The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: Formidable Big 12 Conference foes will do battle in Stillwater on Saturday, as the 19th-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys entertain the 22nd-ranked Baylor Bears.
Baylor is brimming with confidence, as it posted a 30-22 victory over Texas last Saturday, the first win for the program in Austin since 1991. It is somewhat hard to believe that the Bears are 7-2 overall and 4-1 in Big 12 play, as they were the doormat of the conference for what seemed like forever. Baylor carries a three-game win streak and a noticeable swagger into this weekend's tilt.
"I just think we are getting better," said head coach Art Briles, who has turned the Baylor program around. "That is kind of what we have been feeling here the last three or four weeks. I just felt like our team is gelling."
As for Oklahoma State, it opened the season with six straight wins before falling to Nebraska in a 51-41 final. Fortunately, the Cowboys got back on track last weekend with a 24-14 triumph over Kansas State on the road. The remaining schedule is tough for coach Mike Gundy and company, but like every coach in the nation, Gundy keeps his focus on a week-to-week basis.
"This is a good win for our football team," said Gundy of the triumph over Kansas State. "I am very proud of the way we competed. Our coaches came up with a good game plan and it was a very good win for our team."
Oklahoma State owns a 16-12 series advantage over Baylor, which includes four consecutive wins.
Baylor wasn't perfect offensively in the victory over Texas, as the Bears posted a modest total of 328 total yards and turned the ball over twice. They made just two trips to the red zone and surrendered three sacks, but quarterback Robert Griffin made enough plays to lift his team to victory. The versatile signal caller completed 16-of-24 throws for 219 yards and two touchdowns while also running for a score. Jay Finley had yet another outstanding day running the football for the Bears, as he totaled 116 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.
While Baylor did surrender 428 total yards to the Texas offense, the defense exemplified the phrase "bend but don't break." When the dust settled, the Bears had only allowed one touchdown, forcing Texas to settle for five field goals.
"They certainly left us in the game early by forcing field goals and that is huge," said Briles of the play of his defense versus Texas.
Overall this season, Baylor is scoring 34.3 ppg to go along with 490.4 total ypg. Finley has racked up 813 rushing yards and six touchdowns, and he is averaging 6.8 yards per carry. Griffin, who has run for seven scores, has completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 2,592 yards and 20 touchdowns against five interceptions, numbers that certainly make him a strong candidate for Big 12 Player of the Year honors. Kendall Wright paces a talented group of receivers with 51 catches for 702 yards and six scores.
Opponents are scoring 23.1 ppg against Baylor this season, and Briles' team is allowing 390.3 total ypg. Of the 23 touchdowns that have been surrendered to opposing offenses, 14 have been rushing scores. A total of 19 sacks and 16 takeaways have been posted by the Bears, who are permitting foes to make good on 41 percent of their third-down conversion attempts.
Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon is one of the top players in the nation at his position. Unfortunately, he was suspended for last weekend's game against Kansas State for an off-the-field issue. In his absence, the Cowboys still managed to post 511 total yards, and quarterback Brandon Weeden completed 22- of-39 passes for 298 yards and two touchdowns. Bo Bowling led the receivers with eight catches for 92 yards, and Kendall Hunter rumbled for 143 yards on 28 rushing attempts.
"We should be a good football team with any one player or coach missing," said Gundy when asked to comment on Blackmon's suspension. "We would have loved to have Justin but he chose to not be a team player. We had some good players step up in his absence."
Blackmon is expected to be back in the lineup this weekend, and he has already caught 62 passes for 1,112 yards and 14 touchdowns through the seven games that he has played. Weeden has connected on 65.2 percent of his throws for 2,547 yards and 23 touchdowns against nine interceptions, and Hunter has rushed for 1,174 yards and 12 scores. The Cowboys are generating 45.2 ppg and rank second nationally in total yards per game (527.2 ypg).
The Oklahoma State defense is often overlooked, but the unit deserves plenty of credit for its performance against Kansas State. The Cowboys permitted just 289 total yards, including 111 rushing yards on 37 attempts. Most importantly, only 14 points were allowed in the clash.
Opponents are posting 28.5 ppg against the Cowboys, who are yielding 407.0 total ypg. Clearly, they were much better against Kansas State than they have been overall. The run defense has actually been quite good, limiting foes to 3.5 yards per carry. Unfortunately, 18 touchdowns and 272.6 ypg have been permitted through the air.
In what figures to be one of the highest-scoring games of the college football weekend, give a narrow edge to Oklahoma State. Expect Blackmon to play with added motivation, which is certainly a scary thing for the Baylor secondary.