The Big 12 Championship Game race hit a pivotal stretch in Week 12 as the top two teams in the standings, No. 13 Baylor and No. 10 Oklahoma, battled for first place. For one half, the undefeated Bears looked like the team to beat in the conference. But as we know with the Sooners, nothing’s ever really out of reach. From a 28-3 second-quarter deficit, Oklahoma outscored Baylor 31-3, including 24-0 in the second half, to survive and advance 34-31. The 25-point comeback marked the largest in program history.
Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts was incredible in the game. Though he threw an early interception and also fumbled the ball away, he bounced back to absolutely dominate the game in the second half. Hurts finished with 297 yards passing and four touchdowns to go along with 114 yards rushing.
Indeed, this was a game of halves. Baylor absolutely dominated the first 30 minutes with the Sooners getting their revenge in the final two quarters. The difference was particularly noticeable in plays run, time of possession and first downs. Oklahoma simply held on to the ball for practically the entire second half.
All of this was done without Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, who missed the game due to medical reasons. He is Hurts’ top target and probably the team’s best overall player. For the Sooners to complete a historic comeback without him is monumental. Or as Hurts told ESPN after the game, “A 25-point comeback without CeeDee Lamb? That speaks for itself.”
Here’s what we learned from Oklahoma’s thrilling rally.
1. This comeback was signature Jalen Hurts:Look, Hurts has his limitations. He doesn’t have the biggest arm. While he’s a great runner, he’s more susceptible to being brought down in the pocket and he can get off his reads quickly sometimes. Lately, it feels like he’s either being asked to do too much, or he’s trying too hard. His ball security on Saturday was poor. Baylor in the first half did an amazing job of getting pressure on him and making him uncomfortable. But you’re not going to find many critics of Hurts as a competitor — if any. Hurts has led these types of comebacks before, including last year’s 14-point, fourth-quarter comeback over Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.
However, this was another animal. Oklahoma was getting pushed around in the trenches by Baylor’s defense — which, by the way, finished with four sacks, four quarterback hurries and six tackles for loss on top of five forced fumbles. For a large chunk of the game, Oklahoma’s most reliable play was Hurts scrambling for big yards to move the chains. He did that to the tune of 114 yards on a team-high 27 carries. But as the game went on and Baylor’s defense wore down (the Sooners ran 95 plays), Hurts began to find more targets in the passing game. Lee Morris, Charleston Rambo and AD Miller all became big targets as the game progressed with a combined 15 catches for 183 yards). In the end, Hurts accounted for 411 of Oklahoma’s 525 yards along with four touchdowns.
Hurts nearly squandered Oklahoma’s comeback with a brutal fumble at the goal line when his team was down 31-17. Red zone turnovers and needless mistakes have been one area that has plagued Hurts’ game this year. But to his credit, he’s been able to put his mistakes behind him and win games.
“You can’t never get too high, never get too low,” Hurts told ESPN after the game. “I know I made some critical mistakes, and I know the other guys are always watching me. So I always try to set the right example for them, show there’s always hope, always opportunity to get it done. We got it done today.”
2. Oklahoma’s defense showed up big in the second half: Hurts will be the story — and rightfully so — but let’s give some (OK, a lot of) credit to Oklahoma’s defense. After getting blown off the ball in the first half, the Sooners showed the strides they made under defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. It really was a tale of two halves with Baylor running only 16 plays for 129 yards in the final 30 minutes Conversely, the Sooners defense did an outstanding job of staying off the field in the final 30 minutes. After getting dominated in the first half, they allowed just two first downs in the second half (minus penalties) — both on the final drive of the game. Baylor ran just 16 plays in the second half.
This defense is at its best when linebacker Kenneth Murray is a difference-maker. He was the team’s leading tackler with eight takedowns, seven of which were solo and two of which were behind the line of scrimmage. Getting off the field on third downs was a marked improvement from the first half to the second. Again, this defense is a work-in-progress. It’s not a complete shutdown unit with tremendous depth yet that can win a championship. However, Grinch has done some nice things with this group and this was the best 30 minutes of defense this team has played in a month.
3. Baylor is still in position to make the Big 12 Championship Game: This loss is going to sting for Matt Rhule’s team, no doubt about it. However, the Bears can still accomplish what they set out to do at the beginning of the season. The Sooners hold the tiebreaker for first place in the Big 12 standings, but Baylor is still two games ahead of Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Texas, all of which sit at 4-3. Baylor gets the Longhorns at home in Week 13 and can clinch a spot in Arlington, Texas, for the conference title with a win.
If you were to say that three years ago the Bears would go 1-11 in Rhule’s first year only for this program to compete for a conference title in 2019, few people would have believed it. Rhule has done an excellent job of cleaning things up and getting cornerstone players like defensive lineman James Lynch to buy in and be real difference-makers. Now the results are showing.
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