Sooners Keep Streaks Intact

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John Rohde
By John Rohde
Special to SoonerSports.com
SEPTEMBER 24, 2017

Oklahoma's collection of various winning streaks remained intact Saturday night. “Bearly.”

The winless Baylor Bears were four-touchdown underdogs at home, but continually clawed at the No. 3-ranked Sooners before eventually succumbing 49-41 at McLane Stadium.

Throughout the week, OU head coach Lincoln Riley warned that Baylor was “getting better and better” and had key players returning, which might help explain why the Bears' had 523 yards of total offense while running 26 more plays that the Sooners.

"We've got to do a lot better, but we will."
- Head Coach Lincoln Riley

When his team was sluggish in the first half of the previous week's home victory over Tulane, Riley delivered a succinct post-game message: “All wins are hard.”

Riley repeated the refrain after Saturday night's survival in Waco.

“We're very, very excited about the win,” Riley said after becoming only the third OU head football coach (out of 22) to start his career 4-0. “That was probably the biggest message to our guys in the locker room. Winning's hard. You can't take it for granted. And we're damn sure not too good to appreciate it. We've got to do a lot of things better. We've got to coach better. We've got to play better on all three sides of the ball. We had some critical mistakes tonight that let that game get close. So we've got to do a lot better, but we will.”

After going winless in non-conference play, and despite trailing 28-10 early in the second quarter, the determined Bears (0-4, 0-1) fought back to take a 31-28 lead late in the third quarter. The Sooners responded with a 21-0 run of their own to take a 49-31 advantage and eventually sealed the win by forcing a turnover on an Ogbo Okoronkwo sack with 1:24 remaining.

“We hit a lot of big plays in the first quarter,” Riley explained of the Sooners needing just seven total plays to score their first three touchdowns while building a 21-7 lead. “I didn't do a very good job in the second quarter. I got a little impatient. Didn't put our guys in a great position. They made some adjustments defensively and it took me too long to catch up.”

Several OU drives stalled with untimely penalties (10 for 105 yards), plus a fumble. “You've got to have perseverance,” Riley said. “You can't expect that every one is going to be a blowout. You're going to have tight games like that. This is a good conference.”

The victory allowed the Sooners to keep several streaks alive:

  • They extended their nation-leading winning streak to 14 games (tied for seventh longest in program history). They're averaging 46.9 points during the streak and have scored at least 30 points in each of those victories (a school record).
  • They have now won 17 straight Big 12 games (tied for the longest streak in school history), 13 straight true road games (third longest in school history) and 11 straight conference road games (a school record and second longest in Big 12 history to Texas' 13 straight from 2003-06).
  • Saturday marked 371 days since OU's last loss (vs. Ohio State on Sept. 17, 2016) and 714 days since its last Big 12 defeat (vs. Texas on Oct. 10, 2015).
  • The Sooners are now 16-5 (.762) all-time in Big 12 road openers and have won seven straight.
  • Saturday's game marked the sixth straight in which the Sooners did not throw an interception. The last time OU went six consecutive games without throwing an interception was 1986, when it went seven straight games.
  • The Sooners are 24-3 all-time against Baylor, including a 12-2 mark in Waco and have won three straight in the series.

For the second straight week, the OU offense hit double digits in yards per play. In the 56-14 victory at home over Tulane, the Sooners gained 631 yards and averaged 10.2 yards-per-play, their most ever at home. In the win at Baylor, they amassed 625 total yards and averaged 10.6 yards-per-play. OU leads the nation in yards per game (606) and yards per play (9.1).

OU senior quarterback and Heisman Trophy contender Baker Mayfield posted modest passing numbers by his standards against Baylor, completing 13 of 19 for 283 yards and three touchdowns and still has yet to throw an interception this season. He attempted just six passes in the second half, one in the fourth quarter.

“Up-and-down for us offensively,” Mayfield said. “Shot ourselves in the foot too much. Wasn't my best game, but, you know, I don't think any of the guys would say the same for the first half.”

The Sooners opened the game with three touchdowns on seven plays. When Mayfield did pass, they often went for big chunks of yardage, averaging 21.8 yards per completion. Four OU receivers averaged 22-plus yards per reception – Dimitri Flowers (52.0), Jeff Badet (28.5), Mark Andrews (24.0) and CeeDee Lamb (22.7).

OU sophomore running back Abdul Adams averaged 14.9 yards per carry with 164 yards on 11 rushes, which included a school-record 99-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter. True freshman Trey Sermon averaged 12.3 yards per rush with 148 yards on 12 carries and two touchdowns, all of it coming in the fourth quarter.

In the second half, 27 of OU's 33 offensive plays were rushing attempts and amassed 232 yards (8.6 per carry). “We established the line of scrimmage in the second half and we were able to run the ball well, so I didn't even need to throw. That's good for me,” Mayfield said. “But we need to play physical like that from the get-go. And I think once we settled in and realized that you can't take anybody lightly, I think we would have played better.”

On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator/outside linebackers coach Mike Stoops admitted to having flashbacks to last season, when the Sooners ranked 111th (out of 128 FBS teams) in passing yards allowed and 82nd in total defense.

“It opened a lot of wounds from last year,” Stoops recalled. “That's the disappointing part for us, and that's what's concerning and we have to be concerned. As long as we address it as coaches, we can learn and move forward from it. That's what we need to do as a team and that's what we'll do.”

"As long as we address it as coaches, we can learn and move forward from it. That's what we need to do as a team and that's what we'll do.”
- Mike Stoops

The Sooners are battling multiple injuries, particularly in the secondary, and fatigue played a role. Temperature at kickoff was 92 degrees, the warmest for an OU game since the 2014 season opener against Louisiana Tech (93 degrees).

“I thought we played tired again tonight against a fresh team,” Stoops said. “I just didn't think we had that pop we need. They hit some 70-yarders on third down and then it's chaos again.”

Baylor sophomore quarterback Zach Smith entered the contest having made just one start this season, completing 36.1 percent of his passes for 279 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions. Against the Sooners, Smith completed 33 of 50 for 463 yards and four touchdowns. Sophomore receiver Denzel Mims, who came in with seven catches for 214 yards, had 11 receptions against OU for 192 yards and three touchdowns.

“Just disappointed in not being able to make enough plays,” Stoops said. “They obviously opened it up ... They did a good job. They made some great contested plays. We obviously didn't make enough on our end and let them hang around. Overall our execution just wasn't very good.”

Riley added, “Look, give the Baylor guys credit. They made some unreal throws and made some incredible catches. We've still got a ways to go. We're still too inconsistent. We've got good intentions, but we veer off on our own too much right now. We're a work in progress.”

The Sooners (4-0, 1-0) have a bye week before hosting Iowa State on Oct. 7, and there will be multiple points of emphasis at practice the next two weeks.

“It's game four," Riley said. "We've got a lot of room for improvement.”