What we learned in the Big 12: Week 5

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
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The Sooners notched a big nonconference road win for the Big 12, West Virginia’s defense came up big in an upset of Oklahoma State, and TCU finally found some offense against SMU.

What we learned about the Big 12 from Week 5:

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
AP Photo/Darron CummingsQuarterback Blake Bell, making his second career start, was 22-of-30 passing for 232 yards and two touchdowns in leading Oklahoma past Notre Dame.
The Sooners are a different team with Bell: This question has to be asked: How did Blake Bell not win the starting quarterback job during the preseason? Since taking over for Trevor Knight, Bell has been superb, leading the Sooners to a big 35-21 victory Saturday at Notre Dame. Bell completed 22 of 30 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns for a Total QBR of 79.1 (scale of 0 to 100), which almost certainly will go up once the strength of Notre Dame’s defense is factored into the equation. Bell also didn’t turn the ball over, as OU controlled the game from beginning to end. Save for a Nov. 7 showdown in Waco, the Sooners’ remaining slate doesn’t look nearly as daunting as it did a month ago. With Bell running the show at this level, OU is very capable of winning every game left on its schedule.

The West Virginia defense appears legit: The performance against Oklahoma State was the best by a West Virginia defense since joining the Big 12. The Mountaineers controlled the line of scrimmage to shut down OSU’s vaunted running game, and the secondary laid the lumber, knocking receivers Josh Stewart and Jhajuan Seales out of the game with big hits. The 21 points, in fact, were the fewest scored by a Cowboys offense in a loss since the 2009 Cotton Bowl. West Virginia did give up 37 to Maryland a week ago, but the six turnovers from the West Virginia offense had a lot to with that. In holding the Bedlam schools to a combined 37 points, Keith Patterson’s unit has now locked up, perennially, two of the Big 12’s highest-scoring offenses. The Mountaineers will get their shot at another on Saturday in Waco, and Baylor’s high-flying attack will provide the toughest test to date. But the West Virginia defense will give Baylor its toughest challenge yet as well.

Oklahoma State not the same offensively: The Cowboys have basically played two teams with a pulse and scored only 21 points both times. The Pokes seems to really be missing former coordinator Todd Monken and running back Joseph Randle, maybe even more than anybody thought they would. The Cowboys never found a flow offensively in Morgantown with Mike Yurcich’s play-calling, and Randle’s successor, Jeremy Smith, finished with just 1 yard on 15 carries. Given J.W. Walsh’s limitations throwing the ball downfield, it’s been awhile since an Oklahoma State offense had this many vulnerabilities.

TCU offense gains confidence with new faces: The Horned Frogs offense finally came alive late in the third quarter of a 48-17 win against SMU. And it came alive via plays from some new faces. True freshman Ty Slanina hauled in a 20-yard touchdown with four minutes left in the third quarter to break a 10-10 tie. On TCU’s next possession, former Florida transfer Ja'Juan Story took a 56-yard pass to the house to ignite the rout. Then freshman Cameron Echols-Luper returned a punt 51 yards to set up another touchdown. Going into the SMU game, Slanina, Story and Echols-Luper had a combined five touches through three games. The trio, however, figures to be a big part of the Horned Frogs' attack going forward, including next weekend in Norman.

OU at Baylor looking like the Big 12’s biggest game: With the Cowboys’ loss in Morgantown, OU-Baylor in Waco on Nov. 7 is looking more and more like the game of the year in the Big 12. Several other pivotal matchups remain (TCU-OU, the Red River Rivalry, Tech-OU, Baylor-OSU, Baylor-Tech, Bedlam). And there are still other teams (Tech, TCU, OSU, even Texas) that could play their way to the top of the conference title race. But as of today, OU-Baylor is looking like the game that will have more conference title implications than any other.

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