WACO, Texas — “That was a damn good game.”
Baylor’s press box elevator operator couldn’t help but admit the truth.
Oklahoma linebackers coach Ruffin McNeill couldn’t do much but agree as he rode down into what was a raucous locker room waiting for him.
“Yeah,” McNeill said. “It was.”
Oklahoma’s defense was on the ropes Saturday, its offense was in a corner and the entire season was in peril with Baylor thoroughly dominating the first half in what many figured would be a blowout.
But OU linebacker Nik Bonitto jumped in front of Josh Fleeks and intercepted Charlie Brewer’s pass with with 29 seconds remaining and a wild celebration began taking place.
In the biggest comeback in school history, OU somehow came back to beat Baylor on Saturday.
Gabe Brkic made a 31-yard field goal for the final points with 1:45 left in regulation as the 10th-ranked Sooners overcame a huge deficit in a 34-31 victory over the 13th-ranked Bears.
Much of it came down to OU holding Baylor scoreless in the second half.
“It was kind of a mob scene in our locker room,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said. “We’re just getting started defensively with what we’re going to do here.”
But OU’s offense had to rally too after one of its worst halves of football in the Riley era, and with star receiver CeeDee Lamb on the bench with an undisclosed injury.
The Sooners (9-1, 6-1 Big 12) came back in the second half from a 28-3 deficit to tie it with 5:25 left in the fourth quarter when Jalen Hurts found Brayden Willis for a 2-yard TD.
Hurts overcame three turnovers — two fumbles and an interception — in what his shakiest game in an OU uniform so far. That point was underlined when, before the Sooners’ tying score, Hurts fumbled the ball at the Baylor 3-yard line just before he scored what would have been a game-tying score in the fourth quarter.
That opportunity was set up by OU’s first forced turnover since Sept. 28 against Texas Tech. Parnell Motley punched a ball through JaMycal Hasty’s arms and Pat Fields recovered it to help spin momentum the Sooners’ way.
Hurts wasn’t fazed by his late fumble.
“I don’t have to have many Dr. Phil conversations with him [in those moments],” Riley said. “Basically, just said ‘hold onto the damn ball and let’s go score every drive.’”
OU practically did, outscoring Baylor 24-0 in the second half, snuffing out all five offensive drives — three punts and two turnovers — after the Bears scored 31 first-half points.
“Tonight, their leader made some mistakes and we all found ways to overcome it,” Hurts said.
OU’s defensive takeaways were especially meaningful. Riley said it was like getting a monkey off the Sooners’ back, the way those plays have been emphasized by first-year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch.
Sophomore defensive end Ronnie Perkins totaled two of his three sacks in the fourth quarter, and that made a big difference too.
“Ronnie Perkins and our front really changed the feel of things in the backfield, whether it was in the run game or the end there in the pass game, making them make a throw under duress,” Grinch said.
Four of OU’s five second-half drives ended with points, including three touchdowns. Lee Morris finished with 7 catches for 86 yards, leading the way with Lamb on the sideline.
Freshmen Austin Stogner (2) and Theo Wease (1) accounted for three other receiving touchdowns from Hurts.
The first half was a nightmare for the Sooners. Baylor scored on five consecutive drives after punting on its first series, four of which went for touchdowns, and McLane Stadium was vibrating with noise.
OU's offense sputtered at levels rarely seen in the Riley era. The Sooners had 157 yards at halftime and averaged just 4.2 yards per play.
In the second, they totaled 368 total yards.
Did that turnaround seem improbable to players? Riley sensed more belief out of them than he did on Oct. 26, when Kansas State pounced for a huge lead.
Two of OU's most polarized individuals from that first half met one another on the way into the locker room at halftime. Hurts said Grinch stopped him to chat.
“He said, 'this is going to be one hell of a story that we’ll tell our kids one day.' That was at halftime,” Hurts said.
Hurts said he never doubted what would happen.
“There’s always a way,” he said. “Always a way.”