That belief has been shaken a little bit from the Sooners’ perspective, but with a few games left to play, Oklahoma has a chance to prove that it still has the best defense in the conference.
Proving that true starts this Saturday, and it starts with the Sooners’ secondary.
“In the secondary, we know that we're going to have to cover this week,” cornerback Julian Wilson said. “They’ve got a lot of skill guys that can run deep. (Baylor quarterback) Bryce Petty is throwing the ball really well. It's going to be on the secondary to go out there and do our job.”
If Oklahoma, which has allowed almost 30 points per game in Big 12 play, wants to prove it is the defense that everyone thought it would be, it starts against the conference’s top offense – scoring, total, rushing and passing.
“They have great players all across the board: Great receivers, great running back, great offensive line,” Oklahoma middle linebacker Jordan Evans said. “They are a solid team. We’re just going to have to play a whole, fundamentally sound defensive game to stop their offense.”
Although there will plenty of close, important matchups all over the field come Saturday, that is the key position battle this week. Here’s a look at how each team compares across the board:
Quarterback: If not for Trevor Knight’s performance against Iowa State, this matchup would be a no contest. Petty has had a sub-par season, and Knight is coming off one of the top three performances of his young career. Knight’s performance still included a pair of interceptions, and Petty’s down year is far better than most. Petty still has more touchdowns, fewer interceptions and a higher efficiency rating than Knight. Petty’s down year would be great for most teams. For Baylor, it’s just average.
Running backs: Shock Linwood vs. Samaje Perine. Johnny Jefferson vs. Alex Ross. Keith Ford vs. Devin Chafin. The list goes on. Baylor has four running backs averaging more than five yards per carry, each also has multiple touchdowns. Linwood is the leader with 10 on the season. Oklahoma has its share of stature with three running backs averaging more than 5.1 yards per carry. Perine, Ross and Ford all have multiple touchdowns with Perine leading the conference with 11 rushing scores. Ford will be back to full health, giving Oklahoma the better stable.
Wide receivers: There’s a lot of talent on the ground in both uniforms, suppressing the show that some of the receivers can put on at a moment’s notice. That would be a great folly. Sterling Shepard is potential an All-American, especially if he is at full health by kickoff. Baylor still has the best passing game in the conference and the fifth-best in the country with a trio of extremely skilled receivers: Corey Coleman, KD Cannon and Antwan Goodley. Each has at least four touchdowns and 16 yards per catch.
Tight end: Even if Blake Bell hadn’t continue his progression and even if he wasn’t coming off the best game of his career as a tight end, Oklahoma would still have the edge. The tight end just isn’t used enough in Baylor’s offense. The Bears have a combined six catches, 45 yards and one touchdown out of the tight end position. Bell has three-times as many yards and four-times as many touchdowns.
Offensive line: Looking at just the major offensive line stats, Oklahoma is better – with the fewest sacks and most rushing yards per carry of the two. But the Sooners have struggled up front at times. It’s not always the offensive line, but the Sooners have routinely failed in short-yardage situations. But, it’s not always on the offensive line, and the unit in crimson and cream proved that Oklahoma is still the best in the Big 12.
Defensive line: The top run defense and the pass rush defense in the Big 12 Conference doesn’t reside in Norman. It takes up residence in Waco, Texas. Led by defensive end Shawn Oakman, a 6-foot-9 potential first-round prospect, Baylor is obviously multi-faceted up front. Oakman leads the conference in fumbles recovered, third in sacks, second in tackles for loss and fourth in forced fumbles. It’s an imposing line, which has all four members in the top 11 in the conference in sacks, and one imposing man to say the least.
Linebackers: Baylor doesn’t have a player on the Butkus Watch List, and Oklahoma has Eric Striker, possibly the best pass rusher in the Big 12 Conference. The Bears do have Bryce Hager, one of the top linebackers in the conference who is averaging 7.9 tackles per game. The development of Jordan Evans has given Oklahoma the better if the two units.
Secondary: The Bears’ pass defense is by far is worst unit. But Oklahoma is in the same boat, only its secondary boat is barely afloat and ranked ninth in the Big 12 Conference. The Sooners however, do have Zack Sanchez, who leads the Big 12 in interceptions and is currently fourth in passes defended. Baylor’s duo of Xavien Howard and Orion Stewart is stout in its own right. Sooners’ Julian Wilson said this game comes down to how well the secondary performs. Baylor has the better unit as of now.
Special teams: Michael Hunnicutt and Alex Ross give Oklahoma the edge in any special teams battle. Unless there’s another team with the nation’s leader in kick-off returns and a place kicker closing in on the NCAA career scoring record.