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Can Sooners continue Big 12 supremacy?

December 5, 2019 ▪ By Ray Dozier

The Oklahoma Sooners are giants of winning football conference championships. With 48 league titles, OU has two more conference crowns than its nearest competitor – Nebraska. No. 49 is possible when the sixth-ranked Sooners meet seventh-ranked Baylor in the Big 12 Championship Game in Arlington, Texas at 11 am (ABC) Saturday.

Oklahoma (11-1, 8-1 Big 12) is pursuing its fifth straight Big 12 title and a baker's dozen since the league began 23 years ago. Texas is second with three championships. Baylor is seeking its third title (winning in 2013 and 2014).

The Sooners and Bears (11-1, 8-1) sewed up their bids to the Conference Championship Game two weeks ago, but OU's 34-16 victory over Oklahoma State gives the Sooners the top seed, and they'll be the home team and wear their crimson jerseys this weekend.

Oklahoma beat the Cowboys with a dominant running game (283 yards) while shutting down OSU's ground attack (128 yards). Kennedy Brooks amassed 160 yards (7.3 per carry) and a touchdown. Jalen Hurts picked added 61 more and scored the first touchdown on a 28-yard run. Hurts also threw a 3-yard TD strike to Brayden Willis and even caught a 4-yard pass from Nick Basquine on a trick play. Hurts is the second player in OU history to run, throw and catch for a touchdown in a game. Tommy McDonald did it against Colorado in 1956.

OU and OSU each scored on their opening possessions, but the Pokes managed only three field goals the rest of the way. Oklahoma led 20-13 at the half, and the defense held OSU to three points and 109 yards in the second half.

Brendan Radley-Hiles led OU's defense with 10 stops, but Parnell Motley was the star of the D with a forced fumble (which he recovered) and an interception earning the Big 12 Conference Defensive Player of the Week honor. The fumble occurred when he stripped the ball from OSU's Braydon Johnson at the OU 41 late in the first quarter. Five plays later, Basquine tossed his scoring strike to Hurts for a 17-7 lead six seconds into the second period. Hurts pitched to Cee Dee Lamb sweeping from right end. Lamb then flipped the ball to Basquine, who tossed it off balance to Hurts wide open in the end zone.

Motley's pick of Dru Brown's pass at his 31 stalled a late Cowboy drive. Motley also had an interception that was reversed when replay revealed his foot was touching the sideline.

Chuba Hubbard, OSU's star running back, was held to 104 yards, 62.5 yards below his average entering the game. Oklahoma's D handcuffed Hubbard to 25 yards in the second half. The Sooners finished with 450 yards and held the Pokes to 335.

Baylor easily destroyed Kansas 61-6 last weekend in Lawrence. The Bears hammered out 264 rushing yards, 507 total, and scored on five of their first six possessions. Baylor had six takeaways and cashed them in for 23 points. Running back Ja'Mycal Hasty rushed for 92 yards and 3 TDs. QB Charlie Brewer, who gave the Sooners fits in their first meeting, completed 13 of 25 for 182 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.

Oklahoma set a school record overcoming a 25-point deficit to beat Baylor 34-31 three weeks ago in Waco. Since trailing the Bears at halftime, the Sooners' defense has held Baylor, TCU, and OSU to a combined 40 points and 608 yards while scoring 86 points and gaining 1,329 yards itself over the last two-and-a-half games. During that same span, the Sooners have held a 204-112 advantage in plays, a 74-35 advantage in first downs, and a 65-35 percent advantage in time of possession.

Everyone knows Oklahoma's offense can move downfield and put up points. The offense continues to lead the country with 564.3 ypg and is No. 5 with 44.3 ppg.

But it's the defense that has made tremendous strides compared to the last few years. The D is currently ranked No. 52 nationally in points allowed (24.7), and No. 26 in yards allowed (336.1) per game. New D-coordinator Alex Grinch has been instrumental in turning around the Big Red defense. Oklahoma ranks 13th nationally in opponent third-down conversion percentage (31.1); No. 21 in tackles for loss, 22nd in passing defense; No. 44 in sacks per game; and 48th in rushing defense. A vast improvement since Mike Stoops' departure more than a year ago.

OU LB Kenneth Murray was named to the conference's first-team defense, which was released Wednesday. Murray leads the Sooners with 85 tackles, 13 for loss, including 3 sacks.

James Lynch is the leader of the Bears' defense. The junior defensive tackle was named the Big 12 Conference Defensive Player and Defensive Lineman of the Year. Lynch has recorded 15.5 tackles for loss this year, including 10.5 sacks, 12 QB hurries, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, and 2 blocked kicks.

Defensive tackle Bravvion Roy also was named to the league's first team announced on Wednesday. He's logged 51 tackles, 10.5 behind the line, including 5.5 sacks.

BU coach Matt Rhule quickly lifted the Bears from lethargy, and Baylor is the first Power 5 program to go from 11 losses to 11 wins within two seasons. Rhule was named Big 12 Coach of the Year.

Getting the ball to Kennedy Brooks will be one of the keys for the Sooners to capture another conference title. During the last four games, he has carried 80 times for 534 yards (6.7 ypc) and 2 TDs. Much can be attributed to the O-line meshing into national prominence as semifinalists for the Joe Moore Award, presented to the nation's best offensive line. The Sooners won the award last year.

Creed Humphrey, the conference's Offensive Lineman of the Year, and will be vital to keeping his linemates sharp against Lynch & Co. OU assistant Bill Bedenbaugh is one of the best O-line coaches in the country and should have his charges ready in the trenches.

Lamb, was selected to the league's first team at wide receiver. The Richmond, Texas junior, was held out of the first Baylor game and should have a significant impact on Saturday, especially if the Bears commit to stopping the run. But, if they double team Lamb, OU has other dangerous receivers.

Last week, the Sooners brought safeties closer to the line of scrimmage to stop Hubbard. If Baylor tries the same to stop Oklahoma's ground attack, Lincoln Riley should resort to some deep passes.

Hurts, who was tabbed as the Big 12 first-team quarterback, has been in big games at Alabama and OU. The Sooners need a steady quarterback who makes excellent decisions, and Hurts is the man. A steady QB needs a constant play-caller, and Riley was the offensive coordinator in the 2017 title tilt and head coach in 2018 and '19. This game is Baylor's first dance.

"Everything is different about this game," Riley said. "It's not a road game for us. It's not a home game for them. Championship games are different. They feel different. Everything about them is different. ... It's going to be its own game, for sure."

A possible College Football Playoff berth is on the line for the OU and Baylor. Oklahoma played a complete game in last week's victory over the Cowboys. The Sooners have played dominant games in the previous two Big 12 title games. They'll do the same on Saturday.

Sooners 38, Bears 24.

Fast Facts

  • OU leads the series 26-3.
  • OU is 9-1 in Big 12 Championship Games; BU is 0-0.
  • OU is favored by 9.
  • Lincoln Riley's record: 35-5 (.875) overall; 5-3 on neutral fields 10-3 vs. ranked opponents; 25-3 vs. conference foes' 2-0 in Big 12 CG.
  • Matt Rhule's record: 47-41 (.534) overall; at BU: 19-18 (.514); 0-3 vs. OU; 2-1 on neutral fields; 0-9 vs. ranked foes; 13-14 vs. conference opponents; 0-0 in Big 12 CG.
  • OU is 2-0-1 in games played on December 7.
  • OSU is 2-0 in games played in December 7.

Articles by Ray Dozier