Baylor looks to end Oklahoma's stranglehold on the Big 12 championship
The Oklahoma Sooners vanquished the TCU Horned Frogs and Texas Longhorns in the first two editions of the reanimated Big 12 Championship Game. Now the Baylor Bears get their shot at the Sooners with a conference title on the line.
The two teams will have a tough time matching the drama of their meeting in the regular season. The Sooners staged a wild comeback to erase a 28-3 Baylor lead, eventually pulling out a 34-31 win on the Bears' home turf in Waco. It was Baylor's only loss this season, just two years removed from a 1-11 record.
Baylor head coach Matt Rhule has built a hard-nosed program around arguably the best defense in the Big 12 in his three years with the Bears. Will that defense finally shut down college football's team most synonymous with offense?
That question and more are hanging over this year's Big 12 title game.
Big 12 Championship: Baylor vs. Oklahoma
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 7 at 12 p.m. ET
Where: AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas)
Spread: Oklahoma -9.5
When Baylor Has the Ball
When these teams last met, it was a tale of two halves for the Baylor offense. The Bears put up 31 points and nearly 240 yards of total offense in the first two quarters. The Sooners shut them out in the second half, with Baylor amassing just 99 total yards.
The ability of the Baylor offensive line to handle OU's defensive front played a major role in the disparity between the halves. The Sooners sacked Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer twice in the second half and harassed him into bad throws. Additionally, Brewer ran for 83 of Baylor' 132 yards in the game, but the yardage primarily came in the first half. The Bears struggled to mount sustained drives after the break as a result.
The Sooners didn't alter their defensive strategy dramatically in the second half. Instead, they appeared to zone in on Brewer in the ground game. Stripping Baylor running back JaMycal Hasty on the Bears' first play of the second half didn't hurt, either.
Baylor receiver Denzel Mims worked over OU's secondary in the first meeting between the teams, catching six balls for 92 yards and two scores. Baylor offensive coordinator Jeff Nixon may want to get his top wideout even more involved in the offensive game plan this time around. If OU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch rolls extra help in the secondary to guard Mims, it could open up opportunities for players such as Tyquan Thornton to do their own damage.
When Oklahoma Has the Ball
The Sooners have shifted from the freewheeling, air-it-out offense that broke so many records in recent years to more of a grinding style centered around a physical rushing attack. The transformation became readily apparent in the first matchup against the Bears.
OU pounded out four drives of at least 11 plays in the second half versus the Bears. Another lasted nine plays and ended with a field goal. For the game, the Sooners ran the ball 52 times for 228 yards. That included 27 attempts by QB Jalen Hurts for 114 yards.
OU ran the ball 108 times in the following two games against TCU and Oklahoma State for a combined 649 yards and four touchdowns. OU head coach Lincoln Riley has shifted more of the burden in the running game to running back Kennedy Brooks, who rushed for 149 yards on 25 carries versus the Horned Frogs and 160 yards on 22 carries against the Cowboys.
Baylor's hard-hitting defenders flustered Hurts in their first meeting. The senior Heisman Trophy candidate accounted for three turnovers in the game, including two that gave Baylor the ball deep in OU territory and another that wiped out a TD run.
Forcing those kinds of mistakes again will dramatically improve Baylor's chances of winning the rematch.
Many teams would have gone in the tank after losing a game the way Baylor did in its first meeting versus the Sooners. For their part, the Bears played sharp football in their next two outings, a 24-10 win over Texas and a 61-6 blowout of Kansas. In other words, all indications are that the Bears will be chomping at the bit to get another shot at OU.
On the other hand, while Baylor is playing in the conference championship game for the first time, the Sooners have grown accustomed to the stage after two straight appearances there. That kind of experience has to count for something, right?
Soft factors aside, Baylor benefited significantly from OU's turnovers in the first game to put the Sooners in a huge hole. OU dug itself out behind a physical running game and a defense that has given up all of 40 points in the 10 quarters since halftime of the Baylor game. The Sooners also get star receiver CeeDee Lamb back in the lineup after he was held out the last time the two teams squared off.
The Bears won't roll over in this game, but past history suggests they will need the Sooners to play sloppy ball to win. Moreover, OU probably has the overall advantage in the trenches, despite the fact that Baylor has one of the better defensive lines in the nation. If the matchup comes down to who wins at the line of scrimmage that favors the Sooners. Look for the four-time defending champs to grind down the challengers after trading blows for the first four quarters.
Prediction: Oklahoma 35, Baylor 24
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.