the No 3. Oklahoma Sooners.