Sooner championship hopes hinge on upsetting Baylor

NORMAN – No. 12 Oklahoma is hitting on all cylinders and will have a chance to take a big step toward a Big 12 title in a 7 p.m. game Saturday against No. 4 Baylor in Waco.

The OU-Baylor will be the top game of next weekend, with ESPN College Gameday setting up shop in Waco.

“It’s awesome,” said out defensive lineman Matt Dimon. “I think we’re all pumped. How can you not be? It’s going to be an awesome atmosphere and it’s ‘win or go home.’ So really this is it. This is like a playoff game and I think that the guys are all really ready. I think this week we have to prepare really well. To be able to play on College Gameday is something I’ve never done so it will be a lot of fun.”

A loss would virtually eliminate the one-loss Sooners in the conference race and erase any hopes for a shot at the four-team college playoff. A loss would damage Baylor, but the upset of TCU Saturday by Oklahoma State leaves only the Bears and Cowboys undefeated in Big 12 play.

This year, in case of a tie, the Big 12 champion will be determined by head-to-head matchups. OU’s loss was to Texas. Oklahoma must win all three remaining games – against Baylor, No. 13 TCU and No. 5 OSU – to win the Big 12.

That’s a tall order.

“Playing Baylor, there’s going be a lot of stress across the board for everybody in the run game, the pass game, putting pressure on the quarterback,” said OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. “You have to be good in all layers of your defense because these guys… we have to find a good plan. We’ve struggled in this game the last couple years, but we’re playing well right now and certainly so is our offense. We’re playing well as a team and that’s what it takes to win. It’s not going to be any one-sided game playing these guys. You’ve got to play well across the board: offense, defense, special teams. You don’t win these games down the stretch. You have to play ball as a team.”

The good news is that OU is on a roll. A week after Iowa State blanked Texas 24-0, on Saturday night Oklahoma swamped the Cyclones 52-16. OU has won four games in a row by scores of 55-0 (over Kansas State), 63-27 (over Texas Tech), 62-7 (over Kansas) and 52-16 over ISU.

That’s an average victory margin of 58-12.

“That’s a really good football team,” ISU coach Paul Rhoads said of OU. “That’s a really good football team that we played, and to beat a team like that, you can’t make many mistakes.”

Several Iowa State players said after the OU loss that the Sooner defense was the best they faced all year.

Iowa State wide receiver Allen Lazard thinks OU’s defense is the best.

“I would say so,” Lazard said. “They were very sound in what they did. Their front seven was probably the best we played all year.”

The streak has brought a bit of swagger back.

“We have a lot of confidence right now,” said OU center Ty Darlington. “ Since the loss to Texas we have had gradual improvement. It has just been a focus and a mentality on both sides of the ball. You have seen what we have been able to do since then, so obviously we have some good momentum going into this last stretch. I know that we are pretty confident going into it. We are confident in our defense,  that we aren’t going to have to score 40 plus points to win.”

True freshman QB Jarrett Stidham of Baylor made his career-first start against Kansas State in place of injured QB Seth Russell last Thursday night but the Bears won by a thin 31-24 margin.

Stidham (419 passing yards) threw for the 10th-most passing yards in a game in program history and had the program’s 17th all-time 400-yard passing game. He rushed for a touchdown and had touchdown passes of 55 and 81 yards. He has thrown nine touchdown passes this season.

Baylor receiver Corey Coleman had 11 receptions and 216 receiving yards against the Wildcats and got his 20th touchdown of the year.

The Bears have won 21 of their last 23 Big 12 games. Baylor has outscored opponents 421-238 through 8 games and lead  the nation in victory margin (+22.9 ppg).

Baylor is No. 4 in the nation in total offense, averaging 666 yards per game and 57 points. OU is not far behind at No. 9 with 549 yards per game and 46 points a game. Baylor leads the Big 12 in scoring and rushing (308 yards a game). OU averages 211 yards rushing per game.

On defense, OU leads the conference, allowing 327 yards per game and 18 points while the Bears give up 388 yards and 25 points.  Oklahoma has the stingiest pass defense in the Big 12, allowing only 178 yards per game versus 223 yards allowed by Baylor.

Against Iowa State, Baker Mayfield had 342 yards on 23 for 31 passing. Mayfield has four TDs of 70 yards or more this year. He is only the second OU quarterback to throw four TDs of 70 yards or more in the same season, tying Landry Jones (2010) for the most in school history. Mayfield joins Jones (now with the Pittsburgh Steelers) as the only QBs in OU history to register two passes of at least 70 yards in the same game. Jones did it against Oklahoma State in 2010 (TD passes of 86 and 76 yards).

“We are playing well right now,” Mayfield said. “Our defense is playing lights out. The way we played in the second quarter, we can’t play like that and we’ll watch the film and get that ironed out, but we are playing well. Offensively we shouldn’t be in a position where we have to kick field goals, so we are going to get that cleaned up. Right now we are confident and we’re rolling good so I feel good about it.”

Mayfield understands the importance of the Baylor game.

“It’s a game where there is going to be so much hype about it, knowing that the Big 12 has all its big games at the end of the year and this is Gameday, obviously,” Mayfield said. “It’s a game where you have to settle people down. It’s kind of like our Tennessee game in that we are pretty hyped up and just focus on the details and that’s what we will be focusing on this week, so I am sure intensity is not going be a problem. We are not going to have any problems with practice this week.”

“I’m not real happy about the second quarter, but that’s been this team,” said OU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. “We came in at halftime and laid it out for them. Both Baker (Mayfield) and I were too aggressive in the second quarter with trying to force too many big things to happen. We knew we had to do a better job to make routine plays and have a better mentality. We really challenged them at the half. Give our guys credit because they responded in a big way in the second half.”

Receiver Sterling Shepard vividly remembers last year’s loss to Baylor in Norman.

“It’s one I’ve been waiting on and I know the team is excited,” Shepard said. “We got hyped up in the locker room and we’re ready to get after it. We have to have the same mentality that we came out with tonight and the last few weeks. We know they’re a tough team to beat. The way we have been playing we feel like we are a tough team to beat. It ought to be a great game. We have to come with it like we have the past few weeks.

“We don’t really need anything extra to get us hyped up. We’re going to be hyped up all week and come into the game hyped up. We have to do a good job of controlling that.

“We want to work this team back up to being one of the top-tier programs in the nation. We have guys that have their heads in it. We feel like we can be as good as we want to be.”

Shepard now has 3,020 yards in his career, making him only the third OU receiver to top the 3,000-yard mark.