Today the Sooners face off against Baylor. As you settle in for another great day of college football, here are some notes on what to watch, as well as the big keys to an OU victory.
1) This game could be won on third down.
A lot of Oklahoma’s success has come on third down, as they rank 8th in the country in conversion percentage (49.6%). On the other end of the ball, Oklahoma has seriously struggled to stop anyone on third down (they’re 111th in the country, allowing conversions on 45% of opponent plays.
The horrendous defensive performance against Texas Tech had a lot to do with allowing them to convert 20/25 third downs. Baylor will bring a high-powered offense as well, so the defense needs to be on its toes. If Oklahoma wants a solid win, they’ll need to stop Baylor on third down. If they can’t do that, and this becomes a shootout, the Sooners better hope that their offense can convert when it needs to in order to keep pace. If OU can manage to come up big on some third downs tomorrow, it could well make the difference in the game.
2) Offense vs. Offense?
The Sooners went shot-for-shot with Tech a few weeks ago. Baylor is better on defense than the Red Raiders, and they aren’t quite as explosive on offense (Tech has the second-leading offense in terms of yards-per-game, and Baylor is 5th). However, the styles are still relatively similar: lots of offense, and less defense. Also similar to Texas Tech, Baylor’s run defense leaves a bit to be desired (101st in the nation).
Oklahoma’s total defense ranks a bit behind Baylor’s, but they’re offense thus far has been even better than the Bears’ offense. Oklahoma’s offense has been firing on all cylinders, with Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook on pace to shatter school records. The two-headed beast in the backfield for the Sooners may also be back in play this weekend, which is another area in which Baylor could have serious trouble.
The Sooner defense is going to be a huge factor today in determining whether OU is legitimate or fool’s gold. The offense has been doing its part, but the defensive shortcomings have provided easy ways for opponents to keep pace so far. I think fans would really appreciate a dominating win on both sides of the ball.
3) Is OU getting healthier?
Part of the problem with the defense has been injuries. Oklahoma has already started 22 different players just on defense this season. The absences have caused problems in my opinion, and at the very least they certainly haven’t helped. Young players have had to play against good defenses before they were ready, but hopefully some of that rotation has changed. The one benefit from this problem is that it’s allowed young guys like Caleb Kelly to start growing early in the process. He’s going to be very good in Norman, and he’s getting a head start, in part due to necessity. He’ll have some help this week. Kapri Doucet and Matt Romar are expected back, and that should make things a little easier for the defense.
Of course, Sooner fans should also be excited on to see that Sajame Perine is expected to play. With Joe Mixon coming off his suspension, Oklahoma goes from one scholarship running back to three. Given Baylor’s struggles against the run, expect Perine and Mixon to get a lot of looks.
4) There’s a chance that Baylor has checked out.
Baylor started the season undefeated, then lost to Texas before being absolutely demolished last week at the hands of TCU, 62-22. Rumor has it that some of the players have only recently been informed that the entire coaching staff will be replaced next year, and that many of them aren’t happy with the news. On a likely unrelated note, Shock Linwood has been suspended for the game due to “attitude” issues (a.k.a. he got into a physical altercation with a coach on the sideline). Everywhere you look, there appears to be unhappiness in Waco. Some are worried that this is a signal that the football team is really about to unravel.
This may make Baylor more vulnerable, but it does not make them inept. As the saying goes, pressure can burst a pipe, but it can also make diamonds. OU needs to start the game strong, lest Baylor get the idea that this situation should bring them closer together or something like that. The Sooners have one of the country’s most dominant offenses, and they need to showcase that from the opening moments today to take advantage of Baylor’s apparent attitude concerns. These Baylor Bears are not as good as they were last year, but they’re not actually that far from it; most of their team returned. If they get confidence, it will be a difficult afternoon for Oklahoma. But if OU starts fast, Baylor may fold like they did last week.
Keys to the game:
1) win third downs;
2) start strong;
3) pressure the quarterback.
Oklahoma wins 52-38.