By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
No. 14 Baylor football was not supposed to win in Boone Pickens Stadium on Saturday. But even with several of their veteran players missing from the field, the Bears managed to score 21 unanswered points against Oklahoma State in the fourth quarter to take a 45-27 victory.
This is only the second time in the Big 12 era that Baylor has won a game in Stillwater, Okla. The last win came in 2015, but before then the Bears had not won an away game against the Cowboys since 1939.
Head coach Matt Rhule knew it was going to be a tough game especially after losing staple players like senior linebacker Clay Johnston and junior cornerback Grayland Arnold.
After the first half, which followed the pattern of being a low scoring affair on both sides, the Bears trailed 13-10. Rhule said the team decided it was time to get out of its own head and just play the game the way it knew how.
“I thought it was just an overwhelming team win. I’m very proud of our team,” Rhule said. “At halftime we made the decision as a team to stop worrying about winning. You, know when you’re 6-0 that can be like a yoke around your neck. You know, you start thinking about, ‘You have to win this game! You have to win this game!’ I mean guys were yelling, and coaches were yelling in the first half and we said let’s just go compete and play and not worry about the score.”
The biggest question before Saturday was how the defense would hold up without Johnston. But Baylor’s next-man-up mentality allowed not just the defense to remain dominant but for the offense and special teams to step up as well, working like a well-oiled machine to power through for the win.
Sophomore linebacker Terrel Bernard stepped in to fill the gap left by Johnston who was sidelined for the rest of the year due to a knee injury during the homecoming game against Texas Tech. Bernard said he was not trying to replace Johnston in the line but just do what he needed to do.
“I didn’t feel pressure. Coach Rhule talked to me and just told me to play my game. There’s no way I could replace Clay in a week. Obviously, I was nervous and I was anxious to go out there and play for him,” Bernard said. “Not to replace him, but to play for him.”
Bernard did more than just play his game, he delivered the knockout blow that sealed the victory over the Cowboys. Halfway through the fourth quarter, third-year defensive tackle Chidi Ogbonnaya stripped the ball from OSU quarterback Spencer Sanders. Bernard scooped it up and sped away 20 yards into the end zone. With a career-high nine tackles, five of them solo, Bernard was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week.
Other backup players had to step in for the starters as Arnold was out with an injury and senior safety Chris Miller was ejected for a targeting penalty in the second quarter. Sophomore safety JT Woods played in place of Arnold while sophomore safety Christian Morgan and junior safety Jairon McVea logged in snaps in place of Miller, each recording a solo tackle.
Woods, Morgan and McVea were not the only ones plugging holes on Saturday. Sophomore cornerback Kalon Barnes and senior long snapper Ross Matiscik also played critical roles.
Barnes had one of the more pivotal plays on the night, intercepting a pass from Sanders at the end of the first half to keep OSU from extending its 13-10 lead. Woods stressed the importance that play had on the defense.
“People might not really understand, but that was pivotal,” Woods said. “We stress getting three turnovers, and that was the first one. That kind of started getting us rolling. Coach [Joey] McGuire came into the locker room and said, ‘We need two more.’ And we went out and got them.”
On the other side of the ball, the offense came up big as well. With senior wide receiver Denzel Mims constantly being targeted, junior quarterback Charlie Brewer had to find other options in sophomore wide receivers Josh Fleeks and Tyquan Thornton and senior running back JaMycal Hasty.
Fleeks was on fire with three receptions for 126 yards which included a 64-yard touchdown reception. Thornton caught Brewer’s longest career pass in the third quarter (78 yards) to set up the first of Hasty’s rushing TDs.
Hasty had to pull the freight at running back with sophomores Tresten Ebner and John Lovett on the sideline. But the senior made it clear the Bears meant business with a 73-yard rushing touchdown that opened the chasm between Baylor and the Cowboys.
Ultimately, the Bears looked like a well-rounded team. The national rankings reflected Saturday’s performance as Baylor jumped the No. 15 Texas Longhorns in both the AP Top 25 Poll and the USA Today Coaches’ Poll.
“This was a process game for us,” Rhule said. “We came here two years ago and got beat up pretty badly. Those guys are now juniors, and they have a great team, and we were able to find a way to win it in the fourth.”