Story by Adam Gibson | Sports Writer, Video by Noah Torr | Broadcast Reporter
Baylor football hits the road for the second time this season to face No. 6 Oklahoma at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Norman, Okla.
After the Bears won their first conference game this season against Kansas 26-7, head coach Matt Rhule said the defense showed just how good it could be and it performed well heading into playing the top-ranked team in the Big 12.
“I am really proud of our defense and how they flew around and did a bunch of good things, like created some negatives had a fourth quarter shutout and bounced back from tremendous adversity when [Kansas running back Pooka Williams] had the long run,” Rhule said. “I am pleased with the fact we were able to get to the quarterback … I’m excited about the opportunity we have this week and go to Norman and play the defending Big 12 champions.”
While the defense performed well, recording four sacks in the game, the discipline of the team proved to be a problem, recording 13 penalties to set them back 141 yards. Those 141 yards is over half of the total yards Kansas had in the entire game. Rhule said going forward the team will have to focus more on its methods and discipline to ensure the number of penalties goes down.
“We have to cut down on the penalties,” Rhule said. “I think a lot of it comes down to confidence, just keep getting better, getting our hands inside, moving our feet and trusting ourselves and trusting our technique. I was really pleased with a lot of things we did on the offensive line in the first half, really pleased with our effort. We’ll just keep coaching it and understanding that as long as the effort’s there, we’ll coach through mistakes.”
One of the biggest threats the Bears will be facing this weekend is Oklahoma junior quarterback Kyler Murray, who has led his team through an undefeated season so far. Through four games this season, Murray has completed 60 of his 88 passing attempts for a completion percentage of 68.2 percent with 11 touchdowns, three of which have come off of rushing attempts. Baylor junior safety Chris Miller said stopping the offense will be a huge factor in the game, but as long as the Bears stick to the game plan, it should be enough to slow down Murray.
“I feel like they have a lot of great players on offense, but we’ve got a lot of great players on defense. So our plan is to just go toe-to-toe with them for 60 minutes and then we’ll look at the scoreboard at the end of the game,” Miller said. “He brings a lot of threats to you with his arm as well as his feet, but I feel like we will treat him just like any other quarterback. You always have to be aware. You have to know where you’re at on the field. You’ve always got to have a plan for him, but I feel like we can play good against him.”
Norman has proved to be a tough place for the Bears. Baylor has won just once in Oklahoma’s home stadium. Rhule said Murray leads an offense that can make plays in every aspect and has been someone whose talent has shone through his entire career.
“He is dynamic in the run game,” Rhule said. “OU has a very good power football run game but he is also capable of pulling the ball and making explosive runs. He is also a tremendous passer, so we have to keep him in the pocket and we have to rush him or else he will get out of the pocket and make plays. He has been a tremendous player his whole life. He will be a tremendous test defensively along with the rest of their offense.”
Last weekend against Army, the Oklahoma defense forced two interceptions and two players recorded over 20 tackles; sophomore line backer Kenneth Murray and senior linebacker Curtis Bolton had 28 and 23, respectively. Baylor junior offensive lineman Jake Fruhmorgen said the defense of Oklahoma clearly is very capable of disrupting offenses, but in the end, the offense just needs to play well in order to keep it from disrupting the Bears’ offensive side of the ball.
“They’re a talented bunch,” Fruhmorgen said. “Obviously they’re a big program. Good nose tackle. We’re expecting a lot of talented guys to rotate in there … three-man front. So we’re expecting something similar to Kansas last week but it’s all about us at the end of the day. We’ve just got to block it up front and get our assignments down and be tough.”
The ground game made progress to being where it needed to be last week, according to Rhule.
“Kansas did a good job, they sold out to stop the run,” Rhule said. “We need to get a lot better, but I think we’re making progress.”
One piece of the offensive line for the Bears is sophomore offensive lineman Xavier Newman, who has played in all four games this season but left the Kansas game early due to an ankle injury. Rhule said losing someone who has the ability Newman has is a big blow to the team, especially considering he is a starter.
“It’s not what we want. Xavier is becoming a really good player,” Rhule said. “You don’t like it anytime you don’t have a starter. Hopefully [senior offensive lineman] Josh Malin will be back either this week or next so we have a little more depth, but Xavier has played a lot of football for us, so someone will have to step up … It’s not broken, but a high ankle sprain. Just depends on how it heals.”
Oklahoma has time and again proven to be one of the toughest opponents Baylor faces each season. With the all-time record of 3-24 against the Sooners, the Bears are no strangers to how good each Oklahoma team can be. Rhule is heading to Norman for the first time and said the only thing the team needs to focus on is how it plays and transferring what it has done in practice out on the field.
“I always try to tell the guys that we cannot control the other team,” Rhule said. “We can control ourselves and how we play, and we just have to focus on playing well … We just have to worry about us and go out and play with tremendous energy and passion, … I’ll always talk about process and it being about us. We’ll eliminate those distractions of doubt and fear of failure and crowd noise and scoreboard and just go play.”