Oklahoma State’s Boone Pickens Stadium is widely known as one of the toughest places to play in college football.
With the seating close to the field, the players feel like the crowd is hovering over them and listening in on their conversations. The veteran Baylor players know how claustrophobic the Cowboys’ 60,000-seat home in Stillwater feels.
Baylor even piped in loud noise on the speakers during practice this week to try to simulate the Boone Pickens Stadium atmosphere.
“Yeah, it gets loud there,” said Baylor junior offensive tackle Patrick Lawrence. “They are right on top of you, their sidelines are very small. Only a few guys have actually been to Stillwater and seen what it’s like. So guys are going to have to get used to it quickly because we have a young team.”
The winless Bears will try to upset the No. 14 Cowboys at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. The Bears (0-5, 0-2) got their first Big 12 road experience in a 33-20 loss to Kansas State two weeks ago in Manhattan, so they hope that helps against an explosive Oklahoma State squad that’s 4-1 overall and 1-1 in the Big 12.
Baylor offense vs. Oklahoma State defense
Though the Cowboys will have a huge advantage playing at home, it doesn’t mean they can’t be beaten. No. 6 TCU pulled off a 44-31 win over Oklahoma State in the Big 12 opener in Stillwater on Sept. 23. After 10 straight Big 12 losses in Stillwater, Baylor knocked off the Cowboys, 45-35, in 2015.
A win would work wonders for the Bears’ confidence as they hit the midpoint of the season. Both teams are coming off a bye week and should be refreshed and ready.
“We definitely need a win,” Lawrence said. “That’s the most important thing for us, and we’ve been frustrated not being able to finish in the past five games. It feels like we’re right there. Five games in a row we’ve had it where one possession could win the game, and we just haven’t been able to fully execute. I feel like this week we’re going to go out there and we’re going to get it done and we’re just going to roll from there.”
Baylor’s biggest challenge will be to slow down an Oklahoma State offense that ranks second in the nation with 583.4 yards per game and in scoring with 46.8 points per game.
Quarterback Mason Rudolph has enjoyed a remarkable season, as he’s completed 67.6 percent for 1,909 yards and 16 touchdowns with just four interceptions. Baylor coach Matt Rhule believes Rudolph has all the skills to be a high NFL draft pick.
“They obviously have a first round type of quarterback in Mason,” Rhule said. “The biggest thing about playing quarterback in the NFL is accuracy, it’s about courage, it’s about standing in the face of getting hit, and getting your team in the right play and the right protection. Mason does all of those. I don’t know if anyone throws the deep ball as well as he does.”
If there was any college football team that desperately needed a bye week it was winless Baylor.
The Cowboys feature one of the top receiving corps in the country. James Washington is the most dangerous deep threat in the Big 12 with 28 catches for 647 yards and five touchdowns. Marcell Ateman is another long threat as he’s made 25 catches for 449 yards and three scores while Jalen McCleskey has 21 catches for 306 yards and four touchdowns.
Baylor’s secondary is expected to come into the game relatively healthy since safeties Taion Sells, Chris Miller and Davion Hall appear to be ready to play after battling injuries.
Covering the Cowboys’ dangerous receiving corps will be a huge test for Baylor sophomore cornerbacks Blake Lynch and Grayland Arnold, but they’re looking forward to playing against them.
“Washington’s a great receiver, he’s probably one of the top receivers in the country,” Arnold said. “So it’s a privilege to go out and compete against some of the best. I feel like it’s going to be a great experience for all the corners and DBs.”
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While Oklahoma State’s passing game gets most of the attention, the running game led by Justice Hill has been solid. Hill has rushed for 516 yards and four touchdowns while J.D. King has rushed for 213 yards.
“What’s not talked about enough is their run game, which is fantastic,” Rhule said. “They do a great job up front with a physical, rugged offensive line, and Justice Hill is really a special back for a sophomore. It’ll be a challenge for our defense.”
To have a shot to upset the Cowboys, the Bears will likely have to produce offensive numbers similar to the Big 12 opener against Oklahoma on Sept. 23 at McLane Stadium.
The Bears amassed 523 yards in a 49-41 loss to the Sooners as quarterback Zach Smith hit 33 of 50 passes for a career-high 463 yards and four touchdowns.
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Baylor is still trying to get its running game on track, but the return of sophomore JaMycal Hasty from a knee injury that kept him out of the last four games should help.
Hasty, John Lovett and Terence Williams will all likely see action but Rhule plans to go with the most productive back as the game unfolds. The Bears rank ninth in the Big 12 with 118.4 yards rushing per game.
“Who we use the most will probably depend on who practices the best, and once we get into the game, we’ll try to go with the hot hand if there’s somebody that’s playing at a high, high level,” Rhule said. “We have to do a good job as coaches of trying to get those guys into a rhythm by giving them the football a little bit more than what we have.”
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