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Bears look to claw Sooners' defense

September 27, 2018 ▪ By Ray Dozier

After surviving a 28-21 overtime win over Army last week, No. 5 Oklahoma (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) returns to conference action hosting Baylor (3-1, 1-0) at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday on ABC. The Sooners will be the first real test for the Bears.

Baylor defeated Abilene Christian, an FCS team, Texas San-Antonio, and Kansas. The Bears lost to Duke in Waco. The Blue Devils are undefeated (4-0) but not ranked.

As OU returns to the spread offenses offered by Big 12 rivals, the Sooners’ defense appears to be no better than in previous years. Army hammered out 339 rushing yards on 78 attempts. That’s only 4.3 yards per carry, but the Black Knights converted 13 of 21 (62%) times on third down and four of five (80%) on fourth down.

Once, Army faced fourth-and-eight. The Knights completed a 13-yard pass on their way to a 14- 14 tie in the second quarter. The Cadets converted on third-and-10 and third-and-11 on their fourth-quarter drive to again tie the game (21-21). Army’s offensive line was more physical than Oklahoma’s defensive front. OU defenders missed numerous tackles. Sophomore linebacker Kenneth Murray, however, set an NCAA record with 28 tackles, and he was named Big 12 and Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week.

Each time the Sooners scored, Army answered. OU quarterback Kyler Murray threw three touchdowns and scored another. The Sooners had a chance to win the game with a field goal on regulation’s final play, but Austin Seibert’s 33-yard attempt misfired.

Army won the toss for overtime and chose defense. In two plays, Murray found Cee Dee Lamb in the end zone for a 10-yard scoring strike. Oklahoma’s defense woke up and stopped the Cadets’ OT effort when Parnell Motley intercepted a pass on the 2-yard line.

OU’s defense actually played well on that drive and Army’s last drive of regulation. End Kenneth Mann intercepted Army’s pass on the OU 32 to end a threat that began on the Knights’ one. Mann also tipped the OT pass that Motley snared.

This week, Baylor brings a quarterback with little starting experience. Sophomore Charlie Brewer has started in eight games, including all four this season. Last year, the Sooners faced a sophomore QB, who had six starts under his belt, and just his second of 2017. Zach Smith completed 33 of 50 for 463 yards and 4 touchdowns without an interception. Smith has since transferred to the University of Tulsa.

But Smith nearly pulled off an upset over the No. 3 Sooners. OU held an 18-point lead (28-10) midway through the second period. Baylor ripped off 21 unanswered points to take a 31-28 lead late in the third quarter. Smith hurled a 71-yard scoring strike and followed it with a 72-yard bomb.

The Sooners answered with three straight TDs for a 49-31 lead, but the Bears added a field goal and a touchdown to trail, 49-41, with 1:41 to go. Baylor recovered the onside kick at its 48, but three plays later, Obogonnia Okoronkwo forced Smith to fumble and Caleb Kelly recovered to seal the win for OU.

The Sooners rarely rushed the quarterback all day. They got four sacks and four QB hurries, but Smith’s stats tell the story. Two weeks ago, Oklahoma faced Iowa State’s redshirt sophomore quarterback, and the Sooners rarely brought the heat. Zeb Noland in his second career start completed 25 of 36 for 360 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He was sacked once and hurried four times. OU was a 17-point favorite and won by 10. The Sooners were 27.5-point favorites against Baylor last year.

If the Sooners want to make a run at another College Playoff appearance and fourth straight Big 12 crown, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops must dial up more blitzes. The perfect time is this week against the Bears.

Denzel Mims, who last year scorched OU’s secondary for 192 yards on 11 catches and 3 TDs, is back. The junior receiver is second on the team with 13 receptions for 245 yards and one score. The leading receiver is Jalen Hurd, and if that name sounds familiar, he was Tennessee’s tailback when the Sooners met the Volunteers a few years ago. Hurd transferred to Waco where he wanted to be a wideout. He has 22 catches for 211 yards and 2 TDs.

Brewer has completed 63 percent of his passes for 862 yards with 6 TDs and a pick. John Lovett leads the ground game with 197 yards and 3 TDs. The Bears’ offense averages 36.3 points (40th) and 486.6 yards per game.

The defense ranks 58th in points allowed (23.5 ppg) and 50th in yards allowed (347.8 ypg). Backup linebacker Terrell Bernard leads Baylor with 22 tackles, and he has one sack and an interception. Sophomore end James Lynch leads the team with 5 tackles for loss, including 3 sacks.

Senior punter Drew Galitz was named Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week against Kansas with five punts that averaged 45.6 yards and all five kicks were downed inside the KU 20-yard line. Galitz ranks 12th nationally with a 45.2-yard average.

The Sooners must get the running game in high gear as they did a year ago in Waco. Oklahoma pounded out 342 yards on 40 carries (8.6 average). Abdul Adams, who had a 99-yard TD run, led with 11 totes for 164 yards. Trey Sermon came off the bench in the fourth quarter and gashed the Bears for 148 yards on 12 carries and 2 touchdowns.

Baylor has yielded 166.2 rushing yards per game this year. Oklahoma has averaged 244 per outing.

Marquise Brown, OU’s leading receiver (19-412, 3 TDs) did not get a catch last week against Army. He and Lamb (16-247, 3 TDs) should have monster games as the Bears cannot defend both receivers. The defense should improve with the expected return of Tyreece Lott and Marquise Overton to the D-line rotation. Both have been sidelined with injuries since the season opener.

This contest is Baylor’s first away from home this year. Oklahoma’s defense must rattle Brewer and the secondary must with minimal mistakes.

Sooners 56, Bears 31.

Fast Facts

  • OU leads the series 24-3, including three straight wins.
  • OU leads 13-1 in Norman.
  • OU is favored by 23.5.
  • Lincoln Riley is 16-2 (.889) overall; 8-1 at home; 9-1 vs. Big 12 opponents 12-1 vs. unranked foes.
  • BU coach Matt Rhule is 32-35 (.478) overall; at BU: 4-12 (.250); 0-1 vs. OU; 2-4 on the road; 2-8 v. Big 12 foes; 0-4 vs. ranked opponents.
  • OU is 10-2-1 in games played on September 29.
  • BU is 7-5 in games played on September 29.

Articles by Ray Dozier