By Murray Evans, AP Sports Writer
NORMAN, Okla. —
When Oklahoma revamped its defense during the offseason, it was because the Sooners knew they’d face games similar to the one they’ll play Thursday.
Hurt by spread offenses run by West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M during the final stretch of 2012, No. 12 OU (7-1, 4-1 Big 12 Conference) switched to an alignment with three defensive linemen and five defensive backs.
It’s worked well for most of the season, as the Sooners rank 10th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total defense, allowing 314.3 yards per game.
But No. 5 Baylor (7-0, 4-0) will present the most difficult challenge so far this season for the Sooners.
The Bears’ offensive numbers are eye-popping — they lead the FBS in scoring average (63.9 points), passing offense (417.3 yards) and total offense (718.4 yards) and are seventh nationally in rushing offense (301.1 yards).
OU did get a bit of a preview of what they might see Thursday when the Sooners beat Texas Tech and its high-powered offense 38-30 on Oct. 26.
“We did it for most of the teams we see in our league,” OUcoach Bob Stoops said Monday of the Sooners’ change in defensive schemes.
“We just saw it with Tech and Baylor is also a part of that, you know, on and on. We felt it gave us more versatility. It played to our strengths better and it put more speed on the field. Hopefully, it will continue to help us.”
OU is 21-1 all-time against Baylor, but the one was memorable, as then-Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III made a huge impression in the Heisman Trophy race on his way toward winning that honor in 2011.
The Bears’ offensive juggernaut continued through last season with Nick Florence and Bryce Petty is Baylor’s quarterback and he’s fourth nationally in passing yards per game (350.4).
Stoops said the Bears like to spread defenses out with Petty and their speedy wide receivers, then attack in the middle of the field with running back Lache Seastrunk, who has rushed for 869 yards and 11 touchdowns. That combination limits the number of things an opposing defense can do, Stoops said.
“You can only do so much, in that ... when they line two guys up all the way out there,” he said, pointing one way, “and all the way out there,” pointing the other way, “you’ve got to go out and cover them, so there’s only so many left.
“At the end of the day, there’s only so much you can do. You have to be able to play. You’ve got to be able to cover them out there and you’ve got to be able to stop the run game with what’s left in here.”
OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said the Bears’ ability to effectively run the football with Seastrunk is what makes their up-tempo offense click.
But it isn’t necessarily Baylor’s style that causes opposing defenses so many problems, Mike Stoops said.
“They have great speed on the perimeter and they use it and they isolate you,” he said.
“That, to me, is what is stressful about it. They run the football. They create so much room on the football field that most people can’t or don’t do.
“It’s hard to get underneath help because the splits are so wide. It’s hard to get people underneath. Everything is isolated and it’s hard to buy help for corners and safeties and all of that. Again, they know what they are doing and they are very effective.”
It’s a system that places a premium on winning one-on-one matchups and this season, Baylor’s offensive players have excelled in doing that and making big plays.
“You just have to challenge them,” OU cornerback Aaron Colvin said. “What you’re trying to do as a defensive back and what we’re trying to do as a defense is you’re trying to make every play a challenging play.
“They’ve been able to get easy plays at times because of their athleticism and defensive guys not really staying on their assignment or whatever the case may be. As a defense, we have to stay locked in.”
Mike Stoops said if OU is to win, the Sooners must keep the Baylor offense off the field — whether that means long offensive drives or stopping the Bears on third down.
“If we play 90-100 snaps (on defense), it’s not good,” he said. “You can’t win a game, I don’t believe, playing Baylor if we have to play 90-100 snaps. That’s not a game that you want to be in. You hope your offense can control the football and you can control the tempo of the game.’’
“If they are running in those numbers, it means they have the ball and they are running very efficiently and that’s going to stress your defense more than the D-line. It’s going to stress your players covering those guys for 100 snaps. Covering them for 100 snaps is virtually impossible.”