They came, they saw, they conquered. That’s a reference to the Oklahoma Sooners and it’s a cliché-riddled report of what happened at Baylor’s McLane Stadium last Saturday night before a massive crowd of 49,875, the largest audience ever to fill the seats of that beautiful stadium which stands alongside the Brazos River and is now two years old.
I haven’t reported the score yet because the Baylor Nation dreads the sound of it. Better to report a few more words well known to all of you:
When it rains, it pours.
It rains on the just and the unjust.
Into each life some rain must fall.
And so on and so on. But you get the idea. The rain came to McLane Stadium on the night of Nov. 14, 2015, and it – and the visiting Sooners – washed away all those dreams of the Baylor Bears stitching together victory after victory after victory until the final tapestry looked like this: A perfect season crowned by an unblemished record that would enable them to compete for the 2015 national championship in college football. That was still the dream at kickoff time. And then, whoosh.
In short, Oklahoma beat Baylor, 44-34. It was Baylor’s first loss ever in that stadium.
It turned on a few twists of fate, turnovers, penalties, an inconsistent kicking game, a just-not-quite-good-enough pass defense and perhaps on an injury that occurred two games ago. That is not to say junior Seth Russell would have piloted the Bears to victory. But Russell does have much more experience, he’s faster and a little bigger and more in tune with coach Art Brile’s high-scoring offense than his replacement, Jarrett Stidham. Jarrett is a true freshman and he was starting only his second game at the collegiate level after Russell suffered a season-ending neck injury in the Iowa State game.
Stidham completed 16 of his 27 passes but was sacked twice and threw a pair of interceptions. He usually was throwing under considerable pressure.
Regardless, this was a tie game (20-20) with 12 minutes and 28 seconds left in the third quarter. So the Bears, obviously in for a tight-fisted, jaw-to-jaw battle, had pulled even with the determined, out-for-revenge Sooners, who had not won in Waco since 2010 and who lost last year in Norman, 48-14. But the Bears’ defense couldn’t hold off the visiting marauders, who obviously had arrived in search of prey (and victory).
The Sooners went back ahead, driving 74 yards in 8 plays to go ahead, 27-20, and then they quickly scored again, one play for 55 yards for another touchdown, making it 34-20. The Bears kept scratching and clawing and trying (and eventually scoring another 14 points), but by then the handwriting was on that well-known wall.
And so was defeat.
Credit the Sooner defense for picking off two of Stidham’s passes, causing a costly fumble and forcing the Bears to punt six times (far more than the norm). Credit Sooner quarterback Baker Mayfield (a product of Lake Travis High School just outside Austin), who had a 25-2 record in high school and led his team to a state championship and then was Big 12 Freshman of the Year at Texas Tech before transferring to OU (he felt he had no future in Lubbock after failing to get a scholarship he thought he deserved). That Texas transplant completed 24 of 34 passes for 270 yards and 3 (three) touchdowns and ran for another100 yards and a fourth touchdown against Baylor.
Also credit sophomore Samaje Perine, a 5-11, 237-pound product of Pflugerville (which is about a stone’s-throw away from Lake Travis), who carried the ball 28 times for 169 yards and two scores. For that one game Perine was the unstoppable force for OU; it was that former Texas schoolboy who broke away on that 55-yard run that pretty well put Baylor’s Saturday night’s hopes for a come-from-behind victory into a very deep freeze.
I guess you ought to include Zach Sanchez. Another OU recruit from Texas (from Keller, just outside Fort Forth and named All-Big 12 last season), he intercepted the pass that set up OU’s last field goal. But the Sooners just had a better aerial picket line, that’s all. It restricted Baylor’s sensational receiver Corey Coleman to 3 catches for 51 yards but no touchdowns (first time this season for that, I believe) by confronting him with double coverage almost the entire game.
As a result, KD Cannon did most of the damage in the receiving category, turning 5 catches into 77 yards; and Jay Lee had 3 grabs for 59 yards and one TD. Baylor’s remaining touchdown via the airways came late in the third quarter when Stidham surprised the Sooners by going to huge (6-7, 410) tight end LaQuan McGowan, uncovered in the end zone. Baylor fans love it when McGowan scores a TD. Of course, they love it when any Bear puts points on the scoreboard.
Shock Linwood got his 100-yards plus (actually 116 yards) on 21 carries but they were hard-earned yards; the Sooners were primed to stop him. Consequently, junior Devin Chafin (6-0, 225 and powerful), was BU’s most productive footman, gouging out 49 yards on 13 carries and scoring three touchdowns.
Certainly any account of the game from Baylor’s point of view would be incomplete without recognition of the contributions of “nickelback” Travon Blanchard and Taylor Young. Blanchard was in on 14 tackles (13 solo) and Young on 11 (9 solo).
The way the Bears started the game was in a fashion that no Baylor fan could criticize. The Bears forced the Sooners to punt after their first three plays (one was a QB sack made by Andrew Billings and Shawn Oakman). Taking over at their own 20, they opened a hole that Linwood turned into a 34-yard gain, then OU picked up a personal foul and six plays later there went Chafin bounding into the end zone from 5 yards out. Man, who could wish for anything better than that? The Bears were on the scoreboard and 10:26 was still left in the first quarter.
And then came the first sign of the kind of game it was going to become. Baylor’s try for .the extra point fizzled when the holder fumbled the snap. And then on the ensuing kickoff, Baylor’s kick went out of bounds (it happened not once but twice). Result: OU started at its own 35 (instead of maybe the 25 if the kick had gone into the end zone), and promptly marched 65 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown and a successful PAT that put the Sooners ahead, 7-6.
Then following the kickoff to Baylor, Chafin fumbled the ball and OU recovered at the Baylor 38. So it was going to be that kind of night, even if the Sooners got nothing out of that opportunity, thanks to some good defensive play by Billings, Taylor Young and K.J. Smith.
Early in the second quarter the Sooners surged 80 yards in 8 plays for their next score but they missed the PAT that time, and the Bears were able to tie the score a few minutes later when Chafin scored from the OU 3, completing a 10-play, 42-yard drive. Buttwo Mayfield completions were instrumental in fueling an 8-play, 71-yard thrust that put OU ahead, 20-13, at halftime.
The Bears received to open the third quarter and promptly drove 75 yards in 9 plays for the TD that knotted the score at 20-20 and inspired the thought that now here goes the Green and Gold, a team usually much better after halftime adjustments. But it was not to be. Instead, 20-20 was Baylor’s high-water mark.
The visitors made it 27-20 with a 74-yard TD march(a 7-yard Mayfield pass to Sterling Shepard produced the touchdown); and after going three-and-out on its next possession, OU’s Perine got loose on his 55-yard scamper that made it a 34-20 game.
The Bears refused to go quietly. Later in the third quarter they drove 69 yards in 7 plays and when McGowan made his touchdown catch it was a 34-27 game. And although OU answered early in the fourth quarter with a field goal that made it 37-27, the Bears responded with a touchdown of their own that kept it tantalizingly close at 37-34. That drive featured Stidham passes of 27 yards to Cannon and 17 yards to Jay Lee for the score. The drive only required 32 seconds.
But then came OU’s time-consuming touchdown march of 78 yards that made it Sooners 44, Bears 34, and that was quickly followed by Ahmad Thomas’ interception of a Stidham pass at the OU 39. If that pass had been completed and the Bears had marched on to score again, who knows? But instead the Sooners played keep-away for the remaining 4 minutes and 35 seconds and nailed down their ninth victory of the season. All the way home they must have been asking themselves: how in the world did we ever lose to the Texas Longhorns, a team that has now lost six games?
But it happened, and now the Sooners find themselves ranked No. 7 in both the AP and coaches polls, behind the same group of teams: Clemson, Ohio State, Alabama, Oklahoma State, Notre Dame and Iowa. Because of its first loss of the season, Baylor dropped to No. 10 in both polls, just ahead of future rival TCU. The Frogs next play OU in Norman; the Bears go to Stillwater, then to Fort Worth and then back home to finish the season against Texas.
Win their last three games and the Bears MIGHT still win the Big 12 crown. That’s a tall order, yes, but this has been a crazy season. Stay tuned.