The Baylor Bears finally notched their first conference win of 2012 but the road doesn't look too friendly from here on out. Up first is a trip up to Norman, Oklahoma to visit the 14th ranked Oklahoma Sooners. The Sooners feature one of the most talented teams that the Bears will see this year. So, which 5 players should Bear fans keep an especially close eye on?
Landry Jones – Senior Quarterback
An offense is only as good as the person directing it, and the 4th year starter from Artesia New Mexico came back to Norman to win a national championship. With their second loss two weeks ago against Notre Dame, that goal appears to be gone, but a Big 12 championship is still an outside possibility. Jones is the all-time leading passer in Oklahoma history with over 14,000 yards through the air.
He has been a Heisman candidate the last 3 seasons pretty much, but has never put together that perfect year for the Sooners. In fact, they have had at least 2 losses every year under Jones. His stats have been great, especially at home where he has truly excelled. On the road though, he has struggled with turnovers.
Jones has struggled to start his senior campaign behind a battered and rebuilt offensive line. The running game has not been consistent for the Sooners, so Jones is asked to carry the load, something a certain Baylor quarterback can relate to. However, when the rushing game is going, it opens up the whole field for Jones, who can make every throw any offense can ask of its quarterback. Jones has great size for the position at 6-4,229 pounds.
Whichever Running Back is hot –
The Sooners have struggled to find a consistent player to be their lead back in 2012. Damien Williams is the leading rusher on the year, but he has struggled in conference play outside of the Cotton Bowl. Against Notre Dame, he rushed 13 times for 29 yards. Against Kansas, it was 8 times for 44 yards. He took a backseat to Brennan Clay in their last game at Iowa State though as the Junior rushed 24 times for 157 yards and a touchdown. Another back for them is last year's leading rusher in Dominique Whaley.
The Sooners have not really tried to run the ball that much this year, averaging just 32.3 rushing attempts per game (107th in the country). They have been solid when they do run, only gaining 4.7 yards per carry (tied for 34th). They have done the most damage in early downs with their rushing attack, averaging 5.47 yards per carry on 1st down and 6.39 yards on 2nd down. In fact, they have rushed the ball more on first down than passed it (151 to 130). All other downs though are heavily weighted towards the passing game (2nd down – 83 to 112, 3rd down 29 to 78). In their two losses, they have averaged just 3.41 yards per carry against Kansas State and .63 against Notre Dame.
Jamarkus McFarland – Senior Defensive Tackle
Not many times will you see a defensive tackle featured in this space, as the players to watch are usually ones that gain yards or force turnovers. It is just the nature of the big names. However, not many guys are bigger for the Sooners defense than McFarland. He is a deceiving 288 pounds, as he plays a lot bigger than that. He is their play maker in the middle of the defense and does a great job of taking on 2 blockers. McFarland has recorded 3 sacks for the Sooners and even added an interception against Texas Tech this year.
Tony Jefferson – Junior Safety
One of the best playmakers on the defensive side of the ball in the Big 12, Jefferson lines up all over the field for the Sooners, and you can feel his impact all over it too. He has 2 sacks and 2 interceptions this year, along with 4 passes defended and 2 tackles for loss. He is their leading tackler with 68 tackles. Jefferson is a classic strong safety but adds the ability to cover some slot receivers. You can expect him to be lined up on Tevin Reese quite a bit in their base defense, but he is much more dangerous when playing in a zone where he can freelance a bit and make plays.
Stills is a taller receiver at 6-1, but is not necessarily very physical. He is fast but not necessarily a burner. He is more of a steady player that brings everything to the table, but takes very little off of it. He is at his best when running down the sideline, where he has a very good ability at finding the ball and staying inbounds. He is a very good route runner who knows how to beat a zone, so the Bears might look at putting someone underneath him in coverage if they stick with their zone philosophy.
Kenny Stills – Junior Wide Receiver
One of the best returning receivers in the country coming back for the 2012 season, there were high expectations for Kenny Stills, especially with Heisman contender Landry Jones throwing balls around Norman. However, the season has been a little disappointing for Stills and the Sooner offense. Stills has had 61 receptions in both his freshman and sophomore campaigns, and already has 51 this year. However, his yards per catch have dropped this year over a full yard, and he has not been as explosive without Ryan Broyles across the field from him.
BONUS PLAYER – Bell-Dozer Blake Bell – Human Battering ram and TD machine – sophomore Quarterback
Look, did you really think we were going to get out of here before talking about the man that absolutely destroyed the Bears in the redzone last year? Bell scored 4 touchdowns for the Sooners in their loss to Baylor on just 16 yards. He had 5 touches and scored four touchdowns. The Bears could not stop him in any way shape or form last year. Will the Sooners come out in those looks even more this year?
There is no doubt in my mind that Bell will score at least one touchdown against Baylor. In fact, before the Iowa State game, he had scored a rushing touchdown in 5 straight games. He scored 9 touchdowns in those 5 games. He is deadly in short yardage situations and with the Bears linebackers struggling this year at attacking the ball carrier, bad things could happen.