I had a chance to talk with Justin Kutcher and Joel Klatt, who will be calling tonight’s Oklahoma-Baylor game in Waco for Fox Sports 1.
I wanted to talk to them for this story on Thursday night football.
I didn’t get to use Klatt’s thoughts in the story but the former Colorado quarterback had plenty to say about tonight’s game.
General thoughts on the game:
JOEL: I grew up, cut my teeth if you will, on Big 12 football being from Colorado. To see where Baylor is right now is nothing short of amazing. I think Art Briles has done a wonderful job with that program. They are the preeminent favorite right now to win the conference with the way that they’re playing and I’m really excited to get down to Waco to see the environment of what’s expected on Thursday night. They’re going to take the tarp off. And then from the Oklahoma perspective, this is just another one of those quality jobs by Bob Stoops and his coaching staff of getting this ball club ready to go. They’ve made a lot of switches schematically, they’ve changed philosophically on their defense and it’s been working and they’re right in the thick of things again for a ninth Big 12 title which is quite amazing when you sit back and you think about it.
A lot of OU’s defensive changes were to prepare for teams like Texas Tech and Baylor How does OU’s defense match up, even without Jordan Phillips and Corey Nelson in there?
JOEL: I think that it’s very interesting because on the outside looking in, you’d think to yourself, “Well, they’ll be able to play good football just like they did against Texas Tech because this is a spread team, they score a lot of points, they throw the ball but the one thing that Baylor does, and they do it really under the radar, is run the ball incredibly efficient. They are right now in the top 10 in rushing in the country–over 300 yards–that’s where everything starts. They’re physical with their running back position, they’ve got a good, deep stable really led by Lache Seastrunk and so I really think it’s going to hurt Oklahoma that they don’t have Corey Nelson and Jordan Phillips in the game. Those two, ever since they left, there’s been a physical entity to what Oklahoma does on defense that has left their ball club. You saw it against Texas. If Baylor wants to come out and really establish the run, that would probably be very beneficial to them. That being said, though, I think Oklahoma has done a heck of a job of making sure that other guys are stepping up and playing well. Dominique (Alexander) has played very well. I think a guy like Frank Shannon has come in and, if healthy and reports are that he is, he’s a guy that’s playing very well. So Oklahoma’s going to be ready for that. Last year, I think Mike Stoops learned a lot about the tendencies of Art Briles in terms of how patient Art Briles will stay and the things that you can and can’t do defensively against this offense so it’s going to be an incredible matchup. A matchup that I’m much more interested in watching this year than I was last year and a lot of that is due to the philosophical difference in Oklahoma’s defense. They’re much more structurally sound to face a team like Baylor than they were a year ago.
How much tougher is it to defend Baylor’s running game with the way they spread the field?
JOEL: That’s the hard part. There’s no other team in the country that just with their alignment forces you to cover the amount of space that Baylor forces you to cover as a defense. Because of that, there are automatic advantages for the offense and one is that every individual player is now just responsible for a greater area just in the sheer distance of it all. Because of that, they’re able to to do things in the slot with their wide receivers, the run game to the wide side of the field, they’re able to do things with their wide receivers like speed cuts rather than edge breaks. If an edge break is not 90 degrees and you were to draw an out route or something with just a big rounded speed cut, they’re able to play faster because of the space that the formation allows them to. It’s really an amazing offense and Oklahoma’s going to have their hands full. Oklahoma’s defense is well prepared for this. They’re a great passing defense, they can play well in space, but this is going to be the ultimate test.
Also important to control the clock on offense and keep Baylor’s offense off the field.
JOEL: It’s very difficult. If you look at Baylor’s season so far, there’s been a few times in the first half when they’ve had nine, 10, 11 possessions just in a half. And when you’re looking at a normal football team with a methodical style–not even a methodical style but just a normal, tempo football team. Oklahoma is averaging around 11-12 possessions for the game. So one of the reasons why you’re seeing this offense score so many points is just that they’ve got so many opportunities to score those points. They have the most drives with scores under two minutes, the most drives with scores under one minute, they get the ball back and their defense has done an exceptional job of getting them the football back right away and so part of the reason that Kansas State was able to have the success was that they limited the amount of possessions. I haven’t looked exactly but I believe Baylor scored percentage wise on the same number of possessions that they had during the course of the rest of the season but Kansas State limited the number of times that they got their hands on the football, which ultimately helped them stay close. In terms of stopping Baylor, it’s a bigger test of one’s offense than it is of one’s defense because of that possession type of statistic.
How does OU go about that, especially without Trey Millard?
JOEL: Losing Trey is a huge deal. He was a guy that really allowed them to be very versatile with keeping the same personnel group on the field and getting into different formations and sets. I think that Josh Heupel is going to slow this game down a little bit. I think you’re going to see them be more methodical. I think you’re going to see them try to test Baylor physically. Baylor plays such a finesse style of game on defense because they always have a huge lead so you’re always facing passing attacks, whereas no one’s really lined up and said, “We’re going to run the football right down Baylor’s throat and get at them in a physical nature.” I think Oklahoma’s going to really try to do that and really try to limit those possessions. What it will come down to for me though is once you run the ball a couple of times and it’s third and six or third and four, Blake Bell is going to have to have his best game as an Oklahoma Sooner. He’s got to keep his offense on the field, those third-down conversions are critical for him as a quarterback for him this week.
What do you think about Blake Bell right now? He’s been up and down so far.
JOEL: I think that that’s really common among players getting their first opportunity to be a full-time starter. I didn’t think it was going to go any differently. I’m really impressed that Blake was able to take the disappointment of not starting the initial game and the regular season as the starting quarterback and just continuing to work hard and work himself into a mold for when he did get his opportunity and once he did, he hasn’t looked back. He’s played very efficiently of late I like the way he played against Texas Tech. His physical presence and ability to run the football is a huge advantage for Oklahoma in this ballgame because they’ll be able to sit there and run the ball against Baylor and try to keep their offense off the field. I think Blake Bell is really cut from the perfect mold when you’re talking about a quarterback that could go and beat the Baylor Bears because he can do a lot of things well. The one question then becomes: if he’s been inconsistent at time, will he be consistent on Thursday, especially on third downs. I’ll be watching that. The first time they get to third down, my eyes are going to be absolutely fixated on Blake Bell.
How important is being able to have success early offensively because Baylor’s offense can score so quickly?
JOEL: I think it’s imperative that they get an early score. Let’s say Oklahoma plays fantastic football in the first quarter offensively and limits Baylor to three possessions, I’m going to say at minimum Baylor will score one touchdown in three possessions so at that point if you haven’t scored as Oklahoma, you’re still behind even though you’ve played a wonderful first quarter. So it’s imperative that when they have their chances, when they do get it into the red area that they score touchdowns and not kick field goals because the one thing that Baylor is very comfortable doing–that’s playing with the lead. You’ve got to get Baylor into a situation where they’re not comfortable and they’re not comfortable in close games. They can say that they want it all they want and this is a big environment and this is exactly what you play for but Baylor doesn’t do this on a week-in and week-out basis so you’ve got to put them in a close-quarters, tight ballgame and try to see how they’ll react that way.
What do you make of this Thursday in college football?
JOEL: It’s going to be a great Thursday in college football. You talk about the three main games in college football–the huge one that we’ll have in Waco, obviously the Pac 12 game and then you’ve got Alabama and LSU. Those are going to be spread out two on Thursday and one on Saturday so it’ll be a little strange from that standpoint but I know people in Baylor have been looking forward to this for a long time. When the schedule came out, back to media days, I can remember talking specifically to Bob Stoops and to Art Briles about this game, looking forward to it, putting a circle around it. It’s going to be a black out. They’re pulling out all the stops. They’re pulling the tarp off the end zone bleachers. This will probably be one of, if not the best environments that Floyd Casey Stadium has ever see in in its history. That’s the type of situation that Oklahoma is walking into on Thursday night.
OU hasn’t been an underdog like this much in the Bob Stoops era. How do you think they respond to that?
JOEL: I think they respond well. This is a tough coaching staff. he’s two victories from (passing) Barry Switzer for a reason. This guy understands how to coach the game of football. You don’t win eight Big 12 championship because you just recruit well. It helps but they’re fantastic coaches. I truly think that this is going to be a tight ballgame. I think a tight ballgame favors Oklahoma because of the situations that they’ve been in year after year after year as opposed to the somewhat inexperienced nature in which Baylor has in terms of tight ballgames in the last couple of years. I will say this though about the spread: Baylor has earned that line with how they’ve played this year. I don’t think it’s something like a disrespect type thing for Oklahoma but Oklahoma under Bob Stoops has faced top 10 teams in back-to-back games I think this is the fourth time, and they’re 5-0 so far in such games. So they’ve done this before. We’ll see if it continues. When the rubber meets the road, there’s still one team that’s one 22 match ups out of 23 and the other team’s just won one so those are all things that are going to creep into people’s mind if this is a tight ballgame in the fourth quarter.