By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
WACO, Texas – Going tarp-less didn’t mean going winless.
The biggest football game in Baylor history became the biggest victory (so far) in Baylor history. The No. 5 Bears delivered on the hype and the anticipation, overcame injuries and an uncertain start to roll to a 41-12 victory over No. 8 Oklahoma Thursday night.
Floyd Casey Stadium has come equipped with a tarp that covered unneeded seats. Victories over Oklahoma in 2011 and Kansas State in 2012 – both top five teams – were unexpected pleasures that few saw coming. The Sooners’ visit – moved to Thursday for television purposes – had been anticipated for months with the hype building as the season unfolded.
“As far as the whole hype of the game, we haven’t had anything like this,” Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty said. “We’re in the top 10, they were in the top 10 … I was proud how we handled things. It wasn’t the cleanest game we’ve played, to win even ugly, was good.”
Good, better and ugly. The good was Baylor extending its record to 8-0 for the first time in program history and 5-0 in the Big 12 Conference. The better was Stanford’s 26-20 victory over Oregon. The Bears are No. 6 in the BCS standings while Oregon is No. 3 and Stanford is No. 5. The standings will shuffle come Sunday.
The ugly? Senior receiver Tevin Reese, the offense’s big play threat, suffered a dislocated wrist midway through the second quarter. He might be able to return for the bowl game. Running backs Lache Seastrunk (groin muscle) and Glasgo Martin (knee) were sidelined after the first quarter. Martin will undergo an MRI Friday.
“I hate that for Tevin, that hit me hard, that hurts,” said Petty, who finished 13 of 26 for 204 yards and three touchdowns while also rushing for two TDs. ”Levi did a great job stepping up. We’ll have to fight through some things.”
Baylor coach Art Briles has made the point that the Bears have Big 12 quality depth. That was proven true by freshman running back Shock Linwood. In mop up duty this season, he was the Bears’ second-leading rusher, averaging 8.1 yards per carry and 73.8 yards per game.
“Shock could be starting anywhere in the Big 12,” Petty said. “He’s behind two phenomenal running backs. But he stays positive, he comes to work every day with a smile on his face and wants to get better.”
With his team in need, Linwood provided an electric shock. He gained a career-high 182 yards on 23 carries as the Bears had a 255-87 edge in rushing yards.
“Getting carries earlier this season was a big help,” said Linwood, who had several long runs including a 39-yarder. “I was able to get my feet wet and I got some confidence. I was the next man up.
“When it’s your time, you have to seize that opportunity. It’s not a place for the timid.”
Baylor’s explosive offense – Bryce Petty And The Point Makers - finished far short of its hard-to-fathom averages because it was sloppy for much of the first half. The Bears took an early 3-0 lead but then Petty was sacked for a safety and the Sooners turned the ensuing possession into a field goal and a freaky 5-3 lead in a span of 1:13 early in the second quarter.
Oklahoma, though, could have had a 14-3 lead. The Sooners ran eight plays inside the Baylor 10. The first possession ended on downs and led to the safety and the second produced the worst kind of field goal, a 22-yarder.
“We could see they were deflated after they didn’t get in the end zone,” Baylor defensive back K.J. Morton said. “Red zone defense is a huge emphasis. Teams get down there and are eager to score, we just pin our ears back and do anything in our power to stop them.
“You can tell when you knock the fire out of somebody. Field goals won’t beat us.”
The defense, once considered Baylor’s biggest weakness, is now a strength. After their defensive brothers held the (good old Baylor) line, the offense got untracked.
“I know that everyone talks about their offense, which is really good,” said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, whose team generated just 237 yards of total offense. “I knew their defense was really good with all the seniors they have. Defensively, they were all over us all day.
"You’re not going to come here, get one touchdown and think you’re going to win."
With three of his top weapons sidelined, Petty carried a career-high 16 times for 45 yards. His 20-yard gain set up his 5-yard keeper 7:02 before halftime. When the Sooners’ offense couldn’t respond, the Bears drove 93 yards in nine plays to make it 17-5 with 60 seconds left in the first half.
“We thought Oklahoma would come out in the two-minute drill and try to drive it on us,” Baylor linebacker Eddie Lackey said.
On the first play from the Sooners’ 28, Lackey slipped in front of the OU receiver and picked off Blake Bell’s pass at the Oklahoma 38.
Petty, who is on pace to set the NCAA single-season record for passing efficiency, struggled against the Sooners’ 3-3-5 alignment that pressured him and took away the deep pass. But on second and 10 from the OU 24, Petty found Antwan Goodley streaking toward the end zone. Goodley made a lunging, finger-tip catch for a 24-5 lead. Two touchdowns in 47 seconds. Ball game.
“I definitely thought I overthrew him, what a great catch,” Petty said.
Baylor faces Texas Tech at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Nov. 16 before road trips to Oklahoma State and TCU. The Bears close the season at home against Texas on Dec. 7. Thursday night’s game started a closing five-game stretch that can make the doubters believers.
“I hope people start changing their outlook on our defense and our team,” senior safety Ahmad Dixon said. “We played lights out football. Keep doubting us. We’ll win our respect sooner or later.”
Briles and the Baylor program has been receiving considerable attention and media coverage as writers are “discovering” the story. When Briles showed up in Waco six years ago, what the Bears are now is what was imagined.
“We had to sell them on vision, hope and faith, without question. We didn’t have a lot of reality,” Briles said of his recruiting pitch. “And we had some really good football players that bought in. We wanted trailblazers, we wanted mavericks, we wanted guys that weren’t afraid to go down a path that nobody had ever gone down before, because that’s what you look for. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will.”
In the second-to-last game in Floyd Casey Stadium, a crowd of 50,537 - most dressed, like the Bears, for a “black out” – rocked the night away. The packed house was made possible when a tarp covering about 3,500 seats at the south end of the stadium was removed. Some thought removing the tarp – emblazoned with “This Is Bear Country” – would bring bad luck.
“We weren’t really sure how it was going to go over,” Briles said. “It just shows you, if you don’t have vision, then you have no opportunity. Our people had a vision, and everybody jumped on board, and I think it made a tremendous difference tonight, without question. We did a great job of having a home field.”
It was the first game the tarp had missed since Oct. 28, 2006. That was back in the days when Baylor hoped to avoid a winless Big 12 season. Now the Bears are tarp-less and loss-less.