With all the off-field nonsense surrounding the Baylor program these days, it’s easy to forget they were a viable threat for the Big 12 title just a few weeks ago. As many predicted, the team has cratered under the weight of distraction and a damaging lack of depth.
Still, I view these Bears like a wounded animal—dangerous, and prone to lashing out. Most of the talent that won them six games is still on the field, and OU’s not getting Jarrett Stidham again this Saturday. Seth Russell is back and ready to go for a Baylor team looking to make it three wins out of four against OU.
What’s gone wrong for Baylor in the last two weeks? After a one-point loss to Texas and a blowout malfunction against TCU, here’s how the Bears look on film:
The Baylor offense started well against both Texas and TCU. In Austin, Baylor scored its first TD on a 50-yard Russell run just a minute after the opening kick. Baylor’s first score against TCU was an 81-yard bomb to Ish Zamora less than 25 seconds in.
In both games, Baylor was unable to sustain its momentum. It’s obvious the Bears are missing the football mind of Art Briles even as his son, Kendal, calls the plays.
BU’s favorite formation is a three- or four-wide set with trips to one side. Often stud receiver KD Cannon will line up by himself on the far opposite side, daring safeties to give him attention and leave the other three receivers one-on-one.
Russell and Cannon make for a pretty good passing game, and Cannon’s 560 receiving yards account for over a fourth of the team’s season total. But the Bears have struggled to complete half their passes in recent weeks, and a big part of that is pressure: Texas sacked Russell six times, TCU another three.
Russell and his receivers aren’t really on the same page lately, either, and their timing needs work. But the Baylor running game is regularly putting BU behind the chains and making it harder for the passing attack to succeed. The Bears averaged 3 yards per carry against TCU.
OU fans may think Shock Linwood’s absence will mean the end of Baylor’s ground threat, but Linwood isn’t even the team’s leading rusher. Sophomore Terence Williams racked up 180 yards against Texas and another 68 against TCU, both numbers besting Linwood by a lot. Throw in Russell’s designed runs and an occasional contribution from redshirt freshman JaMycal Hasty, and the Bears have all the weapons necessary for a decent ground game on Saturday.
The key to slowing them down is to get in the backfield—make Russell uncomfortable, hurry his throws, blow up the runs. If Baylor has time, it can still hit quick passes for easy gains and Russell’s not afraid to take off downfield when his guys are covered but he’s not under pressure.
Baylor has been shooting itself in the foot with penalties lately, most of them on offense. There were ten against Texas and 11 against the Horned Frogs. OU better hope the Bears play undisciplined ball again this week.
As Bob Stoops said in his Monday presser, the Bears play a basic 4-3 base with a cover four shell but aren’t afraid to mix things up. One thing Baylor does really well is disguise its blitzes, sometimes cramming the line of scrimmage with seven guys and bringing any number of them.
But the Bears are unusually susceptible to the big play, something that will work to OU’s advantage, especially with Mixon back. TCU scored from 37, 22 and 26 yards against the Baylor D, while Texas added tallies from 40 and 37. Through the air, on the ground—it doesn’t seem to matter. The Bears can be beaten.
Baylor likes to spy its linebackers against mobile quarterbacks rather than commit them to the pass rush or have them drop back immediately. OU can use this tendency to complete intermediate routes over the middle of the field to guys like Geno Lewis and Nick Basquine.
The Bears also have trouble tackling lately, which is a worrisome sign for both the coaching staff and for locker room morale. Mixon and Mayfield are two of the toughest tackles in college football, so the Bears will need to come better prepared on Saturday.
Some key Baylor defenders to watch are junior linebacker Taylor Young, who leads the team with 4.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss this season; senior safety Orion Stewart, with four interceptions; and nickelback Patrick Levels, with eight tackles for loss and three forced fumbles.
There’s plenty of talent on this Baylor defense, and the unit is a big reason why Baylor was considered a conference title threat despite its decimated 2016 class. But giving up 688 yards is no one’s idea of success, and if TCU can do that, Oklahoma’s offense is capable of worse.
This Baylor squad strikes me as one that’s close to giving up on itself. They looked perpetually shell-shocked as TCU pulled farther and farther away. This game will be a huge test of Jim Grobe’s head-coaching chops. Oklahoma can beat Baylor on any given Saturday, no matter the circumstances—this whole #CAB situation is far from ideal from a team-mentality standpoint, not to mention its ethical implications.
Before the season, I picked this game to be OU’s only loss (LOL). If the Sooners aren’t careful, they’ll make my prediction—part of it, anyway—come true.