Woodward, Okla. —
By John Shinn
CNHI News Service
The only thing that didn’t blow out of Owen Field on Saturday was Oklahoma’s BCS hopes. It managed to keep corralling them every time a gust of wind, or another run Baylor quarterback Nick Florence or running back Lache Seastrunk, put them in jeopardy.
The 14th-ranked Sooners’ 42-36 victory over the Bears meant on holding on for dear life on a windy afternoon.
The day started out tough enough. OU was without All-American center Gabe Ikard due to a concussion and started true freshman Ty Darlington in his place. The wind roared at over 30 miles an hour from the time the teams first trotted out on the field to warm up. There was also the matter of slowing Baylor’s prolific offense.
OU handled two of the three well. The last one was the problem.
The Sooners’ defensive game plans generally start with shutting down a team’s running game and then working from there.
Saturday was different. OU was content to let Baylor run the ball out of its spread formations.
“Some of the teams that spread it out anymore, you have to be aware what you’re asking your guys to do coverage wise,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “People are too precise in throwing the football to do it the old way.”
The Bears showed that when Robert Griffin III threw for 485 yards when they upset the Sooners last season.
Griffin wasn’t around on Saturday. They weren’t going to let a 400-yard passing game come back either.
At times, OU (7-2, 5-1 Big 12) replaced all its linebackers with defensive backs and left a 20-yard gap between the defensive line and the safeties.
The Bears found the space in the second quarter and exploited it the rest of the game.
It started in the second quarter. The Sooners led 14-3 and had the Bears reeling. Then Florence found the gap on consecutive quarterback draws with the second run ending with a 5-yard touchdown.
“It was frustrating, but credit them at the same time for executing well,” OU defensive end David King said. “They started running the QB draw there in the second quarter and caught us out there with a three-man front. We didn’t have enough guys to cover the gaps.”
Baylor forces those against-the-grain choices. It was the most prolific offense in college football this season, leading the FBS in both total offense (581.5 yards per game) and averaging 43.75 points a game.
It worked. Florence threw for a season-low 172 yards and only had 12 completions.
However, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops left Owen Field shaking his head.
“They present a problem every down. They had more quarterback draw than they had all year,” he said. “We are seeing a lot of that, and we’ve got to make adjustments for it, too. We did what we had to do to win. We got the stops.”
Baylor did not.
It was an afternoon where the Sooners both sped (touchdown drives on its first two possessions), and sputtered (back-to-back turnovers early in the third quarter that allowed Baylor to get back in the game).
Damien Williams, who was severely limited in last week’s game at Iowa State by an ankle injury, rushed for 99 yards and two touchdowns.
Running the ball was an absolute necessity. The wind was blowing out of the south at over 25 miles per hour and gusted up to 40. The teams knew from the time they came out to warm up it was going to be an adventure every time the ball went in the air.
Landry Jones handled it well, throwing for 277 yards and two touchdowns. The initial touchdown pass was a short toss to running back Brennan Clay. The second was a deep heave to Justin Brown for a 35-yard touchdown pass with 15 seconds left in the first half.
“Everybody had to play in it. It’s just different. You have to make sure that you are going to put a tight spiral on it all night so that you can kind of cut through it. I thought we handled it well,” Jones said. “The ball was moving around a bit, and the receivers did a great job of adjusting to it at times — especially on the touchdown grab to Justin for sure. He did a great job of being able to fight through it, and he had a good grab at the end.”
Baylor (4-5, 1-5) whittled OU’s lead down to 28-26 on Seastrunk’s 2-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter. OU answered it with touchdown runs by Williams and a 55-yard scamper by Blake Bell early in the fourth quarter to put the game away. The win allowed OU to remain one game behind No. 3 Kansas State in the Big 12 standings. As long as OU keeps winning, it is on course for a BCS bowl berth. What happened on Saturday did nothing to change that.