Baylor is tired of people questioning the legitimacy of its exceptional numbers, both offensively and defensively, while Oklahoma wants to remind everyone it has been the class of the Big 12 for the past decade. The eyes of the Big 12 will be on Waco, Texas when the No. 10 Sooners visit the No. 6 Bears on Thursday.
Here are some storylines, stats to know, players to watch and a prediction:
Who wins the tempo battle? Baylor would like to run a bunch of plays and have a bunch of possessions. The Sooners would like to slow the game down, control the tempo, convert third downs and end time-consuming drives with touchdowns. The team that gets its wish should feel good about its chances.
Big plays on offense. The Bears’ quick-strike ability strikes fear into the heart of any defense. They can be held down for a series of plays or even a series of possessions then reel off back-to-back big plays that result in touchdowns. The Sooners use their running game to set up big plays in the air. If OU somehow has more big plays on offense than Baylor, the Sooners will have a leg up in this one.
Who makes the quarterback uncomfortable? The Sooners have done a terrific job protecting the passer but Baylor leads the league in sacks per game with 3.29. The Sooners defense used pressure to help slow Texas Tech in their 38-30 win last week so expect both defenses to try to make the quarterback uncomfortable in the pocket.
Stats to know via ESPN Stats and Information
Lache Seastrunk’s 503 yards before contact. They’re rarely talked about but the Bears have been superb in the trenches, evidenced by Seastrunk averaging 5.24 yards before contact this season. It’s a scary number for Mike Stoops’ defense as it prepares to deal with Baylor’s speed on the outside. It’s possible OU slows the Bears’ passing attack and it doesn’t even matter thanks to Seastruck and the offensive line.
Blake Bell on play action. The Sooners quarterback is more efficient on play-action plays. He’s 30 of 43 attempts (69.77 percent) for 410 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. OU will try to establish its running game and Baylor should fully expect a power running game plan so it will probably load the box with defenders. Bell must make them pay if he hopes to lead the Sooners to a win.
Bryce Petty against the blitz. OU wanted to be much more aggressive defensively this season and have had a lot of success dictating to offenses with Eric Striker’s pass rushing skills. Yet Petty handles blitzes extremely well. He’s completed 13 of 21 passes for 238 yards and one touchdown against five rushers, 5 of 9 passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns against six rushers and 2 of 2 for 51 yards and one touchdown against seven rushers. Blitz at your own peril, OU.
Sterling Shepard’s yards after catch. The Sooners are going to need some big plays from their offense, regardless of how well they play defensively. Shepard could be a key playmaker as he leads the squad with 234 yards after catch this season. Along with Jalen Saunders, OU’s offense will need to have its receivers make some plays in the open field if they hope to win.
Players to watch
OU Linebacker Eric Striker: For the second straight game it will be important for Striker to consistently win his one-on-one battle and get pressure on Petty or force the Bears to double team him, thus opening opportunities for teammates.
Baylor receiver Tevin Reese: It’s just hard to match up with Reese’s quickness and speed. The Sooners like to challenge receivers and play man coverage but Reese could make them pay.
Oklahoma offensive line: The Sooners offensive front must play well. No other group will have more pressure on it than those five players. The game plan will be centered around them helping control the game.
Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon: The senior can set the tone by being physical early and will play a key role with his versatility. He’ll have to be careful as he rides the line between being active in the run game without being sucked up by play action.
Baylor 35, Oklahoma 24: The Bears defense, the overlooked star of their undefeated start, will step up big with several key stops on third down. While OU’s defense will slow Baylor more than any other defense has this season, the Sooners won’t get enough points to keep up with Baylor.