This is the game we’ve been waiting for. Well, one of them anyway. All eyes were on Stillwater, Oklahoma last week to watch Oklahoma State’s man-handling of TCU. This week, the conference’s back-loaded schedule continues as the Big 12 finds itself hosting the nation’s biggest game.
The Oklahoma Sooners will pay a visit to McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas to take on the Baylor Bears in prime time. Both of these teams are jam-packed with NFL-caliber talent on both sides of the ball. This game will not only have huge implications on the College Football Playoff but it also has all the ingredients needed for an instant classic.
Date & Time: Saturday, November 14th, 7:00 PM CST
Location: McLane Stadium (Waco, Texas)
Forecast: Possible Showers, Winds at 7 MPH, 54° F
Betting Line: Baylor -2.5, O/U 77
#12 Oklahoma Sooners 8-1 (5-1)
OU comes into this heavyweight match-up on a serious roll. Their last four games came against Kansas State, Texas Tech, Kansas and Iowa State. They’ve plowed through each game out-scoring those four teams 232-50 including a 55-0 shutout against K-State.
The Sooner’s turned some heads early in the year with a dramatic, come-from-behind win in Knoxville against then 23-ranked Tennessee. As the season moved along they looked better and better and would reach the top 10 in the AP Poll. Then, on a crystal clear afternoon in Dallas, they caught the written-off Longhorns on the wrong day.
The shocking Texas loss has been, and will continue to be, a thorn in the Sooner’s side. Every analyst seems to love how they’re playing but the conversation inevitably ends up with something along the lines of, “…but they lost to Texas.”
This game represents Oklahoma’s chance to prove the Texas game was nothing more than a blip in the screen. A fluke. If they can somehow find a way to knock off the potent Bears in McLane stadium it would do two things. First, they would be the first visiting team to ever win there. Second, and probably most importantly, they’d force the playoff committee to at least consider forgiveness for the Texas loss.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR OKLAHOMA
Can Mayfield Shine On The Big Stage? – Quarterback Baker Mayfield, a former walk-on, has had a fantastic year. His name is even coming up in some Heisman conversations. Having a reputation as a bit of a gunslinger coming into this season, Mayfield has been superb at taking care of the ball with only four picks in 275 passing attempts. Playing an offensive juggernaut such as Baylor under the bright lights, Mayfield will have perhaps have to have his best game for the Sooners to be able to pull this one out. Can he do it with the nation’s eyes focused on him?
Lots Of Perine and Mixon – An effective running game can keep Baylor’s ridiculously talented offense on the sidelines where they can do no damage. Leading the way on the ground for the Sooners is Samaje Perine who’s averaging 5.8 YPC. Heavy doses of he and Mixon will keep this from becoming a shootout which the Sooners definitely don’t want to have happen. Especially on the road against an offense like Baylor’s.
Get To Stidham Early – Jarrett Stidham, while posting an extremely impressive starting debut last week, is still a true freshman. That should be a dinner bell for the OU defensive front. Stidham has proven to be fully capable but he will, no-doubt, have brittle nerves coming into this one. If OU’s defense (19 sacks in the last four games) can get shots on him in the first quarter, it will be difficult for the young freshman to settle into a rhythm.
#6 Baylor Bears 8-0 (5-0)
The Bear’s chance has finally come. Amidst a College Football Playoff Selection Committee who has accused them of not beating anyone good enough to deserve a top four spot, Baylor now has its chance to prove them wrong. In the first six games of the season Baylor’s lowest point output was 56. They were steam-rolling teams who simply did not know what to do against their incredibly fast and skilled offense.
However, in what was dangerously close to a shocking upset, Baylor escaped Manhattan with a 31-24 win over K-State last week. Quarterback Seth Russell, who’s out for the season due to a neck injury, was replaced by true freshman Jarrett Stidham. Stidham hit the ground running in his debut throwing for 419 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. But the lowest point output of the season the week before their biggest game probably raised Art Briles’ eyebrows a tad.
Obviously people think of offense when they think of Baylor. But it should be noted that they rank second in pass defense (Oklahoma is first) and second in total defense (Oklahoma is first) in the conference. The biggest question for Baylor going into Saturday is, can they put up the same type of impressive offensive output against a top-tier defense?
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR BAYLOR
Protect Stidham – Kansas State managed to sack Stidham three times last week which isn’t bad considering he had 33 passing attempts. But OU has a fierce pass rush and, as I previously mentioned, they are on a roll. My guess is the Sooners will have plenty of blitz packages and disguises cooked up for this week. If Baylor’s offensive line can’t get in sync, it could be a long day for the young quarterback.
Big Plays Galore – So far this year, nobody has been better than Baylor at striking quickly. Their ability to get huge leads before their opponent knows what hit them is partly why they’re so dangerous. Skill speedsters Corey Coleman and Shock Linwood will have to be able to make their first tackler miss and get chunks of yardage at a time. This will eventually wear down the Sooner D and make life easier for Stidham.
Get Off The Field – Given a devastating rushing attack at their disposal, the Sooners will be trying to steadily control the clock. This will most-likely bring up many 3rd and shorts. Baylor’s defense will have to be able to make some plays behind the line of scrimmage and force some punts. Especially when they have OU pinned on their own side of the field.
BY THE NUMBERS
|Points Per Drive||3.32||4.34|
|Yds Per Play||7.18||8.43|
|Pass Yards Per Att||10.14||10.93|
|Rush Yards Per Att||4.92||6.57|
|3rd Down Con||50.00%||48.08%|
|Opp 3rd Down Con||41.98%||37.62%|
|Sacks Per Game||3.78||2.00|
|Redzone Scoring %||86.76%||89.22%|
|Field Goal %||80.90%||75.00%|
I am hereby putting Baylor on upset alert. I see Oklahoma as prepared and ready to execute a flawless game plan put together by Stoops, Riley and company. Since the Texas loss, the Sooners have played as good of football as anyone in the country. Mayfield has shown that he’s not only very accurate (70.2% completion rate this season) but his mental game and decision-making have improved every week.
As much as I completely disagree with how the committee has made their selections so far this season, one thing I agree with is the lack of competition Baylor has seen. It just can’t be ignored. From position-to-position, they haven’t seen anything close to what OU is producing right now and that will be their downfall.
My biggest concern for the Bears is Stidham. My hat’s off to this kid who clearly has an incredibly bright future ahead of him. However, other than Kansas State, he’s basically seen nothing but mop up time against defenders who, let’s face it, were ready to go home by the time he got in the game. OU’s defense is fast, physical and relentless and I believe they’ll force some turnovers out of the true freshman.
One thing is for certain about this match-up and that is that there is an army of Big 12 doubters, haters and naysayers at the ready. The Playoff Selection Committee has shown, very clearly, that they believe the Big 12 simply doesn’t have as much to offer as the other Power Five conferences. That said, I’m hoping for solid performances on both sides. These are two great football teams, both of which I’d put against the committee’s top four. I just hope they show it on Saturday night.