The Oklahoma Sooners get set to take on the Baylor Bears on Saturday in a matchup between 5-3 teams that were two of the favorites to make the Big 12 title game. Though both still have a mathematical chance to make it, Baylor’s road to Arlington is much more clear.
The Sooners can upset those plans with a win today, but beyond that, Oklahoma is looking to finish the season strong after and 0-3 start to the Big 12 schedule.
As the Sooners welcome a strong Baylor run game and formidable defensive front, here are some final thoughts on Oklahoma’s Big 12 tilt vs. the Baylor Bears.
Who Runs the World?
AMES, IA – OCTOBER 29: running back Eric Gray #0 of the Oklahoma Sooners dives into the end zone for a touchdown thru linebacker Will McLaughlin #23, and defensive back Beau Freyler #17 of the Iowa State Cyclones in the second half of play at Jack Trice Stadium on October 29, 2022 in Ames, Iowa. The Oklahoma Sooners won 27-13 over the Iowa State Cyclones. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)
You hate to boil a 60-minute football game down to one element, but in this one, it looks like the running game is going to take center stage.
The Bears are going to run the football and run the ball a lot. That’s their offensive identity. They would prefer Blake Shapen to not have to throw the football 40 times. How well Oklahoma defends Richard Reese and the Baylor run game is going to determine the outcome of the game defensively for the Sooners.
Conversely, the Sooners running game will arguably get its toughest challenge of the season today against Baylor. The Bears are allowing just 112 rushing yards per game. They can be run on, though.
Just a few weeks ago, the Bears allowed West Virginia to run for 217 yards and three touchdowns to the tune of 5.86 yards per carry. If Oklahoma can replicate even a little bit of that success, it will take a lot of pressure off of the passing game.
Pass Rush Activate
Oklahoma’s Billy Bowman (5) celebrates a fumble with Jordan Kelley (88), Reggie Grimes (14) and Ethan Downs (40) in the third quarter during the college football game between the University of Oklahoma and the Kent State Golden Flashes at the Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Sept., 10, 2022. Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman
The pass rush was better last week against Hunter Dekkers. The Sooners generated 25 total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. That’s up from 11 against Kansas and eight against Texas.
Under pressure, Blake Shapen completes just 44.4% of his passes for 5.8 yards per attempt. He has three touchdowns and two interceptions on the season when pressured. When he’s kept clean, Shapen completes 73.4% of his passes and averages nine yards per attempt.
Shapen’s been good against the blitz this season. He’s completing 62.5% of his passes with six touchdowns and zero interceptions.
If Oklahoma can generate pressure with their front four, they’ll have an opportunity to make some hay against the Baylor offense.
AMES, IA – OCTOBER 29: Quarterback Dillon Gabriel #8 of the Oklahoma Sooners throws the ball under pressure from linebacker O’Rien Vance #34, linebacker Carson Willich #14 of the Iowa State Cyclones, and defensive back Anthony Johnson Jr. #1 of the Iowa State Cyclones in the first half of play at Jack Trice Stadium on October 29, 2022 in Ames, Iowa. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)
Oklahoma’s offense needs to get off to a quick start against the Bears. They can’t allow the Baylor offense to dictate the pace of play and slow the game down. Possessions will be at a premium, and Oklahoma can’t waste any.
Get Dillon Gabriel and the passing game into a rhythm early with some quick passes to Marvin Mims, Jalil Farooq, Brayden Willis, and Drake Stoops. Force Baylor to respect the short-to-intermediate passing game before taking your shots down the field. Get the ball out Gabriel’s hand quickly to neutralize a Baylor defensive front that is going to be a load for Oklahoma’s offensive line to handle.
If Oklahoma can get some early points, even a field goal, it will help set the tone for an offense that wants to play fast.
AMES, IA – OCTOBER 29: Wide receiver Jalil Farooq #3 of the Oklahoma Sooners drives the ball into the end zone for a touchdown as linebacker Kendell Jackson #47, and defensive back Anthony Johnson Jr. #1 of the Iowa State Cyclones defend in the second half of play at Jack Trice Stadium on October 29, 2022 in Ames, Iowa. The Oklahoma Sooners won 27-13 over the Iowa State Cyclones. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)
Jalil Farooq’s risen to the occasion with an expanded workload. He’s Making plays in the passing game, as a runner, and on special teams. While this might be a week for a bounceback game for Marvin Mims, perhaps it’s time to throw 10 targets at Jalil Farooq and see what he can do.
Can he be your No. 1 wide receiver in 2023? It’s beginning to look like it.
This Game Matters
Sep 17, 2022; Lincoln, Nebraska, USA; Oklahoma Sooners linebacker Jaren Kanak (7) chases Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Casey Thompson (11) during the first half at Memorial Stadium. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Oklahoma may not have a whole lot to play for. They have only a 0.1% chance to win the Big 12 according to ESPN’s Football Power Index. In reality, they’re playing for pride and building toward 2023.
But even if this game doesn’t have implications toward the Big 12 title race, beyond playing the spoiler, this one is important for the Oklahoma Sooners as they build this program under Brent Venables.
There are upperclassmen that are providing key contributions to the program. Players like Brayden Willis, David Ugwoegbu, Jeffery Johnson, Anton Harrison, Eric Gray, and DaShaun White. Those guys have been important pieces this year and in years past. And they still carry an important role for this team in 2022 and in the future.
They’re the guys showing the underclassmen and the players who will be in Norman for the next several years how to prepare and play the right way. They’re setting the tone for how to work and grind week-to-week. To have success and finish the season strong with the way the Big 12 schedule started will be formative to the future.
This team has faced adversity and overcome. They’ve seen the worst end of losing and they bounced back with two wins over Kansas and Iowa State. Those teams may not be the powers in the Big 12, but getting those wins was a start in laying the foundation toward championship football under Brent Venables.
Sometimes something has to be torn down so it can be built back up better than ever. This game against Baylor is another step in building toward a strong finish to 2022 and to the future.
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