It’s the lingering image of Oklahoma’s 2014 season. It’s the one everybody remembers, and it’s one you never ever see or hear in Norman.
Head coach Bob Stoops and defensive coordinator Mike Stoops with absolutely no answer to the Baylor offense and the boos that resonated throughout Owen Field.
Maybe it would have been better to just get hit with the deep ball and shrug your shoulders. Because what happened instead simply demoralized 85,000 fans in two minutes and 50 seconds.
Baylor held a 24-14 lead heading into the second half when the Bears did, as the old cliché says, took what the defense gave them.
Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty was 9-of-9 passing for 70 yards. No completion more than 13 yards. The drive was punctuated with a five-yard touchdown run by Corey Coleman that brought down a cascade of jeering from the fans in Norman.
A 14-3 lead had evaporated and turned into a 48-14 nightmare, an absolute drubbing at the hands of the Bears for the second year in a row.
“If you’re honest with yourselves, we’re not really worried about that much, but it is in the back of our mind,” linebacker Jordan Evans said. “We want to beat them because this is championship November for us. We know that they’re in our way. At the same time, we remember they took care of us the past two years. We definitely want to get them back.”
To get them back meant changes had to happen. They have. OU needed to find an offense that could keep pace with the Bears, and it has done that with first-year offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley.
The Sooners can compete in a track meet with Baylor, and they might have to Saturday night in Waco. But the change everybody has circled for this week is in the secondary and first-year defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks.
Cooks, who came to Norman after years of success at Notre Dame, stressed all spring and summer about communication. He stressed getting their confidence back. He stressed competition.
He brought the cornerbacks and safeties in the same meeting room after the groups had met in separate rooms last season.
Through nine games, OU has seen incredible strides in the secondary. But these final three games are the ones that will tell the story. Not only of the secondary but of the first year with Cooks.
Stopping teams like Akron, Kansas and Iowa State is one thing. Slowing down Baylor and TCU – that’s another story.
OU allowed 276 yards per game through the air and 23 touchdowns last season. Through nine games, OU is only giving up 178.6 yards per game and 11 touchdowns. The Sooners have 12 interceptions this season, the same amount OU had in 13 games in 2014.
It has been a collaborative effort, obviously. Better push from the defensive line and the pass rush has led to better results in the pass defense department. The Sooners already have more sacks in nine games than they had all of last year.
The rush and the coverage will need to be at their best if the Sooners have any chance to knock off the undefeated Bears. Baylor has won three of the last four meetings and the last two in Waco. But they haven’t beaten Cooks just yet.
“He’s helped me with a lot of the little things,” junior cornerback Dakota Austin said. “It’s about the mental side of the game, really. He has changed my approach and helped me concentrate and focus a lot better.”
Austin might become the symbol of Cooks. Forgotten by most following two uninspiring years in Norman, he has been phenomenal in three games replacing Zack Sanchez, out with an injured ankle.
Austin had two interceptions in the three games and did his best to make sure everything happened in front of him.
Sanchez is expected to return Saturday. Jordan Thomas, Steven Parker are a year older. Ahmad Thomas has made a huge leap as a junior, while Will Johnson and Kahlil Haughton have provided support in nickel and dime packages.
Everybody’s ready for the showdown in Waco on Saturday. We’ll see what Cooks has cooked up for the Bears.