The conference season is here. Non-conference season gives us a chance to observe the makeup of a team. Has your team lived up to that preseason hype? Do they have some glaring weaknesses that you hope can get filled before it’s too late? In the case of Oklahoma, the non-conference slate was as productive as possible.
Oklahoma vs Baylor: Sooners Look To Avoid a Bear Trap
Setting the Table
With a huge road victory already on the Sooners resume, a playoff berth is certainly in sight. Last week was about how the Sooners would deal with those expectations. It was a little rough early, but the team responded very well to show the maturity and leadership is there. With Baker Mayfield leading the charge, leadership should not be in question. After all, Mayfield has not been shy about mentioning the desire to return to Oklahoma to win a championship. It’s not logical to think Oklahoma will play at a championship level each week. However, this team has not faced adversity yet so it remains to be seen how they react to that when it occurs.
The Challenge of Looking Good and Winning
We are in a day and age where winning impressively is a must. Especially, when you have what many believe as a decided talent advantage as the Sooners will have Saturday against Baylor. With Clemson looking just as good as their National Championship form and Alabama still being Alabama, the pressure is on. The Sooners travel to Waco this weekend where they are a four touchdown favorite, have a bye week and then return home to face Iowa State before the annual tilt with Texas in the Cotton Bowl. The Cyclones are improved, but one has to think Oklahoma will still be a 20+ point favorite in that contest as well. That brings forward the balancing act of winning impressively, while focusing on just playing well. But, those impressive wins will certainly set the Sooners up well if they happen to stub their toe in conference season.
Coming into this weekends contest, the Sooners remained a little banged up. A few key contributors will be out while a few more continue to play with a nagging injury. Defensively, Will Johnson continues to be out of the lineup while he is in concussion protocol and true freshman Robert Barnes is nursing a hamstring injury. Kahlil Haughton will get the start again this week and should get challenged by the vertical passing attack of Baylor.
On the offensive side of the ball, Cody Ford is also in the concussion protocol and remains to be seen if he will be able to go. Fortunately for the Sooners, depth is not as much of an issue on the offensive line. Also, Mark Andrews’ knee is still a little banged up. He did play against Tulane and is expected to be nearly 100% on Saturday.
Scouting the Baylor Bears
It will be difficult to find two teams that have started in more opposite directions. Baylor has fallen far in a relatively short amount of time. The Bears are 0-3 on the young season with losses to Liberty, Texas San-Antonio and Duke. The Cactus Bowl dominating victory against Boise State which just happened on December 27th last year seems like ages ago. With that being said, the Bears looked much better last week against Duke.
The days of the spread offense in the Art Briles regime is over. Under new head coach Matt Rhule the Bears are looking to become more balanced and control the ball. As you would expect, they have struggled adjusting to that philosophy out of the gate. Through the first three games, the quarterback play has been suspect. Anu Solomon and Zach Smith have completed just 40% of their passes. Comparitively, Baker Mayfield has completed almost 77% of his passes. Solomon was the starter for the first two games, but was knocked out of the UTSA game with a concussion. Smith started last week and had a feast or famine type of performance. He threw touchdown passes of 44, 73 and 79 yards, but also threw three interceptions and lost a fumble. With Solomon still in the concussion protocol Smith will get the start Saturday.
The running game hasn’t been what you would normally expect out of a Baylor team as late. But they will get a shot in the arm this week as Terrence Williams will be back for the Bears. Williams was a 1,000 yard rusher a season ago. He will be complemented by John Lovett who has 188 yards on 41 carries through the first three games.
The Bears have had some outstanding receivers in the recent years with the other Terrence Williams, Corey Coleman and K.D. Cannon just to name a few. This year that guy is Chris Platt. He was the third leading receiver from a year ago with 567 yards. Platt is more than halfway to that total this season, with 308 yards and four touchdowns. He is a big play threat as his four touchdowns have been from 75, 20, 73 and 79.
A sluggish defense was also a constant in the Briles tenure. That trend has continued to be the case through 2017. They were dreadful against Liberty in the opener. Rhule’s defense gave up 585 yards of total offense against the FCS Flames. They have improved since that game and last week against Duke stiffened to make it a little closer than it could have been. Down 14-7 in the first half, Baylor threw an interception at their own 17 and forced a missed field goal. Then, with 25 seconds left in the first half Henry Black intercepted Duke on 3rd and goal. This could have easily been a 28-7 halftime deficit rather than a manageable 14-7 game.
The defense will also have the benefit of getting a few players back from injury. Grayland Arnold and Taion Sells who were tabbed as starters in fall camp will return for their first action in 2017.
With the struggles on defense, Baylor still has been able to get to the quarterback with success this season. The Bears have nine sacks on the season. Ira Lewis leads the charge with two and a half sacks. Also, Clay Johnston will be a name to keep an eye on as he has 29 tackles and six and a half of those are for loss.
Oklahoma comes into this game somewhat similarly as they did a week ago. They are heavy favorites over a team that they have a considerable talent advantage over. Odds are that Oklahoma doesn’t come in quite as flat as they did a week ago, but with the returning players for Baylor this game will not be a complete cakewalk. The problem for Baylor remains that even if they play well offensively, the horses are not there to keep up. The Bears will make some plays and put up some points, but not nearly enough as the Sooners cruise to victory 52-24.
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