NORMAN, Okla. -- Just the thought of his defense spending the majority of the game on the field makes Mike Stoops uncomfortable.
“If we play 90 to 100 snaps, it’s not good,” the Oklahoma defensive coordinator said. “You can’t win a game against Baylor playing 90 to 100 snaps. That’s not a game you want to be in.”
Oklahoma’s offense could be its best defense when it meets Baylor at Floyd Casey Stadium on Thursday. By running the ball, controlling the tempo and keeping the Bears' offense on the sideline, the Sooners' offense could be the difference.
“You hope that your offense can control the football and that you can control the tempo of the game,” Stoops said.
It’s a formula that has worked before against the Bears. Kansas State held BU to 58 offensive plays in its 35-25 loss to the Bears on Oct. 12. Not surprisingly, the Wildcats held the Bears to season lows in plays (58), yards (446), touchdowns (5) and plays of 10 yards or more (12).
Giving Bryce Petty, Lache Seastrunk, Antwan Goodley and the rest of the Baylor playmakers too many opportunities to make plays will result in big plays and plenty of points. It’s simply unavoidable. But limiting their offensive plays and opportunities can make their offense look human and make the ultimate goal of winning the game within reach.
Fortunately for the Sooners, this game plan fits right in line with the approach that has carried them to a 7-1 record. Opponents average 63.8 offensive plays against the Sooners this season, five plays per game less than any other Big 12 team. It’s a big reason why OU sits atop the conference in yards allowed per game (314.3) and ranks second behind the Bears in points allowed (18.8).
The Sooners average 234 rushing yards per game and have leaned on that running game to carry the offense this season while their passing game has been inconsistent. Running the ball, controlling the clock and converting on third downs is a formula the Sooners used to defeat Texas Tech, 38-30, in their last game.
“If we can limit the opportunities they get by not turning it over and converting on third downs we help our cause,” OU co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. “It’s not a complicated formula, but it’s important that we get the type of execution we had a week ago.”
Ideally, OU will have to find a way to get a lead then use its running game and short-passing game to run out the clock while Petty and company helplessly watch from the bench. The approach has been widely discussed in the halls of the Switzer Center over the past week as the Sooners know their offense and defense must work as one unit to slow the Bears’ explosive attack.
“The short passes have to be like runs,” Norvell said. “They’ve [OU receivers] got to be catch the ball no nonsense and get up the field, no dancing, and that’s the mentality we have to play with. We’ve got to make a three-yard catch eight yards and a six-yard catch nine yards. We’ve got to get the first down first and then worry about making something flashy happen.”
OU is converting just 40.7 percent of its third down conversion attempts, ranking fifth in the conference. But the Sooners have improved in recent weeks, converting 14 of 28 attempts combined against Texas Tech and Kansas in back-to-back weeks. Like any big game, making key plays in key moments will decide the outcome.
“It’s critical that we stay ahead of the chains, not get in third and long,” quarterback Blake Bell said.
In its lone loss to Texas, on third down OU had to gain six or more yards on 50 of its 59 plays against the Longhorns. It averaged -0.31 yards per play on third down. Quite simply, the Sooners won’t win if they have another performance like they did against the Longhorns.
“Staying on the field obviously comes down to your first- and second-down plays,” guard Bronson Irwin said. “I think getting yards on those plays puts you at third-and-manageable, whereas if you’re at third-and-long your percentages for staying on the field are going to be a little lower. I think being effective and efficient on first and second downs is going to be a huge part of this game.”
The moral of the story? OU wants to make this game ugly because its not sure it can win pretty. It’s an approach that has been pushed upon them by the struggles of its passing game but one the Sooners have grown to embrace.
“That’s kind of the mentality we have,” Norvell said. “This team has become a blue collar team. We kind of felt that way in the spring, and we’ve got a fighter’s mentality. We’re going to pound on you for four quarters and then try to win it in the fourth. That’s the way we’ve got to be, and that’s okay. It doesn’t matter how pretty it is. If we end up on the right side of the ledger that’s really all that matters.”