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Oklahoma Sooners Football vs. Baylor Q&A: Abram Smith, Dave Aranda and more!

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Shehan Jeyarajah of CBS Sports drops by to talk about the Baylor Bears ahead of Saturday’s matchup with the Sooners.

NCAA Football: Brigham Young at Baylor Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

As the Oklahoma Sooners get set to commence another Championship November run, Shehan Jeyarajah of CBS Sports is here to break down OU’s opponent — the Baylor Bears.

Gerry Bohanan isn’t a name that is mentioned very often on the national level, but what should OU fans know about his game?

Bohanon hasn’t been spectacular, but he’s been ruthlessly efficient and effective at running Baylor’s wide zone system. While he had an uncharacteristic turnover-heavy game against TCU a week ago, he’s still completing 65% of his passes, averaging 8.8 yards per throw and has a 3-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio. He also can be a weapon in the run game. I’d expect Baylor to utilize plenty of bootlegs and designed runs, especially after seeing the way Jason Bean moved the chains against OU’s defense.

Speaking of Bohanan, which of his targets should OU fans familiarize themselves with heading into Saturday?

There are three guys to know especially. Tyquan Thornton is the deep threat — he averages 17.2 yards per carry and amazingly leads the Big 12 in receiving yards. R.J. Sneed is the underneath guy. Sneed is dangerous from the slot and is one of the better chain-movers in the conference. Tight end Ben Sims has really emerged in this system. He has 21 catches and has really become a mismatch in this system that really emphasizes versatile tight ends. Having this mix of talents — along with running back Trestan Ebner, who originally arrived at Baylor as a receiver — gives Baylor options at every level.

Another name that doesn’t get enough national attention is that of LB-turned-RB Abram Smith. Do you think he’s made a strong enough case for First-Team All-Big 12 consideration?

What a year it’s been for running backs in the Big 12, right? It would be crazy to think that either Breece Hall or Bijan Robinson might not make the first team, but I’d definitely argue Abram Smith (and Kennedy Brooks, Jaylen Warren or Deuce Vaughn) has a case against them. While Bijan and Breece have outgained Smith to this point, Smith leads all rushers with at least 50 carries with 7.3 yards per carry. With his linebacker background, he’s a physical runner who fits perfectly into the wide zone offense. Hall and Robinson might be more singular talents, but I’d argue no running back in the Big 12 has been more valuable than Smith.

Defensively, Baylor had been solid all year up until last week. Was it just an off week for the group, or did TCU expose a weakness?

A little bit of both. Baylor is elite at stopping the run, especially because of their dynamic linebackers. I expect them to have plenty of success slowing down Kennedy Brooks and trying to keep Caleb Williams in the pocket. That said, TCU proved that if the pass rushers don’t get home, there are holes to be had in the Baylor secondary. I expect Baylor will try and play more zone than it did last week and dare Williams to throw into the crevices with consistency. But the more Oklahoma can force Jalen Pitre to play coverage, the easier it will be to find some offensive consistency.

What about Dave Aranda has impressed you most in his short time in Waco?

I think more than anything, I’ve been impressed with Aranda’s willingness to reassess. It would have been easy — incredibly easy — to write the Covid year off as a fluke and run it back. Instead, he challenged his own conceptions about the Big 12 and about his plan and brought in a completely new offensive philosophy. We’re seeing the results, and I expect wide zone running is a strategy we’ll see even more heading forward in the conference. So many coaches shuffle or double down without fundamentally rethinking the way they look at football. The fact that Aranda hasn’t done that is why he’s being rumored for some of the best jobs in America.

What’s your go-to Big O at George’s?

Believe it or not, I’m not a huge George’s guy! Cricket’s was more the bar I went to. But if you’re looking for great eats in Waco, check out Guess Family BBQ or Helberg Barbecue. Both just ended up on the Texas Monthly list of top 50 barbecue spots in Waco, and I can attest they are worth the trip.

How do you see this one playing out?

This is a truly 50-50 matchup. I ended up picking Baylor outright on CBS Sports and I think I might go the opposite way here. We haven’t seen Oklahoma play against a good defense since switching to Caleb Williams, but we also haven’t seen Baylor’s offensive line play against next-level defensive line talents. I expect Baylor will try to limit possessions and redirect Oklahoma’s pass rushers to keep Oklahoma’s offense off the field. But if the holes we saw in Baylor’s secondary are a long-term concern, Caleb might be able to hit on enough big plays to put the game away. Either way, expect it stick within the 5.5-point spread.