The biggest takeaway from Baylor’s loss to Oklahoma: Don’t lose momentum

Junior cornerbacks Grayland Arnold (left) and Raleigh Texada (back) and senior linebacker Blake Lynch (front) take a charge at Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts during Baylor's 34-31 loss to the Sooners Saturday at McLane Stadium. Kristen DeHaven | Multimedia Journalist

By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor

For 30 minutes, No. 13 Baylor football was in control. For 30 minutes, the undefeated underdog proved that they belonged under the prime-time spotlight. But after having established themselves as a fourth-quarter team all season, the Bears couldn’t finish how they started, falling to No. 10 Oklahoma 34-31 Saturday night at McLane Stadium.

“People all week asked me about starting fast, starting fast,” head coach Matt Rhule said. “I say I don’t care — I want to finish. Heavyweight bouts are not won in the first round, they’re won at the end of the game. We started fast, but we didn’t finish.”

Rhule has talked all season about being the team to make one more play than the opponent. The Bears were unable to do that against Oklahoma. Leading 31-10 going into the third quarter, Baylor only had 16 plays for 99 yards on offense with the defense working themselves ragged on the field for over 24 minutes in the second half. After the Sooners took the lead with a field goal toward the end of the fourth quarter, OU redshirt freshman Nik Bonitto intercepted a pass by junior quarterback Charlie Brewer to seal the Sooners’ comeback.

The third-year head coach said not playing well on third down contributed to the offense getting off the field and the defense staying on.

“I think our tackling started falling apart,” Rhule said. “Guys were beating us in tackling. That’s what I said this week. We’re going to take away Jalen Hurts in the run game — run the tackle on the perimeter. We did it the first half, not quite as well in the second half. The offense could have made some plays. Special teams wasn’t really a difference maker for us.”

Third down was a difficult spot for the Bears all night, even in the first half. Baylor had three third down conversions — one less than the Sooners — in the first 30 minutes and finished the game with four of nine.

The key to the performance of both teams was creating takeaways. Baylor won the turnover battle with five forced fumbles — two of which were recovered by the Bears — and an interception by junior cornerback Grayland Arnold for a 71-yard return.

Oklahoma defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said creating takeaways is what shifts momentum during games.

“It’s extremely hard to play good defense and not get takeaways in any way, shape or form,” Grinch said. “If you want to curb the momentum of an opponent, there’s only certain ways you can get that done — obviously scoring on offense and defensively getting off the field.”

Oklahoma only had one forced fumble to begin the second half, but it was a costly one for Baylor as Sooners senior cornerback Parnell Motley stripped the ball from JaMycal Hasty in the Bears’ first possession of the third quarter.

According to Sooners’ head coach Lincoln Riley, that turnover was crucial in getting his team back into focus.

“I think getting the turnover, then just settling in — doing our job better than we did the first half,” Riley said. “They understood we had to play with the same amount of energy and effort, but we had to do our job better.”

With both teams tied at 9-1 record (6-1 in conference), Baylor and Oklahoma have a likely chance of facing each other again in a few weeks. The Bears have to get past the Texas Longhorns on their home turf Saturday and then travel to close out the regular season against the Kansas Jayhawks.

Rhule said he’s sure his team will learn from the loss and bounce back for its next challenge.

“A lot of other teams had to figure out how to lose early in the year,” Rhule said. “We were tough enough to get to this point to do it. I don’t want them to forget that; be proud of that. At the same time they have to go do it — fight, scratch and claw to get a win next week.”