The College Football Playoff spotlight for Big 12 teams shifted north of the Red River in decisive fashion Saturday.
No. 12 Oklahoma took down No. 6 Baylor 44-34 in front of an energized sellout crowd at McLane Stadium. The Sooners’ victory, combined with a 35-31 triumph by No. 8 Oklahoma State over Iowa State, means that OU (9-1, 6-1 in Big 12) and OSU (10-0, 7-0) control their destiny in the race to win a Big 12 title and project to be the two highest-ranked teams from the league when the next round of CFP standings is released Tuesday.
Baylor (8-1, 5-1) is destined to backtrack in the CFP rankings after watching its 20-game home winning streak end on a rainy night when the Bears struggled to unleash receiver Corey Coleman (three catches, 51 yards, no TDs) and failed to contain a balanced OU attack that rolled for 511 yards and six touchdowns. Along with Baylor’s loss, No. 15 TCU (9-1, 6-1) did little to impress selection committee members with Saturday’s 23-17 escape from winless Kansas in Fort Worth.
That means the inside track to determine the Big 12’s playoff fortunes, until further notice, runs through the state of Oklahoma. TCU and Baylor will get opportunities to redeem themselves next week, when the Horned Frogs play at Oklahoma and Baylor visits Oklahoma State.
But that is next week’s issue. After Saturday’s result, Baylor finds itself in extreme pursuit mode in its playoff quest because the Sooners had their way on the ground with running back Samaje Perine (28 carries, 166 yards, 2 TDs) and with the pass-and-catch combination of quarterback Baker Mayfield and receiver Sterling Shepard. Mayfield threw for 270 yards and three TDs. Shepard caught 14 passes for 177 yards and two scores.
A spirited, back-and-forth shootout with lots of momentum twists came down to a gritty fourth-quarter TD drive by the Sooners. Mayfield found Dimitri Flowers for a 7-yard score with 4:47 remaining that allowed the Sooners to boost a 37-34 lead to 44-34. The march was aided by a horse-collar tackle penalty on Baylor defensive back Travon Blanchard.
After the TD, Oklahoma safety Ahmad Thomas grabbed the second interception of the night thrown by Bears quarterback Jarrett Stidham to seal the Sooners’ biggest victory of the season.
Baylor coach Art Briles said Stidham (16-of-27, 257 yards, 2 TDs, 2 interceptions) tweaked his lower back on the Bears’ first drive, impacting subsequent play calls. Baylor ran the ball 44 times and passed it 27 times, including just three completions to Coleman, who was held without a touchdown catch for the first time in a game this season.
Asked about the extent of Stidham’s injury, Briles said: “He’s not very good, quite honestly. He got hurt on the first series of the game. He got treatment at halftime and he’s in pain right now. I don’t know what the extent of it is. Hopefully, it’s just muscular and it’ll settle down and he’ll be ready to go next week.”
Stidham downplayed the ailment more than Briles, saying he took a hit on the first series and felt a twinge but fought through it Saturday and expects to play next week against Oklahoma State.
“It was one of the first hits I took, but I don’t know exactly what happened,” said Stidham, who predicted the Bears will rebound next week against Oklahoma State. “This team’s resilient. We’re going to bounce back from this. This doesn’t define our season.”
Briles expressed disappointment in the Bears’ ground game, which averaged only 3.6 yards per carry (44 attempts, 159 yards).
“We weren’t very good tonight, overall. And that certainly hurt us because it helps complement the pass,” Briles said.
A pair of third-quarter Oklahoma touchdowns on consecutive drives allowed the Sooners to break a 20-20 tie and carve out a significant, two-score advantage that became pivotal throughout the second half. The Sooners moved 74 yards for the first touchdown, with Mayfield finding Shepard for his second TD of the night, a 7-yarder. On the Sooners’ next drive, Perine broke a 55-yard touchdown run that gave OU a 34-20 lead to protect in crunch time.
The Sooners carved out a 20-13 lead at intermission by leaning on Mayfield’s playmaking skills. The junior completed 15 of 20 passes in the opening half, including a 39-yard scoring strike. He also rushed for a 2-yard touchdown with 28 seconds remaining to hand Baylor its first halftime deficit in nine games this season.
The Bears responded with a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive on their first possession of the third quarter to knot matters at 20-20 and set the stage for later fireworks.
A heavy rain that fell throughout the first half caused Baylor to lean primarily on its ground game in the first 30 minutes. The Bears opened with an 80-yard touchdown march, covering 61 yards on the ground and ending with Devin Chafin’s 5-yard touchdown burst. A botched PAT left the lead at 6-0 but Oklahoma failed to convert a PAT after its second touchdown, so the gaffe did not figure heavily into subsequent strategic decisions.
Oklahoma responded with a pair of touchdowns to answer Baylor’s opening salvo, Perine capped a 65-yard march with a 6-yard burst up the middle, and Mayfield connected with Shepard on his second-quarter TD strike to extend the Sooners’ lead to 13-6.
Baylor caught a break on the Sooners’ next drive when Blanchard made a diving interception to give the Bears the ball at the OU 42-yard line. Baylor appeared destined to squander the field position until Sooners linebacker Dominique Alexander was called for a personal foul after a third-down stop of Stidham.
The penalty gave Baylor a fresh set of downs and Chafin added his second touchdown of the half on the next snap. Baylor converted the ensuing PAT and, on the conversion attempt, Sooners defensive tackle Matt Dimon was flagged for kicking a Baylor player. He was ejected from the game.
Baylor’s coaching situation also changed at halftime. Bears assistant Jeff Lebby, the Bears’ passing-game coordinator and running backs coach, sat out the first half under suspension from Big 12 officials because he was spotted on the Tulsa sideline during the Golden Hurricane’s Sept. 19 game against OU in Norman, Okla.
Lebby was there to visit Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery, Baylor’s former offensive coordinator, during the Bears’ bye week, but NCAA rules prohibit in-person scouting of future opponents.
So Big 12 officials required Lebby to sit out the first half Saturday.
Bay—Chafin 5 run (run failed), 10:26.
Okl—Perine 6 run (Seibert kick), 6:38.
Okl—Shepard 39 pass from Mayfield (kick failed), 8:53.
Bay—Chafin 3 run (Callahan kick), 2:58.
Okl—Mayfield 2 run (Seibert kick), :28.
Bay—Chafin 6 run (Callahan kick), 12:28.
Okl—Shepard 7 pass from Mayfield (Seibert kick), 9:52.
Okl—Perine 55 run (Seibert kick), 8:53.
Bay—McGowan 5 pass from Stidham (Callahan kick), 2:49.
Okl—FG Seibert 33, 14:47.
Bay—Lee 17 pass from Stidham (Callahan kick), 10:29.
Okl—Flowers 7 pass from Mayfield (Seibert kick), 4:47.
Time of Possession
RUSHING—Oklahoma, Perine 28-166, Mayfield 15-76, Mixon 7-7, Team 3-(minus 8). Baylor, Linwood 21-103, Chafin 13-49, Stidham 10-7.
PASSING—Oklahoma, Mayfield 24-34-1-270. Baylor, Stidham 16-27-2-257.
RECEIVING—Oklahoma, Shepard 14-177, Flowers 2-26, Neal 2-22, Westbrook 2-19, Mixon 2-18, Perine 1-6, Quick 1-2. Baylor, Cannon 5-77, Lee 3-59, Coleman 3-51, Linwood 2-4, Penning 1-39, Hall 1-22, McGowan 1-5.