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Oklahoma Heads To Waco To Face Baylor In Big 12 Opener

The third-ranked Sooners travel south down I-35 to Waco, Texas for a showdown against the Baylor Bears.



Getty Images - Brett Deering

While many expected this season to be different for Baylor going back to the beginning of the calendar year, few expected both head coaches in this contest to be new face. Lincoln Riley and Matt Rhule are two younger coaches that many are excited about but for obvious circumstances. However, so far, they are on completely different levels of success on the field. This Saturday’s matchup will kick off the Big 12 season for each squad.

Date/Time:  SAT, SEP 23, 2017 at 5:30 PM CT
Where: McClane Stadium; Waco, TX
Forecast: Mostly Sunny, 93
Stream: FoxSportsGo
Betting Line: OU -27.5

Oklahoma Sooners (3-0)

Following the emotional win on the road in Columbus two weeks ago, the Sooners started the game last Saturday against the Tulane Green Wave like many thought they would: sloppy. A fumble on an opening drive followed by consecutive scoring drives by Tulane found the end of the first quarter in a 14-14 tie. Chaos ensued across the college football Twittersphere.

Once the Sooners figured out the tricky option attack the Green Wave uses, Oklahoma dominated. Led by Baker Mayfield, the Sooners scored 42 unanswered points for the remaining two and a half quarters of the game. The wide receiving corp, which was rightfully questioned to begin the year, continued to impress. True freshman CeeDee Lamb had two touchdowns and over 100 yards receiving before being ejected for a targeting foul in the first half. After Lamb’s exit, transfer Jeff Badet, tight end Mark Andrews and JUCO transfer Marquise Brown stepped up beautifully. The ground game took advantage of having the best offensive line in the country and moved the ball forward all night.

Defensively, once Oklahoma settled down, was impressive for the third straight game. Of course there are concerns when you give up 240 yards rushing to an inferior opponent, but given the game a week prior and the fact that no one in the Big 12 will run a spread/triple-option, there shouldn’t be much to read into the defensive performance. The secondary continues its surprising run as one of the top units in the conference led by CB Parnell Motley who had his second interception of the year which he returned for a touchdown. Despite some lapses, Mike Stoops appears to have the players necessary to have a stout defense akin to the impressive 2015 version.

Baylor Bears (0-3)

The Bears showed improvement from their nightmarish opening to the season in losses to Liberty and UT-San Antonio. Going on the road against a nice Duke squad and playing the Blue Devils tough was certainly a welcome sight for realistic Baylor fans. The tests will only get tougher however as conference play begins. Fortunately a handful of starters may all be ready for kickoff as the Sooners come to town.

Sophomore quarterback Zach Smith had an up and down day. While the three touchdowns were great, the four turnovers (three interceptions) did all to negate any positives and kept the Bears playing from behind all day. The offensive line continues to struggle mightily, only helping to ground out just over 50 yards rushing for the game. Wide receiver Chris Platt had an outstanding day with 148 yards receiving and two touchdowns. The talent, if it’s anywhere, is in the receiving corp. With Smith continuing to start as the season progresses, his quick development will be the key to Baylor’s success or failure.

The Bears defensive line was gashed once again to the tune of 246 yards and three scores. Once Baylor got within 24-20 in the second half, the Blue Devils relied on the ground game and scored 10 unanswered points to pull away. Surprisingly the Bears were able to get to the quarterback, sacking Daniel Jones five times. It will come down to the Bears being able to make consecutive stops and getting off the field on defense for improvement to take place.

Keys to the Game for OU

Stay Focused – In the Tulane contest, Oklahoma showed that it is susceptible to some lackluster starts to games. You can get away with it at home, but you want to avoid that on the road at all costs. If the Sooners come out ready and focused, this game should be in hand rather quickly.

Continue Defending The Pass – After last season’s terrible beginning for the secondary, the 2017 pass defending unit has come up huge. The Sooners have yet to surrender a passing touchdown in three games and they will have a big test against Baylor. While Rhule implements more of a pro-style attack than the Art Briles Bears, the talent in Waco demands a pass happy system still. The Bears will attempt to test the Sooner secondary.

Run The Football – It has been said time and time again, but the Sooner offensive line is good. With a stable of backs including Abdul Adams and Trey Sermon, Oklahoma should have no problem lining up and blowing the struggling Bear defensive line off the ball. With a bye week coming for Oklahoma, a workman like performance from the backs would work wonders for team health heading into October.

Keys to the Game for BU

Find Some Magic – This is the first time Oklahoma has come to town since the great 2015 showdown which saw Baylor lose in McClane Stadium for the first time ever. The blackout is in effect for this game and if the Bears have any hope of winning, they need to feed off the fans and atmosphere. Trick plays, unorthodox pass plays and uptempo when necessary could go a long way.

Make Oklahoma One-Dimensional – If Oklahoma is going to have trouble on the road, it will be due to their inability to run the football. Baylor will have to dig deep in order to make the Sooners rely solely on the pass. Expect Baylor to stack the box and match each linemen man for man.

Protect The Quarterback – Zach Smith must remain upright and comfortable in order to make an upset happen. The young player cannot be rattled early at home.

Game Prediction

This game should be over early in the second half. If not, there will be concerns for Oklahoma and optimism for Baylor moving forward. The Sooners are too talented and deep for a Bears program attempting to find a new identity. This early in the season after starting 0-3 it is hard to see the Bears have much success against Oklahoma who possesses a slew of All-Conference and All-American players in the trenches. Baker Mayfield has been rolling going back to last season and it doesn’t appear to be stopping anytime soon. Baylor has the talent to have some exciting plays offensively but there is little more to expect than that.

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