WACO, Texas — There aren’t enough fingers in a barrel of whiskey to point out what all went wrong for Oklahoma in Thursday night’s 41-12 loss to Baylor.
There wasn’t a phase of the game where the 12th-ranked Sooners truly played well enough to win. Sure, they got stops early, but horrendous pre-snap third-down penalties were essential in two Baylor touchdown drives.
Offensively, well, one touchdown drive pretty much summed up how the night went for Sooners.
OU coach Bob Stoops harped on just about all of it after the loss that left his team with only a microscopic chance of winning or sharing the Big 12 Conference title.
“We didn’t coach them, obviously, well enough, and they didn’t do a good enough job paying attention to details,” he said. “When I say mistakes, though, a lot of the mistakes are penalties… In my mind lining up offsides is a player’s responsibility. That isn’t something you ought to have to coach. We do coach. You line up on the right side of the football, not on the football. Some of it is their responsibility, and ours as coaches. It’s always that way.”
There were numerous reasons to be disappointed in what the Sooners (7-2, 4-2 Big 12) did on the field. Baylor (8-0, 5-0) is good — really good. It will remain in the thick of the national title race as long as it keeps winning. It seems to be a team getting a little better every week.
OU, on the other hand, is not, and it was very evident Thursday.
The Sooners rushed for just 87 yards. The 19-point halftime deficit took them out of the game plan of running the ball and shortening the game. At least that’s what OU talked about doing in the week leading up to the game.
Didn’t seem like it did much to get into it. OU ran just 12 plays in the first quarter and nine of them were rushing attempts. But only four of those carries were by running backs. Brennan Clay, Damien Williams and Roy Finch. OU was averaging 5.63 yards per carry when any of the trio carried the ball leading up to the game.
Instead, OU decided quarterback Blake Bell and backup quarterback Trevor Knight were going to be focal points in the running game. At best, the plan was ineffective. At worst, it robbed OU of any offensive flow.
Early in the second quarter, OU had the ball facing third-and-goal at the Bears’ 2-yard line. There was a golden opportunity to get a touchdown lead on the Bears and seize every bit of momentum of a stellar first quarter by OU’s defense.
Instead, OU couldn’t decide which quarterback to use on third down and wound up having to take a timeout. Bell was stuffed on third and fourth down.
OU did get a field goal on its next drive and a brief two-point lead. But the chance to build any offensive momentum was gone.
The dawdling offensive starts are nothing new. OU entered the game averaging just 4.125 first-quarter points. A major reason is the inability to establish anything in the first 15 minutes.
Bell, who has struggled in the first quarter in his last four starts, has been part of the problem. He hasn’t been an effective short-yardage runner all season and hasn’t been reliable enough throwing the ball — especially early in games.
Stoops said Thursday night’s 15-for-35 passing effort for 150 yards would not cost Bell his job.
“It’s not his fault. Sure, Blake’s not a guy we’re looking to change,” he said.
He gave the confidence vote to offensive coordinator Josh Heupel. But he did say everything involved with Thursday’s performance must improve.
“I’m saying we’re gonna assess everything on Saturday and Sunday when we get back from recruiting and we’ll see what we do from there.”
It will be an interesting question to answer. Baylor moved its free safety and lined him up a few yards behind the linebackers early in the game. It was one of the reasons OU struggled to run the ball.
But if a defense can throw OU for a loop simply by where it lines up a safety, then the problems cannot be fixed this season.
“They beat us up front. We weren’t efficient throwing it when we needed to. I don’t know if we hit any of the play-action shots that we had tonight. We didn’t get any chunks,” Heupel said. “There wasn’t a lot that we did well enough to beat a good team on the road.”
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops already seemed to be thinking long-term following Thursday’s game. OU finished it with cornerback Aaron Colvin and safety Julian Wilson on the bench due to injuries.
“We’ve got some young guys still who can come on and help us. That’s the way it’s gonna be,” he said. “To me, that’s just an opportunity for a younger guy. If we’re out of the race, then we’re out of the race. We’ve gotta keep getting better for the future, and that’s what this program will always be, getting the next guy up. We’ve got some great young players, and they’re playing some outstanding football. That to me is exciting.”
But that’s on the defensive side of the ball. The offense is veteran unit that doesn’t seem to be able to take a step forward without taking another back.
Players won’t return to the practice field until Monday. But they’ll face the same wounds ripped open by Baylor.
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