Oklahoma Game Prep Part 2

In a battle of Top 10 BCS teams, the Bears host the Sooners in a game with Big 12 championship implications. How these two teams stack up and what are the key areas of the game that will give either team an edge?

Offense vs. Defense

When Baylor has the ball

The Sooners play a 3 or 4 man front depending on the situation, with their base usually being a 4-man front with 2 linebackers and a nickel backer as well. It is a front that is very similar to what the Bears do. However, against spread teams, OU has gone with a 3-man front to get another safety type player on the field. This has made them faster and more adaptable, but it has also negatively impacted their run defense, especially after the loss of starting linebacker Corey Nelson and nose tackle Jordan Phillips to injury earlier this year.

Oklahoma believes that they can stop any teams rushing attack just with their front 6, which allows them to help their corners deep with safeties and play a more aggressive man to man style. The Sooners should play up on the receivers a little, especially to the strong side of the field to counteract the Bears quick outside passes. Both of the OU corners have good size at 5-foot-11 and 6 feet tall. With their safeties staying deep and not biting on play-action, it will be up to the Bears run game and quick passing attack to tighten up the Sooner defense to be able to get over the top of them.

When Oklahoma has the ball

The Sooners run out a bunch of different looks, like the Bears, but do it more with tight ends and fullbacks. They would play starting fullback Paul Millard and backup Aaron Ripkowski at the same time, with one operating as more of a H-Back or tight end. With Millard out of the rest of the season with injury, it will be interesting to see how they utilize those formations. Does Ripkowski slide into Millard's role with another player sliding into his? Or to avoid having two new players in two new roles, do they put someone else in Millard's spot?

Oklahoma is primarily a shot-gun team, but they will bring in multiple backs to the backfield to join quarterback Blake Bell. However, they primarily use this to setup run plays with some play-action. The Sooners are not using Bell as a runner nearly as much as they did the last few years. He has appeared in all 8 games for Oklahoma, but in the 6 games he has started, he has averaged 10.33 rushing attempts per game. Those are mostly scrambles out of passing plays, with a few QB draws and designed runs sprinkled in. That is a heavier load than he has taken in the past, but they are really utilizing him as a passer this year.

The Sooners passing game is now more of the short or long type, with little intermediate plays to speak of. Bell is a capable deep ball thrower, as he showed against Texas Tech on a perfect 76 yard touchdown pass to Jalen Saunders, the Sooners top receiving threat.

Fun Stats to Ponder

-First to 40 wins? Baylor is 17-0 at home when scoring 40+ points, while Oklahoma is 78-1 under Stoops when they reach 40 points, including 8-0 against Baylor

-Baylor is 4-0 against Top 25 teams at home since 2011, and 11-1 overall in the month of November and December since 2011 (4-1 vs. ranked teams in those months)

-Baylor's defense has more interceptions (9) than touchdowns allowed, while the Sooners have thrown 6 on the year, with Blake Bell throwing 3)

-Baylor's offense ranks first in the country in 12 statistics including scoring, total offense, passing, and passing efficiency

-Oklahoma is 60-1 when rushing for more than 200 yards under Coach Bob Stoops and have reached that mark in 6 games so far in 2013

Keys to the Game

1. Don't let the bright lights blind you – Look, this is a huge game with serious implications. This is the biggest game in recent Baylor history. Baylor has little to no experience with these situations. Oklahoma has quite a bit. Even Coach Briles said that the team was a bit too anxious during practice and he had to calm them down. How Baylor handles that anxiety or energy will go a long way to deciding this game. If they can control it and convert it into useful actions, then the Bears will get off to a great start and win. If they let that energy eat away at them, they press and try to do too much, an experienced Oklahoma staff and team could take advantage.

2. The Box – Outside of the energy and anxiety, the play of the fronts for the Baylor offense and defense could decide this game. If Oklahoma can control the Bears running game with just 6 guys in the box, they will leave their pass defense in great shape and still be able to roll safeties over the top to keep the big plays to a minimum.

Also, the Sooners rushing attack is the key to their offense. Two years ago, Blake Bell destroyed the Bears defense en route to 4 rushing touchdowns. Baylor's ability to stop the run and keep Jalen Saunders from running past through their secondary will be their focus as well.

The biggest advantage would appear to be with Baylor's inside rushing attack with Glasco Martin against the interior of the Sooners defensive line. Texas especially took advantage of that weakness to run for over 250 yards. So pay attention to the box when either team has the ball; you will find the winner of those two areas winning the game.

3. No bad turnovers – Okay, yes, all turnovers are bad. But the key here is to not give the Sooners points directly off of those turnovers or deep in Baylor territory leading to easy scores. That is what got Baylor in trouble against Kansas State, with a blocked punt and a turnover allowing Kansas State to score some quick points.

The Sooners have been excellent all year in getting those types of game-changing turnovers. In Oklahoma's biggest road win so far in 2013, they got two early interceptions against Notre Dame, returning one for a touchdown and another on their own 32 to setup an OU touchdown just 4 plays later. Baylor can't afford to give the Sooners too many free points. At least make them work for it, if they do make mistakes.

4. Stop Striker / Oakman – Both of these teams have a tremendous threat in a technically backup role on defense. Oklahoma features backup middle linebacker Eric Striker, who plays quite a bit when they go with a 3-man front. Striker is a tremendous pass rusher, despite having just 2.5 sacks on the year. He is a guy that simply wreaks havoc when he is put in there on third down. They move the 6-foot, 219 pound linebacker down to defensive end or a "buck" position on passing downs to utilize him as a pure speed rusher off the edge. He has been tremendous is the opportunities given to get heat on the passer and force bad throws. Look for Baylor to respond with keeping a tight end in on his side, to not ask one of their tackles to keep up with the diminutive end.

On the other side, the Bears feature a completely different type of player. Shawn Oakman is not small. He is a 6-foot-9, 275 pound force of nature at his defensive end role. Oakman is fast, but not Striker fast. He is more agile than anything, and uses his extreme height and length to get to the passer. The Big 12 leader in tackles for loss per game, Oakman has been a tremendous asset for the Bears second unit. As well as playing end, the Bears started featuring a looking with him at defensive tackle in obvious passing downs, giving them four defensive ends to rush the passer.

How these two teams game-plan to protect themselves from these two specialists will be interesting to watch. Oakman has had as big of an impact in the run game as the pass game, simply by his excellent ability to string out plays and keep the rusher from getting around him. Striker though has been more of an asset in the passing game only, so how the Bears protect and shift their line (or don't) will be fun to watch.

5. First downs – Of course both teams always want to succeed on first down, but this is going to be a big thing to watch for both teams. Oklahoma has converted a respectable 39.83%, but they are much better when they are in a position to run it. On their 46 attempts where they have attempted a rush, they have converted 47.83%, compared to just 34.72% on 72 passing attempts on third down. For Oklahoma to get into a position to be able to convert those easy 3rd downs, they have to be successful on first down.

The Sooners run the ball 67% of the time on first down, and gain an average of 5.11 yards. That is a very strong rate, especially when the defense knows 2/3rds of the time, a run is coming. Oklahoma has usually tried to go big on 1st down when attempting a pass, more often than not using play action to play off of their run tendency. 24% of their passes go for more than 15 yards, meaning they are trying to use those downs to stretch the field, and if they miss it, do a quick short pass or a run to make it a manageable 3rd down.

Baylor does this quite often as well, but primarily after they get past midfield. They are a classic "take your shot" team once they get over the 50-yard line. The Bears are a little more balanced on first down though, running the ball 58% of the time when they get a set of new chains. They are averaging a robust 6.16 yards per carry on first down and almost 12 yards per pass attempt. Both of those are the second highest average on a down behind 2nd down (16.38 yards per pass, 6.88 yards per rush).

Predictions

Coming Thursday Morning!


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