The Oklahoma-Baylor game turned into a budding rivalry earlier this decade when coach Art Briles had the Bears soaring in Waco, Texas.
The teams met as ranked foes in four consecutive seasons — and five out of six years — but Briles was ousted amid scandal, and Matt Rhule took over the helm in 2017 and had to rebuild.
On Saturday, high stakes return to the game.
The No. 13 Bears host the No. 10 Sooners with Big 12 and College Football Playoff implications on the line, and with ESPN’s “College GameDay” show in town.
The Bears (9-0, 6-0 Big 12) have earned the spotlight by being one of the five remaining undefeated teams in the country, although they haven’t been consistently dominant.
While Baylor beat Kansas State by 19 and Oklahoma State by 18 in October, the rest of the Bears’ games since Big 12 play began have been tight. Baylor won its other four conference games by an average of 3.5 points, with two of those victories (Texas Tech, TCU) coming in multiple overtimes.
“They’ve really done a great job finishing games, overcoming some odds at times, and to have really good seasons, you have to do that, so give them a lot of credit,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said. “They’ve played well and beat some really good people, and it will be a great challenge.”
The Sooners are hoping to get back atop the Big 12 and back into the thick of the CFP discussion.
To do that, they’ll need to perform better than they did the last time Oklahoma visited a hostile environment.
Three weeks ago, the then-undefeated Sooners went to Kansas State, had a hot start, fell flat and ultimately mounted a comeback that came up just short in a 48-41 loss.
“We just have to keep our composure and just play the way we know how to play,” Sooners safety Delarrin Turner-Yell said.
Big one Saturday at Baylor.
— Oklahoma Football (@OU_Football) November 11, 2019
Oklahoma struggled with its composure against the Wildcats, most notably as cornerback Parnell Motley was ejected early in the game for kicking at an opponent.
Even through their recent struggles — the loss to Kansas State and last week’s 42-41 squeaker over Iowa State — Oklahoma’s offense has continued to put up big numbers. Jalen Hurts leads the nation in passing efficiency with a rating of 219.7, which is better than the mark of Oklahoma’s Heisman-winning Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield in the past two seasons.
That’s only part of Hurts’ success story. Much of what makes the Sooners so dangerous offensively comes from Hurts’ running ability. He has 869 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns.
“There’s times where it’s like defending the single wing. They’re running quarterback counter with lead tailbacks blocking for them, so they present a lot of challenges,” Rhule said. “A lot of that’s credit to him; he’s a great runner, has great vision, he’s accurate, he can do it in a multitude of different ways.”
The tight games have given the Bears comfort in late-game situations, and Rhule hopes that can be the case against the Sooners. Baylor leads the Big 12 in scoring defense (19.0 points allowed per game) and has yielded only 41 first-half points all season.
“Part of it is weathering the storm, just our defense. Don’t get down 21-0,” Rhule said. “Knowing that we are more of a fourth-quarter team, you have to try to push this game to the fourth quarter.”
–Field Level Media (@FieldLevelMedia)