NORMAN— Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops insists that giving up yards in run defense is how you have to defend prolific passing attacks, and said so several times Saturday.
That philosophy almost proved costly; Baylor rushed for more yards (252) — and scored more points — than any Oklahoma opponent this season, but the Sooners still escaped with a 42-34 win on Owen Field.
“You have to make them hand the ball off and hope you can come up with your third-down stops, fourth-down stops,” Stoops said. “Overall, we did that.”
Oklahoma surrendered four rushing scores to unranked Baylor, which added a touchdown and 2-point conversion with 1:25 left to pull within eight points of forcing overtime.
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops wasn’t nearly as positive about the performance as his brother.
“It was a tough night defensively in a lot of areas,” Mike Stoops said. “We never could grasp their run game, and anytime a team can run the football on you, it’s gonna be a long night. We got out-executed pretty badly in the run game and that’s something we need to evaluate as a staff.”
It was smooth sailing early for the Sooners. Oklahoma opened with an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, capped by Landry Jones’ 5-yard touchdown pass to Brennan Clay about five minutes into the game.
Baylor’s first series ended with 3 points — earned on Aaron Jones’ 58-yard field goal — but Bears quarterback Nick Florence completed just two of his six pass attempts, and Baylor’s two first downs on the drive were each the result of Oklahoma penalties.
Then Baylor committed to the ground game.
Baylor attempted just three rushes in the first quarter, but finished with 51 attempts. Sophomore Lache Seastrunk rushed for 91 yards and three touchdowns, and Florence’s surprising efficiency on quarterback keepers kept OU’s defense on its heels through the final three quarters.
After averaging about eight carries and 34 yards before Saturday, Florence rushed for 83 yards on 15 attempts against the Sooners.
“They ran more quarterback draw than they have all year,” Mike Stoops said.
“Their run game, we couldn’t stop it inside and we couldn’t stop it outside. That needs to be addressed, and that was the most disappointing element. Our tackling, I thought, was atrocious all night. ... They exposed some areas that we need to tighten up.”
Florence, averaging over 350 yards passing this season, finished 12 of 33 for 172 yards and no passing touchdowns.
Still, Baylor used its successful run game to disguise play-action passes — several of which allowed Baylor receivers to get behind Oklahoma’s secondary; few of those passes were completed, though.
Some of those missed opportunities were because Florence overshot his targets; others were due to drops.
Early in the fourth quarter, after Blake Bell rushed for a 55-yard touchdown to put OU up 42-26, Baylor drove back into Sooners’ territory.
On first-and-10 at OU’s 33-yard line, Baylor receiver Tevin Reese sprinted past the secondary and into the Sooners’ end zone, but Florence’s spot-on pass fell through Reese’s arms.
A touchdown on that drive — which ended with a failed fourth-down attempt — could’ve made things awfully interesting with Oklahoma’s eventual one-possession margin of victory.
“I thought our coverage was good most of the night,” Mike Stoops said. “We contested a lot of the throws.
“They got behind us a couple times off the play-action passes when they’re running the ball ... That’s gonna happen when you play this team. There is a dilemma you’re in pretty constantly throughout a 60-minute game.”
The Oklahoma defense also forced no turnovers, continuing a disturbing trend; over its past three games, Oklahoma has just one takeaway — a late interception last week at IowaState.
“We gave up too many rushing yards; we didn’t get any turnovers,” said senior defensive lineman David King. “We didn’t get any batted balls from the defensive line standpoint. It’s hard to win a game when you don’t have any turnovers and you go 80-90 plays.
“You don’t get one turnover to try to help the offense. It was frustrating, but a win is a win.”
At the end of his postgame news conference, Bob Stoops was asked to confirm his early sentiment — that he was OK with allowing Baylor some success in the run game if it meant limiting its air attack.
“Absolutely. I love it. I absolutely love it,” he replied. “With 1:40 left to go in the game, we’re up 16 against a team that’s lit up the scoreboard on everybody. That’s exactly what I’m saying. ... You guys rip me tomorrow. ‘Oh, they’re gonna run the ball. Everyone else now is gonna run it.’