By Jonah Kramer | Staff Writer
Saturday’s matchup between Baylor football and the University of Oklahoma features two teams that started the year ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll but have since fallen out of the rankings. Both the Bears and the Sooners are looking to build on two-game winning streaks and become bowl-eligible this weekend.
From a poorly ranked defense to a pair of key offensive weapons, here’s what Baylor (5-3, 3-2 Big 12) fans should know about Oklahoma (5-3, 2-3 Big 12), which is off to its worst start through eight games in over a decade.
Worst eight game start since 2009
First-year OU head coach Brent Venables, former Clemson University defensive coordinator, inherited expectations to win, and to do so immediately. Bob Stoops won a national championship for the Sooners in his second year as head coach, and his successor, Lincoln Riley, won 12 games in each of his first three seasons.
Relative to these standards, Venables’ tenure is off to a rocky start. This is the first time since 2009 that OU is entering week nine not already bowl eligible.
Venables’ window to make a good first impression is closing, and a win against Baylor would go a long way in preventing Oklahoma from posting its first losing record in Big 12 play since 1998.
The Sooners opened Big 12 play by surrendering over 40 points to each of their first four opponents. Shootouts against the Kansas schools and slaughterings at the hands of the University of Texas and Texas Christian University fueled paltry defensive numbers for Oklahoma. The Sooners rank 113th in the nation in total defense, allowing 438 yards per game.
Oklahoma particularly struggles against the run, giving up 189.8 yards a contest. Baylor will look to take advantage of the statistical mismatch, as the Bears rank 24th in the country in rushing offense.
Back-to-back victories over the University of Kansas and Iowa State University brightened the outlook of OU’s season. The 27-13 win against the Cyclones in particular showed signs of improvement defensively, albeit against the worst scoring offense in the conference.
On the other side of the ball, the Kansas game served as a major bounce back for Oklahoma, following a 49-0 loss to Texas in which the Sooners failed to amass 200 yards. OU totaled over 700 yards against the Jayhawks, and redshirt junior quarterback Dillon Gabriel was a big part of that.
Gabriel changes the game
The highly touted University of Central Florida transfer went down with a head injury late in the second half against TCU.
In the six quarters that Gabriel missed, the second half against the Horned Frogs and the entirety of the Red River Rivalry, the Sooners managed just seven points and 89 yards through the air.
The Oklahoma offense relies on Gabriel’s efficiency. He boasts a 14-1 touchdown to interception ratio and a 75.1 QBR, good for 26th in the nation. Baylor will test his ability to protect the football, as the Bears are coming off of a five interception and six sack game against Texas Tech.
Strength on strength
The Sooners complement Gabriel’s passing abilities with the 16th-best rushing offense in the country.
Senior running back Eric Gray leads the ground attack, averaging 6.8 yards per carry, which ranks seventh in the nation.
Baylor’s defense, ranked 22nd in rushing yards allowed, will look to slow Gray down in a battle of strengths in the trenches. With kickoff set for 2 p.m. Saturday at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., something has to give up front.