By Michael Haag | Sports Editor
As Baylor football head coach Dave Aranda looks ahead to Saturday’s matchup against the University of Oklahoma, he’s been able to draw parallels between the two programs. The Bears and Sooners had rough starts to conference play, but have since emerged and found their footing.
“I think they’re starting to find their groove, and like us, it’s within a simplified structure,” Aranda said. “They’re playing their best football right now.”
Norman, Okla. does not treat Baylor well, proven by a 1-14 record when traveling there, the lone win coming in 2014. OU also leads the all-time series 28-4. The Bears (5-3, 3-2 Big 12) did however snap a seven-game losing streak to the Sooners (5-3, 3-2 Big 12) after a 27-14 victory at McLane Stadium a year ago.
Aranda said he has a lot of respect for first-year OU head coach Brent Venables. He added that Venables’ team is “playing hard for him” and that “you can see the inspired play” on tape.
“You’re seeing kind of a collective team emerging,” Aranda said. “This Oklahoma team is becoming right now.”
The Sooners are fresh off a 27-13 win at Iowa State on Saturday, which extended their win-streak to two after beating the University of Kansas 52-42 on Oct. 15. Those two-straight victories snapped a three-game losing streak to start conference play.
OU averages the third-most yards on the ground among all Big 12 teams at 217.5 yards a game. Sooner senior running back Eric Gray leads the rushing attack for them, as he posted 796 yards (99.5 yards per game) to go with six touchdowns.
Through the air, OU averages 236.9 yards per contest and is led by redshirt junior quarterback Dillon Gabriel. Aranda spoke highly of Gabriel on Monday, as the Mililani, Hawaii native has thrown for 1,766 yards, 14 touchdowns and only one interception.
“He’s got a really live arm, and there’s great confidence in him,” Aranda said. “He’ll throw from one hash to the other sideline. He’s got great anticipation so that he throws when guys are open. He can beat you with his legs too if everything’s covered, and there’s nowhere to go with it, he can take off running. So, you have to be really sound with your pass rush, and it helps to have vision on the quarterback … He makes it very difficult.”
Sixth-year senior offensive lineman Grant Miller said the Sooner defense is really tough to scout. Miller said they mix and match a lot of different packages to make it hard on opposing offenses.
“Oklahoma really isn’t afraid to run anything,” Miller said. “I mean, they’ll really throw everything but the kitchen at you. You have to prepare for a lot of different things when you’re playing their front [seven].”
OU’s defense is led by senior linebacker David Ugwoegbu and sophomore linebacker Danny Stutsman, as they have 68 and 67 tackles, respectively. Junior defensive lineman Reggie Grimes II owns a team-leading four sacks while redshirt senior defensive back C.J. Colden has two picks.
Last week, Baylor marched into a hostile road environment and hushed it in a hurry. A similar test presents itself with Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, which hosts a capacity of 86,112 people.
However, redshirt freshman safety Devin Lemear said the team has a “SWAT” mindset when it hits the road. The Bears are no stranger to tough atmospheres this season, and Lemear said this mentality puts the squad in position to win games away from McLane Stadium.
“I like to think of it as like a SWAT mentality,” Lemear said. “Kind of like, there’s a lot of noise happening. So, just to get in there, do our job and get out. That’s kind of like the mentality that I like to take to it. I feel like a lot of the defense takes the same mentality as that.”
Baylor just walloped Texas Tech University 45-17 a week ago, getting its first win in Lubbock since 1990. Despite a dominant performance that saw the Bears’ defense grab five interceptions and record six sacks, Aranda said the team will need to be greater this weekend.
“We’re going to need to be [better] for this next one,” Aranda said. “I have a lot of respect for Coach Venables and his team we’re playing, the environment, and all of it. So, we’re going to have to continue to grow and improve, so that we can put our best effort forward.”
Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. and can be watched on the ESPN+ telecast.
- Aranda announced that junior tight end Drake Dabney broke his fibula against the Red Raiders on Saturday and had surgery on Monday. The injury means Dabney’s season is likely over. The Cypress native finished 2022 with 16 catches for 173 yards.
- Junior running back Craig “Sqwirl” Williams is still questionable with a head injury he suffered almost three weeks ago against West Virginia University. Aranda said Williams’ status is unknown as of Monday and that he is hopeful to get Williams back.
- Sophomore wide receiver Monaray Baldwin, who did not play against Tech on Saturday due to a hamstring injury, is probable to return this weekend. Aranda said the situation is “a wait and see right now” on Monday. Baldwin has worked out this week, but Aranda said his status won’t be clearer until Thursday.