NORMAN — Oklahoma completely fell apart Thursday night in a 41-12 blowout shellacking at No. 6 Baylor.
The game exposed a litany of problems the Sooners face moving forward, and raised serious questions about quarterback Blake Bell, co-offensive coordinator and play caller Josh Heupel and the team's composure.
Here, we take a comprehensive look at Thursday's rout in Waco:
TOP FIVE PROBLEMS
1. Quarterbacking: Oklahoma's situation at quarterback is perhaps the most pressing, noticeable problem facing this team the rest of the season.
Junior Blake Bell took over as starter in the Sooners' third game of the season and was excellent in his first two outings. He also played well in an important home victory over Texas Tech two weeks ago, but he has also been wildly inconsistent.
Coaches clearly don't trust him to throw the ball downfield with any regularity, and he appears to be a much more timid runner than he was the last two years out of the “Belldozer” package.
OU coaches tried to use Trevor Knight as a change-of-pace quarterback against Baylor, and he had some success running the zone read, but his passing early in the season was so suspect that it seems unlikely that he'd be the answer this season.
Coach Bob Stoops said the offense's struggles against Baylor weren't Bell's fault, but his struggles have been apparent, and the fact that he's still struggling in the ninth game of the year is unsettling.
2. Health: Trey Millard, Corey Nelson and Jordan Phillips have all been lost with season-ending injuries. Then Thursday in Waco, the Sooners suffered lots of additional injuries.
Sophomore wideout Sterling Shepard was knocked out of the game with a first-quarter concussion. Senior cornerback Aaron Colvin and junior nickelback Julian Wilson both left the game late with apparent shoulder injuries.
True freshman linebacker Jordan Evans hurt his ankle, and freshman running back Keith Ford was seen on the sideline on crutches after a special-teams injury.
“It's not good,” Stoops said after the game. “We'll find out. All the guys that went off the field were hurt. We'll see how that ends up.”
3. Depth: The Sooners' deteriorating health has exposed a depth problem on defense. When Colvin went down, he was replaced by true freshman Stanvon Taylor, who was picked on lots in the fourth quarter by Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty. Oklahoma has relied on true freshmen as their second-team linebackers.
The fact that Oklahoma is playing true freshmen on defense is a nice sign for the future, but it also indicates a serious lack of older backups that coaches can rely on. That's a problem until those freshmen are more seasoned.
4. Offensive efficiency: The Sooners were flat out ineffective on offense for most of Thursday's loss. Nothing seemed to work, even when the offense was handed excellent field position in the first half.
Oklahoma's offense ran seven plays from inside Baylor's 12-yard line in the first half and managed only three points from them.
The offense's inability to stay on the field contributed significantly to the defense's struggles. Mike Stoops' unit played really well — perhaps good enough to win — but never got any time to rest, and eventually, they just got worn down by a great Baylor offense.
Oklahoma was able to drain the game clock in the fourth quarter of wins at Notre Dame and against Texas Tech, but it couldn't maintain any drives against the Bears.
5. Defensive mental busts: Sophomores Eric Striker and Charles Tapper have each played extremely well for much of this season, but both lined up offside in the first half when the defense appeared ready to make a stop.
Striker's offside came late in the second quarter, when Oklahoma had stopped Baylor deep in its own territory on a third down. The Bears got a second shot at the third-down play, took advantage of it and scored a touchdown nine plays later.
THREE THINGS TO BE HOPEFUL ABOUT
1. Defensive youth: Evans and Dominique Alexander, another true freshman linebacker, have both seen significant playing time this season, and Taylor started the Tulsa game when Colvin was injured. Even though all have had their “freshmen moments,” they've also demonstrated an ability to make plays that can be rare for such young players.
The fact that OU coaches trust those youngsters to play in big moments says a lot about their potential.
2. Mike Stoops: The OU defensive coordinator's performance this year could be considered one of the finest of his career. The adjustments and schematic changes he made in the offseason have worked well for the most part. His secondary has been strong for much of the season. And his defense played really well against Texas Tech and Baylor, even without two of its best players — Nelson and Phillips. If the defense had gotten any help from the offense against Baylor, the Sooners could've stayed competitive into the second half and maybe even had a chance to win.
3. Cody Thomas and Justice Hansen: Oklahoma could have another full-on quarterback battle during the next offseason, even though Bell and Knight will both be back. The fact that Kendal Thompson still hasn't played — despite all the struggles of the other quarterbacks — could be a sign that coaches simply don't think he's good enough.
True freshman Cody Thomas is redshirting, and Edmond Santa Fe senior Justice Hansen committed to the Sooners last April. Both of those guys would seemingly have a decent shot to compete for the job next season.
THREE MELTDOWN MOMENTS
1. Charles Tapper's ejection: Tapper's frustration led him to punch a Baylor player after an extra-point attempt early in the fourth quarter, and he was ejected from the game. His status is unclear for next week, but don't be surprised if the standout sophomore from Baltimore is suspended for next week's game.
2. Jordan Phillips' video games: In the second half of Oklahoma's blowout loss to Baylor, injured defensive tackle Jordan Phillips tweeted that Call of Duty was “calling my name.” Phillips responded to the ensuing criticism by saying he had two TVs and was watching the game, but it was still the last thing in the world Oklahoma fans wanted to hear during Thursday's rout.
3. Charles Thompson's radio call-in: Former OU quarterback Charles Thompson called into a sports talk radio show after Thursday's game to make the case that his son Kendal should get his shot as the Sooners' signal caller. Thompson is absolutely within his rights to say whatever he wants about his son, but the public criticism of OU coaches was yet another sign that all isn't well in Soonerland.
JOSH HEUPEL AS A PLAY CALLER
* Evidence supporting Heupel: To his credit, Heupel has showed some creativity over the past couple games in his play calling. Against Texas Tech, he allowed Blake Bell to throw the ball downfield on a key third down deep in OU territory, and Bell connected to keep alive an eventual touchdown drive. Heupel's called a balanced, effective game against the Red Raiders, and he showed a willingness to try some different things against Baylor, even working a special package with Knight at quarterback.
* Evidence against Heupel: When Oklahoma was still very much in the game against Baylor and retook possession of the ball, Heupel's calls made it impossible for the offense to stay on the field and give the defense a break. Oklahoma lost the time of possession battle against Baylor, and against Petty and that offense, it's virtually impossible to win without controlling the clock. The play calling was also suspect in the Sooners' loss to Texas earlier this year. Also working against Heupel? The serious lack of his quarterbacks' development this season.