No. 3/3 Oklahoma (3-0) at Baylor (0-3)
Site: McLane Stadium
Time/Day: 5:30 p.m., Saturday
TV/Radio: FS1/ESPN Central Texas
Betting Line: Oklahoma -27 1/2
Series: Oklahoma leads, 23-3
Hang On! Help is on the way! I'l be there as fast as I can!
- Little River Band
The glass half full theory would tell you that Baylor struggled to begin the season because it didn't have key figures available.
There's nothing wrong with accepting some of that premise. The Bears didn't have their 1,000-yard running back in Terence Williams (shoulder surgery). They missed their rising defensive back in Grayland Arnold (broken arm). Depth in the secondary and at linebacker also had its issues with defensive back Taion Sells and linebacker Lenoy Jones, Jr. out. Tight end Jordan Feuerbacher also missed the previous two games.
However, those five are expected to dress and be ready to play.
As Oklahoma visits The Brazos on Saturday, head coach Matt Rhule can feel like he has a complete roster at his disposal. He still will be missing running back JaMycal Hasty (knee), quarterback Anu Solomon (concussion) and defensive lineman K.J. Smith (shin splints). However, no team in college football is injury free.
This is as healthy as the Bears have been in 2017. So there should be a renewal in one sense about how this team must feel about itself as the Big 12 season begins against a national championship contender.
If you're the Bears, you're playing with house money. You're a four touchdown underdog at home. Few expect you to win. The frustrations of a bizarre non-conference season are history.
"I could see the improvement we need to make,'' Williams said. "It’s easier seeing it from the outside, so I could let them know and then we could all watch film and correct all the mistakes we made and everything. (Playing OU) It’s just like any other game. It’s just another game to us. We expect to win.''
Depth is important at any level of football. The Bears should be in a better position to compete with Oklahoma. What the return of this quintet should mean is that Rhule doesn't have to dip into his bag of the 2017 class and play anyone else. Already, 2017 has featured 14 freshmen who have played.
Baylor should have a who's who of recruits attending this game. But the result should have no bearing on the message. This is about selling the rebuild and selling the equity the program has built up between 2010-16 when it went to seven consecutive bowl games. It has to mean something.
Here are some elements to look for
>Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield is trying to push the Sooners into the College Football Playoff and potentially back to New York City for the Heisman Trophy announcement. He won his signature game at Ohio State two weeks ago, 31-16. He also hasn't thrown an interception this season and is completing three out of every four passes. Mayfield has also thrown two or more TD passes in 16 consecutive games, one shy of the Big 12 record set by former OU quarterback Sam Bradford.
>Baylor's secondary has better options with the return of Arnold. While he's been running and staying in shape with his arm wrapped up, there is such a thing about getting into football shape. He's just going to have to get out there and get acclimated to the speed of the game again. Davion Hall had to do it. Jameson Houston had to do it.
>How many times Baylor offensive coordinator/play caller Jeff Nixon calls Williams name is probably going to be a matter of how Williams feels. When you're a running back, you get pounded on play after play after play. The shoulder is a part of that. It stands to reason that Nixon initially will be cautious and then gradually add more should Williams handle it.
>Psst...while there has been a lot of hand wringing over this start, Baylor's special teams play has been pretty solid. Yes, it missed an extra point last week. However, punter Drew Galitz is enjoying a phenomenal start (45.7) and is getting great coverage. The return teams haven't been anything special but the coverage teams have been solid.
With Feuerbacher back in the lineup, maybe we'll actually see a Baylor tight end involved in the passing game. Perhaps there were a couple of targets that went awry, but Baylor tight ends have yet to catch a pass thus far. Baylor has had a different starter in each of the first three games, Feuerbacher, Ish Wainright and Rob Saulin.
Keys to the Game
>The Zach attack - Zach Smith returns as the starting quarterback and 12-of-34 with three interceptions and a lost fumble (against Duke) isn't going to cut against the Sooners. He's going to have to get some better protection from his line because he was running for his life last week at Duke. He's not that mobile. However, some of this is on him to make better decisions. Oklahoma's defense has recorded seven sacks.
>3rd and forever - Maybe this is just going to be the way it is for the balance of the season. The Bears struggle at 20 percent (7-of-35 on this down). Rhule said this offense has to be in shorter needed yards scenario to give itself a chance. OU opponents are converting at a 37 percent rate. That's actually not bad for opponents. The Bears just need better plays on first and second down.
>Inexperience - No doubt the Bears are an inexperienced team. However, the Sooners really don't have that standout wide receiver or running back that would an opponent center its approach against him. Freshman wide receiver Ceedee Lamb appears to be growing into the role. I'd like to see Blake Lynch start out on him, if Lynch is starting at corner back.
>I do anticipate an inspired effort from the Bears. Defensively, this group is getting better. I think they can do some things in the secondary to frustrate Baker Mayfield. The Bears are going to give the Sooners their best shot. But to stay in this game, they have to play the perfect game, be excellent on third downs, no more than one turnover and cut out the penalties. This team is averaging nine flags and 80+ yards in miscues.
Oklahoma is going to have to help Baylor. What I fear is that this is where the lack of 2016 and 2015 catch up in the second half. The depth will be too much.
Mayfield is just one of those magicians who makes every body around him look better.
Score: Oklahoma 55, Baylor 28
>I believe this game is closer than most think early, then the differences in talent and depth for the Sooners take over in the second half.
The important thing to watch is the secondary, which receives some welcomed depth back this week. I'm eager to see how Terrence Williams performs in his first game back. A solid performance from him could take a lot of pressure off of Zach Smith or anyone else playing QB for the Bears.
Score: Oklahoma 56, Baylor 31
- Matt Clare