GAME NOTES: A battle of ranked rivals in the Big 12 Conference takes place on Thursday night, as No. 12 Oklahoma pays a visit to No. 5 Baylor.
Oklahoma is 7-1 on the season, its only loss coming in a 36-20 final against Texas in the annual Red River Rivalry matchup on Oct. 12. Since then, the Sooners have won two-in-a-row, the most recent being a 38-30 decision over previously unbeaten Texas Tech on Oct. 26. A win in this contest will give OU head coach Bob Stoops 157 career victories, tying Barry Switzer for the most in school history.
Baylor is 7-0 on the year, and the team is 4-0 in Big 12 play for the first time in history. The last time the Bears had an unbeaten league record this late was back in 1985 when they won their first five Southwest Conference bouts. A victory in this clash would make BU 8-0 for the first time ever, and extend its school-record winning streak to 12 games. The Bears have won their last eight home games, last losing in Waco on Oct. 13, 2012 (TCU).
Oklahoma has dominated the series with Baylor, winning 21 of the previous 22 meetings. In fact, since 1999 no Big 12 team owns more wins over another member of the conference than the Sooners do over the Bears (13).
Despite scoring half the number of points Baylor has this season, the Oklahoma offense has performed well in churning out 435 ypg. The Sooners present a pretty balanced attack in averaging 234 ypg on the ground and 201 ypg through the air, and they boast standout performers in RBs Brennan Clay (90 carries, 538 yards, three TDs) and Damien Williams (97 carries, 412 yards, five TDs), QB Blake Bell (113-of-177, 1,348 yards, 10 TDs, three INTs) and WRs Jalen Saunders (35 rec., 431 yards, five TDs) and Sterling Shepard (33 rec., 391 yards, five TDs).
As for the OU defense, it ranks as one of the tougher units in the conference in yielding only 18.8 points and 314.2 yards per contest -- the former ranking the team second in the Big 12, and the latter No. 1. The Sooners have been particularly strong defending the pass (179.5 ypg), although their effort against the run (134.8 ypg) has been solid as well. Unfortunately, the one area the team has faltered has been in the red zone, as foes are scoring on 88.9 percent of their visits there, that figure ranking OU last in the league. Frank Shannon paces the group with 53 tackles, while Charles Tapper has 4.5 sacks, and Gabe Lynn three interceptions.
Bell threw for 249 yards and two TDs, and Williams ran for 97 yards and a pair of scores to help Oklahoma hand Texas Tech its first loss of the season. Saunders was Bell's favorite target in the game, as he pulled down six balls for 153 yards and both scoring strikes. Oklahoma generated 526 yards of total offense, while converting half of its 14 third-down attempts and controlling the clock for more than 34 minutes.
The Red Raiders produced 460 yards, 388 of which came via the pass against the Sooners. But they turned the ball over three times and surrendered three sacks for a loss of 76 yards, thus leaving their net rushing total at just 72 yards. Lynn led the OU defense with nine tackles, seven of which were solo efforts, while three others logged eight stops.
Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel spoke recently about the prospect of facing such a prolific team (Baylor), on both sides of the ball, in one of the marquee matchups of the season.
"I think our guys are excited to play in a big ball game against a great opponent and play on the road," Heupel stated. "I think our guys look forward to that challenge. For the most part, we've played extremely well the past year and a half on the road and this will be a big test."
Baylor owns the top offense in the country, as the Bears average a gaudy 63.9 points and 718.4 yards per contest. To put those numbers in perspective, the second-best teams in the Big 12 put up 40.5 ppg (Oklahoma State) and 538.4 ypg (Texas Tech). BU boasts both the Big 12's leading rusher and passer, as RB Lache Seastrunk has carried the ball 96 times for 869 yards and 11 TDs, averaging an eye-popping 9.1 ypc in the process, while QB Bryce Petty has completed just shy of 70 percent of his passes for 2,453 yards with 18 TDs against only one interception. Antwan Goodley has been the primary beneficiary of Petty's exploits, logging 38 receptions for 894 yards and eight TDs, his 127.7 ypg ranking first in the league, while Tevin Reese is hot on his heels with 33 grabs for 824 yards and eight scores.
As well as the offense has played, the Baylor defense has been nearly as good. Foes are scoring just 15.9 ppg against the Bears, doing so on only 316.0 ypg -- the first ranking the team atop the conference, and the second placing it right behind league-leading Oklahoma. Their strength is against the pass (Big 12-best 177.3 ypg allowed), and they rank second in the conference in sacks (23). They also rank first in the league in red zone defense (.550), while allowing the fewest first downs of any Big 12 squad (117). Bryce Hager spearheads the unit with 58 tackles, Shawn Oakman has 12 of its 64 TFL, Chris McAllister five sacks, and Joe Williams a pair of picks.
Baylor was also last in action on Oct. 26 when it dismantled the Kansas Jayhawks in Lawrence, 59-14. Petty threw for a career-high 430 yards and three TDs in less than three quarter of work, while Seastrunk rumbled his way to 109 yards and a score, helping the Bears pile up 743 yards of total offense -- their most ever in a road game. Reese caught four balls for 110 yards and two TDs, while Goodley was limited to two grabs for 43 yards.
Kansas tallied just 308 yards against the Baylor defense, getting equal production from both the run and pass (154 yards), averaging a mere 3.7 yards per offensive play. The Jayhawks claimed a near 15-minute advantage in time of possession, but converted only 8-of-22 third-down chances, scored on only one of two trips to the red zone, and surrendered three sacks to one of the Big 12's most ferocious defenses. Eddie Lackey and Ahmad Dixon recorded seven tackles each for the Bears, who also got three TFL from Jamal Palmer.
Despite all the hoopla surrounding his team this season, Baylor head coach Art Briles is proud of the way his guys have conducted themselves, and he looks forward to challenge of facing a very good Oklahoma team this week.
"The good thing about it is that we've been very mature with our leadership all year and with our players and when we looked at the schedule in August, we just see one game at a time and this is our game this week. It just happens to be bigger because of the way they've performed and the way we've performed up until this point. There's a good possibility there could be bigger ones, so we've just got to take care of business this Thursday."
This one has all the makings of a classic, as both teams perform exceptionally well in nearly all facets of the game. Baylor has the obvious edge playing at home, but Oklahoma doesn't care about that given its past track record of winning on the road. When the dust finally settles, expect the Bears to still be undefeated, but they'll know they were in a scrap.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Baylor 41, Oklahoma 24