By JOHN SHINN
Five years ago, few would’ve thought there would ever be a top 10 matchup with major BCS implications occurring at Baylor’s Floyd Casey Stadium. Few of them would have figured Oklahoma would enter that game as two-touchdown underdog.
Well, it’s arrived. The Sooners are about to play a game in which they must play virtually flawless to win. There will be some important matchups that decide today’s game. Here are five:
1. Baylor’s running backs vs. Oklahoma’s linebackers: I think this is where the game will be decided. Baylor’s Lache Seastrunk and Shock Linwood both average a combined 8.8 yards per carry. The biggest reason is the way the Bears spread the field with their receivers and force teams to stop the run with their defensive line and linebackers. There’s a chance OU middle linebacker Frank Shannon won’t play due to a deep tissue bruise he suffered against Texas Tech. If that’s the case, OU will have true freshman Dominique Alexander and Jordan Evans at the inside linebacker spots. But how the linebackers play will likely be the determining factor in today’s game. Each missed tackle has the chance to turn into a touchdown. The talent of Baylor’s running backs doesn’t leave much margin for error.
2. OU quarterback Blake Bell vs. Baylor’s secondary: Bell has the opportunity to have a huge game. He’s already rushed for five touchdowns in two previous games against the Bears. Today, he’ll have the chance to throw some touchdown passes, too. The Sooners want to run the ball and then throw play-action passes down field. The plan worked well against Texas Tech. There’s little reason to change against the Bears. This game will likely come down to big plays. The Sooner receivers are good enough to make them. It’s up to Bell to give them opportunities they need.
3. OU’s secondary vs. Baylor’s receivers: It’s easy to think this is OU cornerbacks Aaron Colvin and Zack Sanchez versus Baylor’s Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese. However, the Bears move Goodley and Reese around in formations to get them matched up on safeties and linebackers. All will have their opportunities to cover them and the Sooners have to win more of those battles than they lose. The issue Goodley and Reese present is both are big play receivers, averaging over 23.5 yards per catch. OU cannot let them get behind its secondary.
4. OU’s offensive line vs. Baylor’s defensive front seven and safeties: The Sooners have to run the ball and they must do it against eight- and sometimes nine-man fronts. Their entire game-plan centers around being able to control the clock and keep it running by picking up first downs without having to throw the ball. OU hasn’t had a problem doing this. It’s averaging 5.2 yards per carry. But this is a game where OU has to dominate time of possession and put together long scoring drives. That won’t happen if OU has negative running plays, holding penalties or anything that gets it off track. OU’s offensive line must play well in order to win.
5. Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty vs. OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops: One of the main benefits of the up-tempo offense is it forces defenses to be generic and sacrifice confusing the quarterback in the name of simply getting lined up before the ball is snapped. OU will be in trouble if it can’t put Petty in some situations where he really has to think about where to throw the ball. Stoops wants to offer multiple coverages and blitz from multiple angles. If Petty is seeing the wrong things, he could struggle. If OU cannot do anything to knock him out of rhythm it could be a long night.