OU football: Five takeaways from Sooners' 27-14 win over Baylor
NORMAN — It wasn’t pretty but OU pulled out a 27-14 win over Baylor on Saturday night in their final home game of the season.
Here are five takeaways from the win:
1. Heading back to the Big 12 Championship Game
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It would’ve been unthinkable in early October when the Sooners fell at Iowa State, 37-30, to drop to 0-2 in Big 12 play.
But even with a game left, the Sooners have clinched a berth in the Big 12 title game, where they’ll play the Cyclones.
The title game will be played at 11 a.m. Dec. 19 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Oklahoma State’s loss to TCU earlier Saturday cleared up plenty as far as the title-game matchup went.
That upset put Iowa State into the game for the first time in its history. The Cyclones haven’t won a conference title in football since 1912 when they shared the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association title for the second consecutive season. The Cyclones have never won an outright conference title.
The Sooners have won the last five Big 12 titles, and are in the title game for the 12th time overall. OU is 10-1 in the game, their only loss coming in the 2003 game to Kansas State.
With Iowa State’s appearance, only four conference teams have yet to make the title game — Kansas, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and West Virginia.
The Sooners will have faced a different opponent in each of the four championship games since the game was reinstated before the 2017 season.
2. Defense carries the Sooners
It was no secret OU was going to be shorthanded Saturday after last week’s postponement of the game at West Virginia due to COVID-19 issues with the Sooners.
Many of the notable absences came in the secondary, necessitating some shifting around.
Among the players out for the Sooners were all three free safeties listed on their depth chart — Pat Fields, Justin Broiles and Bryson Washington.
Broiles was out for the second consecutive game. He also missed Bedlam, and was seen on crutches before that game.
OU was also without redshirt freshman cornerback Woodi Washington, who had started the last three games, and nickelback Brendan Radley-Hiles.
Before the season, the Big 12 set several positional benchmarks that allowed teams to postpone games if they dropped below those marks.
But defensive back wasn’t one of those groups.
The Sooners had to improvise a bit, moving Robert Barnes, who had moved to linebacker in the spring, back to safety. Barnes made his first start since the Orange Bowl at the end of the 2018 season.
He played just four games last year before missing the final nine games and redshirting.
Tre Norwood made his fourth consecutive start while Delarrin Turner-Yell and Jaden Davis were each in the starting lineup for the first time since Oct. 24 at TCU.
While Alex Grinch had a patchwork secondary, OU’s defense still had plenty of teeth.
Baylor managed just 110 first-half yards.
The Sooners only brought down Bears quarterback Charlie Brewer once in the first half but kept him scrambling.
The Sooners were able to get that pressure without one of their best pass rushers, rush linebacker Nik Bonitto, available. He was replaced in the starting lineup by Jon-Michael Terry.
Baylor did start out with a solid drive, with a pair of third-down conversions and another on fourth down helping them eat up more than five minutes of first-quarter clock.
But Bears’ kicker John Mayers’ 46-yard field-goal try fell well short.
Baylor didn’t need to drive to get to that spot on their next drive after OU’s Reeves Mundschau’s 12-yard punt put the Bears in prime scoring territory.
But Baylor couldn’t manage much of anything and Mayers’ again missed a 46-yarder short.
Two drives later, the Bears were once again at the OU 29 on fourth down.
This time, though, Dave Aranda wasn’t about to give Mayers another shot from the same distance and Tre Norwood came up with the interception.
Norwood’s third pick of the season gave OU 12 takeaways on the season, after consecutive seasons with just 11. The Sooners’ 11 takeaways in 2018 and 2019 were tied for the fewest in one season in program history.
The Sooners added another takeaway later on freshman D.J. Graham’s first career interception.
That pick — which also came on fourth down — was another big one, as it came just after Baylor got on the board for the first time on Brewer’s 25-yard touchdown pass to trim OU’s lead to 17-7, then held the Sooners to a three-and-out.
3. Offense struggles
While the Sooners’ defense was hit hard with losses on the defensive side, the offense wasn’t nearly as affected.
Tight end Austin Stogner missed his second consecutive game after suffering and injury against Kansas, and freshman H-back Mikey Henderson, who has become a solid weapon of late, was also out.
But OU had Spencer Rattler and his full complement of wide receivers, running back Rhamondre Stevenson, and the offensive line which had rounded into form after some early season struggles.
Even with that, though, the Sooners struggled to find much of an offensive rhythm after starting off with a promising drive that fizzled after getting to the 10.
OU gained 67 yards on that opening drive but managed just 32 yards the rest of the first half.
The Sooners finished with just 269 yards of total offense, the lowest since Lincoln Riley came aboard as offensive coordinator in 2015.
The previous low under Riley came against Texas his first season, when OU was held to 278.
Saturday's yardage total was OU's worst since 232 against the Longhorns in 2014, Josh Heupel's final season as the Sooners' offensive play-caller.
OU's 76 rushing yards against Baylor was its fewest on the ground since rushing for 70 against Houston in 2016.
4. Beamer Ball for the Gamecocks?
For much of the week, the focus on the game as it related to the Sooners was which coaches would be unavailable for the game.
Bob Stoops even filled in for assistants who were being held out either for positive COVID-19 tests or contact tracing reasons.
It appeared assistant head coach and tight ends/h-backs coach Shane Beamer was the only assistant who was not at the game.
Beamer might’ve coached his last game with the Sooners.
In the final minutes of regulation, The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman reported that Beamer was expected to be named the next head coach at South Carolina.
Beamer, the son of legendary Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, was a Gamecocks assistant under Steve Spurrier, helping build a big part of the rosters that made up South Carolina’s most successful seasons.
5. Stevenson doesn’t put up huge numbers on the ground, but still contributes big
Running back Rhamondre Stevenson had put in three big games since his return from suspension and kept up with that trend Saturday.
But against Baylor, his contributions were much more balanced.
Stevenson ran for 50 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries but continued his emergence as a pass-catching threat with five catches for 48 yards. He also recovered an onside kick late in the fourth to help put the game away.
Stevenson had never had more than four catches in a game for the Sooners prior to Saturday.