Baylor Bears

Defense, Running Game to Usher in New Era of Big 12 Football in Conference Championship

For the first time in seven years, a team other than Oklahoma will be crowned the Big 12 Champion. 

Neither champion would be a new team; just one that hasn’t seen the mountain top recently. 

Oklahoma State could snag the trophy for the first time since 2011 and the second time in program history. Baylor will aim for its third Big 12 championship after winning the conference in 2013 and claiming a piece of the 2014 championship. The Bears played in the 2019 title game.

 

The First Match Up

Of course, Oklahoma State and Baylor already met this season during the round-robin format. The Cowboys won 24-14 on October 2

Oklahoma State’s defense allowed 280 total yards, including 107 rushing yards, and recorded three sacks. Baylor intercepted Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders three times and gave up 182 passing yards.

Sanders completed 53% of his passes while Bears’ quarterback Gerry Bohanan hit 48% for 173 yards. Sanders also racked up 76 rushing yards on 12 carries.  

Rematches rarely go the same way as the original, but the first game could provide some insight on what might happen on Saturday.  

Defense is the Name of the Game

The defensive trend has continued for both teams. 

Over the last two months, Baylor has surrendered 94.8 yards rushing per game, forced eight fumbles, intercepted five passes, and recorded 26 sacks. 

The Bears also gave up just 19.4 points per game over the entire season, which ranks No. 17 nationally, and have a top 20 rushing defense. 

Oklahoma State leads the nation in sacks (49), ranks third in total defense (281.4 yards per game), sixth in rushing (93.6), and fifth in points allowed (16.4). 

 

The running backs took control on offense in the first match-up. Oklahoma State’s Jaylen Warren rushed 36 times for 125 yards and two touchdowns while Baylor’s Abram Smith had 97 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.

Smith and Warren have become top 5 backs in the conference and rank second (113.8 yards) and fifth (94.5) respectively in yards per game. 

Quarterback Comparisons

With evenly matched defenses and running back, it’s likely quarterback play will play a major role in the outcome.  

Sanders has played much more efficiently the last eight weeks with a 61% completion rate, 11 passing touchdowns, and just four interceptions, two of which came against Oklahoma. He bounced back with a 37-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter and had a team-high 93 rushing yards. 

Bohanon has also completed 61% of his passes, tossed six interceptions and 10 touchdowns, and scored four rushing touchdowns. He missed the last game and a half due to a hamstring injury and remains questionable. 

 

If Bohanon is out, backup Blake Shapen will need a performance similar to the one he had against Texas Tech. Shapen completed 20-of-34 passes for 254 yards and 2 touchdowns and ran seven times for 24 yards. 

Since Oklahoma State lacks game tape on Shapen, Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, a Broyles Award finalist, will disguise coverages to confuse Shapen. Baylor offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes will fire back with a few tricks of his own. 

Perhaps special teams will alter the game, as both Oklahoma State and Baylor have return specialists who have scored a touchdown this season. Even a muffed punt can swing momentum. 

A lot has changed since October, but a few constants remain like elite defenses and strong running attacks. If October is any indication, the Bears and Cowboys will battle for 60 minutes in a low-scoring, ground-and-pound game.   

Or that might be completely inaccurate. 

Only one thing is certain – a new era is upon us. 

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