Battle for the 2019 Big 12 Championship
Like last season’s Big 12 Championship, this year’s iteration will feature one team trying to get revenge for a loss during the regular season. But unlike last season, both clubs have a viable shot of reaching the College Football Playoff with a win (and chaos elsewhere this weekend).
This year’s game gets an early start, kicking off from AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas at 12:00pm EST. The game will start with the results of the PAC-12 Championship Game from Friday known, and whether or not #5 Utah was able to defeat #13 Oregon to enhance their own chances at reaching the CFP. A win by both Utah and Oklahoma could set off a fight for the #4 seed in the CFP, while a loss by both or either might clinch a spot in the playoff for the loser of the SEC Championship Game. Nevertheless, all teams playing this weekend control their own fates and want to come out on top in their respective games.
Let’s take a closer look at what is sure to be an exciting game in Arlington Saturday afternoon:
The Sooners had high expectations at the start of the season, and were the overwhelming preseason favorites to win the Big 12, with the Big 12 media picking the Sooners to win the league for the fourth straight season. They were also highly ranked on the national scene, following up on last season’s CFP Semifinal loss to Alabama in the Orange Bowl by checking in at #4 in the Preseason AP Poll.
They met those lofty expectations early on, winning their first seven games, including their first four Big 12 games (Texas Tech, Kansas, Texas, and West Virginia). However, their dreams for an undefeated season were dashed on a trip to Manhattan, KS and a 48-41 loss to Kansas State. Nevertheless, the Sooners recovered, winning their final four games – including a come-from-behind victory at Baylor – to finish the season 11-1 (8-1 Big 12).
Oklahoma has not struggled to move the ball this season, leading the nation in averaging 564.3 yards per game in a mostly balanced attack. They’ve also scored 532 this season, good enough for 44.3 points a game and a 5th-place rank nationally.
Passing: The Sooners passing game is ranked 16th in the nation at 304.3 yards per game. The bulk of that damage has been done by senior Alabama graduate transfer Jalen Hurts, who enters the game ranked third nationally in passing efficiency. He’s thrown for 3,347 yards (on 71.9% passing), with 31 touchdowns and six interceptions. His favorite target has been junior receiver CeeDee Lamb, who leads the team in the three major receiving categories – 50 catches for 1,035 yards and 14 touchdowns. Redshirt sophomore Charleston Rambo is second, with 40 catches for 711 yards and five touchdowns of his own.
Rushing: The Oklahoma rushing attack is 9th nationally with 260.0 yards per game. Quarterback Jalen Hurts is the team’s leading rusher, accounting for 1,217 yards on 196 carries (6.2 ypc) and 18 touchdowns. Redshirt sophomore Kennedy Brooks is the top running back, with 128 carries for 917 yards (7.2 ypc) and four touchdowns.
The Sooners defense has found itself in some shootouts this season (which tends to happen in the Big 12). That said, they are a respectable 26th in total defense at 336.1 yards per game. They’re also ranked 50th in points allowed, surrendering 296 points this season, a 24.7 per game average.
Passing: One of the reasons for their success in the Big 12 this season has been their pass defense. They are number one in the conference (#22 nationally) in passing yards allowed, with opposing quarterbacks averaging only 195.9 yards a game. This is despite only intercepting seven passes all season, with the team lead (2) going to sophomore Brendan Radley-Hiles. They were also tied for 44th nationally with 29 sacks, led by sophomore defensive end Ronnie Perkin’s six.
Rushing: The Sooners are fourth in the Big 12 (48th nationally) in surrendering 140.2 yards per game on the ground. Their robust offense often makes their opponents’ running games moot, and a lot of yards on the ground were surrendered late in games after the opposing team had given up. This does not mean they didn’t stop rushers when it mattered, as the team finished 21st nationally with 86 tackles for loss (7.2 per game). They were again paced by Ronnie Perkins, who tied with Kenneth Murray for the team lead with 13 TFLs.
The Bears did not enter the season with the same lofty expectations. After a 7-6 season last season, they were picked to finish 6th in the 10-team Big 12. They nonetheless began the season 9-0 and climbed as high as 12th before losing to Oklahoma, their only loss on the season. They also finished the season 11-1 (8-1 Big 12).
Compared to the Sooners, the Bears offense has looked middling, but middling in the Big 12 is still good enough for 33rd nationally with 445.1 yards per game. They’ve also scored 36.2 points per game, good for 15th in the nation.
Passing: The Bears are no slouch when it comes to moving the ball through the air, though nearly every other club looks as such compared to the Sooners. The Bears’ 258.9 passing yards per game rank 41st nationally (and 5th in the Big 12). Junior quarterback Charlie Brewer has accounted for 2,935 yards, with 20 touchdowns and six interceptions. Denzel Mims leads the receivers with 61 receptions for 945 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Rushing: The Bears rushing attack is ranked 41st nationally despite averaging a robust 186.2 yards a game on the ground. It’s a two-headed monster in the backfield, with two running backs over 600 yards. John Lovett leads with 618 yards (and five TDs), while JaMycal Hasty has 602 yards and seven touchdowns. Though not nearly as proficient as Hurts for the Sooners, Brewer leads the club with 10 rushing touchdowns… as well as 340 rushing yards.
Baylor’s defense has had to work a bit harder than the Sooners, and it has shown in some of their results this season. They won two games in overtime – two overtimes against Texas Tech and three overtimes at TCU – and went 5-1 in games decided by less than 10 points. They’ve surrendered an average of 352.8 yards per game (good for 39th in the country) and have allowed only 18.4 points a game, good for first in the Big 12 – and tied for 13th nationally.
Passing: The Baylor pass defense is third in the conference, and 43rd nationally, at 209.1 yards per game. Unlike Oklahoma, however, they force more turnovers through the air, with Grayland Arnold nearly matching Oklahoma alone with six interceptions. Baylor is also in the top ten in team sacks with 40, with James Lynch leading with 10.5 sacks.
Rushing: The Bears are right behind Oklahoma in the conference in rush defense, yielding 143.7 yards per game. In two games this season, they surrendered over 225 yards on the ground to their opponent. One of those games was their loss against Oklahoma, which we’ll talk about in the next section. The other was against Oklahoma State, where they surrendered 281 yards (on 50 carries). Eliminate those two games, and the average surrendered per game drops to 121. Either way, they are going to have their hands full with Hurts and company on Saturday.
The (Last) Game
When these clubs last met, the Bears dominated the first half, leading 31-10 at the break and holding the Sooners to 162 yards of total offense. Charlie Brewer had two passing touchdowns (both to Denzel Mims), and added two more on the ground. Baylor looked ready to win their fourth game ever against Oklahoma.
They wouldn’t score again.
Jalen Hurts had three passing touchdowns in the second half, leading the Sooners to 24 unanswered points to win 34-31. The Bears would have to wait until their next match to get that fourth overall win (they’re now 3-26 against the Sooners), but at least they improved on their 2018 result, a 66-33 loss in Norman.
Will Baylor find a way to snap Oklahoma’s five game winning streak against them? It’s not looking good. The top-seeded Sooners enter the game as nine-point favorites, which equals about a 63% chance of winning the game per FiveThirtyEight. But we are three weeks removed from the Bears taking that lead, and the game will be played in Texas.
Even so, I’d honestly be less surprised if Oklahoma has a result similar to last year than one like three weeks ago. The Sooners have simply been the better team this season. If the Bears keep it within two touchdowns, I’d be surprised.
Prediction: Oklahoma 45 – Baylor 27