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Oklahoma Sooners Football: Baylor getting it done with defense

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Combating Baylor’s defensive front will be key for the Sooners versus the Bears.

NCAA Football: Baylor at Texas Christian Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Not so long ago, the Baylor Bears built the most successful stretch in the history of their football program around an explosive offense. When coach Art Briles got the well-deserved boot out of town, Baylor eventually landed Matt Rhule of the Temple Owls to clean up the mess left behind.

Rhule has fashioned the Baylor team that will take on the Oklahoma Sooners this weekend in an image befitting his tough-guy reputation. The undefeated Bears rank 14th nationally in Defensive SP+. Meanwhile, their offense is sputtering lately, putting a combined 26 points on the board in regulation in their latest two contests versus the West Virginia Mountaineers and TCU Horned Frogs.

OU’s dynamic O isn’t exactly firing on all cylinders, which has to raise the hopes of the Bears. To avoid the upset, the Sooners need a plan to neutralize Baylor’s defensive line and leverage their physicality in the running game.

Scouting the Bears Defense

The Bears play a version of the 3-3-5 base defense that seems common in spread-heavy conferences like the Big 12. It starts with a sturdy defensive line featuring two players who tip the scales above 290 pounds, nose tackle Chidi Ogbonnaya and strong side defensive end James Lynch.

NCAA Football: Iowa State at Baylor Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

As the conference leader in sacks with 8.5 through nine games, Lynch may be the favorite to win the defensive player of the year award. There is no doubt, though, that he anchors the D.

Behind the DL are three ultra-active linebackers who relish playing downhill. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the season for Baylor has been the steady play of the defense since senior leader Clay Johnston was lost for the year. Though the middle linebacker only played six games this season, he still ranks second on the team in tackles to this point.

Inside LB Terrel Bernard answered the call when Johnston went down, sliding over from WILL LB to MIKE. In the last three games since he switched positions, Bernard tallied 38 tackles. Meanwhile, versatile senior SAM LB Blake Lynch (6-3, 225 pounds) is juggling his responsibilities in run support and pass coverage adeptly. In addition to his 45 tackles, he has tallied 7.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage.

You’ll find cornerbacks Raleigh Texada and Jameson Houston playing a decent amount of off coverage. The Bears emphasize keeping receivers in front of them and rallying to the ball after catches. That helps account for the paucity of big passing plays allowed by Baylor this year.

Pitching in with blocking

Baylor’s defensive scheme calls to mind that of OU’s previous opponent, the Iowa State Cyclones. It’s a meat-and-potatoes group that relies on hybrid-ish players and muddling the picture for QBs in the middle of the field by loading up the defensive backfield. Consequently, you could argue the situation calls for even more 12 personnel packages by the Sooners this week.

Playing heavier personnel could enable the Sooners to punish Baylor’s lighter defenders against the run. Additionally, H-backs Brayden Willis and Jeremiah Hall could help OU’s offensive linemen deal with the Bears’ disruptive defensive front in max protection calls.

On a similar note, OU may feel running back Trey Sermon’s absence pretty acutely in this game. Although Sermon hasn’t made as much of an impact in the running game this year, he picks up the blitz extraordinarily well. The Sooners could use a guy like that watching Jalen Hurts’ back on passing downs.

On the positive side, losing Sermon may force Lincoln Riley to incorporate Rhamondre Stevenson into the running game to a greater extent (provided that’s he’s good to go). Riley has primarily deployed Stevenson in 20 personnel sets, but he may find it necessary to use the JUCO transfer in more base personnel packages to split carries with Kennedy Brooks. A physical runner of Stevenson’s stature would seem to pose a problem for the Baylor D.