Fresh off a loss to Oklahoma, No. 10 Baylor looks to rebound against No. 4 Oklahoma State in Stillwater— a place the Bears haven’t won since 1939.
Art Briles hasn’t lost back-to-back games since 2012, and will walk into Boone Pickens Stadium Saturday at the helm of the most efficient offense in the country. ESPN’s Football Power Index gives Baylor a 61.5 percent likelihood of winning, despite Oklahoma State being one of five remaining unbeaten teams in the country.
“I don’t hear anything about being undefeated, and I haven’t really heard much about the rankings,” Oklahoma State Coach Mike Gundy said this week in a clear attempt to modulate the outside noise.
A win for the Cowboys would bring the team to 11-0 for the first time in program history, leaving them one win away from a berth in the College Football Playoff. How could the noise not be deafening?
While both teams have gained notoriety this season for their accomplishments through the air — each rank in the top 11 in passing offense and throw for more than 345 yards per game — Saturday’s matchup will ultimately be decided on the ground.
Behind junior running back Shock Linwood, Baylor ranks fifth in the country in rushing offense, accruing 292.2 yards per contest; the Bears are the only team in the country that ranks in the top 11 in both passing and rushing offense. Linwood has big-play ability — 10 rushes this season of 20-plus yards — and is a critical counterweight to what quarterback Jarrett Stidham brings with this arm.
Linwood’s yards-per-carry average has dipped in recent weeks against conference opponents, but he still leads the Big 12 and ranks fourth nationally in the metric.
The Cowboys tout the third-best rushing defense in the Big 12, allowing just 157.5 yards per contest. However, Oklahoma State has allowed more than 215 yards on the ground and more than four yards per carry in each of the past two games. Since the season began, the Cowboys have increasingly absorbed more damage on the ground, and that’s no more apparent than in the team’s last five games.
Against Iowa State, Oklahoma State was prone to allowing long-yardage rushing plays, which nearly led to the team’s first loss of the season. In total, defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer’s outfit gave up 6.6 yards per carry to a team that ranks outside the top 45 in rushing offense.
Oklahoma underscored the blueprint last week on how to beat Baylor: make its offense one-dimensional. By neutralizing Baylor’s rushing attack to the tune of 159 yards and 3.61 yards per carry, the Sooners forced Stidham to take shots down the field and intercepted two passes in the second half. The Cowboys lead the Big 12 with five defensive touchdowns this season and will need to gain that leverage by pressuring the ground game.
Baylor averages 6.26 yards per carry, the second best average of any team in the country. If Linwood can find any semblance of consistency on the ground Saturday, Baylor will be in a position to knock off the Cowboys and vault the Bears back into the College Football Playoff discussion.
Josh Planos has been published at the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, the Guardian, the Pacific Standard and VICE, among other publications. He has been heard on CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio and ESPN Radio. Planos is currently a Digital Editor at KETV NewsWatch 7 and a freelance writer.