When Baylor beat Kansas in its last home game, the trajectory of the Bears’ defense seemed to be headed in a positive direction.
The Bears shut down Jayhawks running back Pooka Williams most of the game, they collected four sacks, and limited Kansas to four third-down conversions in 13 attempts.
Holding the Jayhawks to 271 yards in Baylor’s 26-7 win, there was much reason for optimism. But on Saturday in Norman, the Bears quickly learned there’s a big difference between a Kansas offense that’s trying to find its identity and an Oklahoma attack that features some of the most explosive talent in college football.
The No. 7 Sooners popped off big plays with alarming frequency in their 66-33 win. Kyler Murray enjoyed one of the best days for a quarterback in Big 12 history as he hit 17 of 21 passes for 432 yards and six touchdowns.
It was an eye-opener for a Baylor defense that seemed to be turning a corner the previous weekend.
“Because of the position Kansas was in last week, they weren’t really able to run tempo,” said Baylor defensive end Greg Roberts. “I think Oklahoma being who they are, I think that’s kind of what they leaned on. Every game it’s like five or six plays that will dictate how the game goes. If you lost, it’s usually because of some explosive plays against the defense. You just want to eliminate those as often as you can.”
Murray’s 17 completions went for a remarkable 25.2 yards per catch. Murray averaged 37 yards on his six touchdown passes, including an 86-yarder to CeeDee Lamb and a 50-yarder to Marquise Brown in the third quarter.
Those two touchdowns were different plays but had two things in common: They were both answers to Baylor touchdowns and there weren’t many Baylor defenders in the same area code as the Oklahoma receivers.
Lamb caught a crossing route over the middle and cut up the right sideline for a touchdown. Murray caught a pass along the right sideline, juked Baylor safety Chris Miller, and then broke into the clear for the touchdown.
“I thought we had a chance in the third quarter, but we couldn’t get enough stops on defense when the offense started to get rolling,” Roberts said. “That bit us and I think things just got out of hand toward the end there. I don’t think it indicates who we are, but it is what it is.”
A third big passing play later in the third quarter exposed more Baylor defensive problems. Catching a short pass from Murray, running back Trey Sermon broke numerous tackles for a 51-yard gain to set up Murray’s 1-yard touchdown plunge.
“I thought he (Murray) made all the plays that you have to make to win, and they’re all explosive plays,” said Baylor coach Matt Rhule. “They got the ball in space to their guys, and we just weren’t able to tackle them and get them down.”
The Sooners finished with 607 yards total offense and the Bears failed to force a turnover for the third straight week. Defensive end Greg Roberts came up with Baylor’s only two sacks, but Murray used his quickness to avoid several other potential losses.
“We’re not going to be a great team until we eliminate the big plays,” Rhule said. “Some of those at the end, we’re tackling them in the backfield and they’re bouncing off us for a touchdown. I said to our team we’ve all got to look at ourselves. It’s easy to say this, that, this, that. No, let’s look at ourselves and see what we can do better. Because we have a game next week.”
The good thing for the Bears is that they won’t face an offense nearly as explosive as Oklahoma’s when Kansas State comes to McLane Stadium at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
The Wildcats rank ninth in the Big 12 with 321 yards and 19.6 points per game. They rank last in the conference in passing offense with 174.8 yards per game and a 53.3 completion percentage.
In Saturday’s 19-14 loss to Texas in Manhattan, the Wildcats failed to score in the first half with Alex Delton at quarterback. Skylar Thompson stepped in and gave them a lift in the second half as he directed them on 82 and 70-yard touchdown drives.
After the game, Kansas State coach Bill Snyder indicated that he’ll continue to use both quarterbacks against Baylor.
With the Bears holding a 3-2 record and Kansas State at 2-3, this is a key game for both teams as they try to get closer to the six wins needed for bowl eligibility.
But the Bears know they’ve got to improve dramatically on defense to have any more success this season.
“What do you do?” Rhule said. “You don’t complain about it. You just keep coming, keep coming. And that’s what we’ll try to do. Those guys were fighting at the end. So as I told them, we’ll continue to get better. The biggest thing for me is always looking inside of us.”