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Baylor stays in Big 12 title game race

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It’s going to be a wild final two weeks, and Baylor is thrilled to still be in the Big 12 championship game race.

With their riveting 27-14 win over Oklahoma, the No. 11 Bears can reach the Dec. 4 Big 12 championship game at AT&T Stadium. But they’ll likely need some help.

No. 12 Oklahoma and No. 9 Oklahoma State are tied for the Big 12 lead at 6-1 while Baylor is third at 5-2. The Bears travel to Kansas State on Saturday before closing the regular season with a home date against Texas Tech on Nov. 27.

The Sooners host Iowa State on Saturday before ending the regular season with the Bedlam game against the Cowboys in Stillwater. The Cowboys travel to Texas Tech on Saturday before facing the Sooners.

If the Bears win their last two games, they’ll need to root for the Cowboys to beat the Sooners. That would knock Oklahoma out of the Big 12 championship game picture with losses to both Oklahoma State and Baylor. If Oklahoma State beats Texas Tech and loses to Oklahoma, the Cowboys would still make the Big 12 champi-onship game since they beat the Bears, 24-14, on Oct. 2 in Stillwater.

After Baylor fans stormed the field Saturday afternoon, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley was irked that Baylor coach Dave Aranda called a time out with three seconds remaining to have Isaiah Hankins kick a 32-yard field goal to give the Bears a 13-point differential.

“I can understand that,” Aranda said after the game. “I can understand that it’s emotion, and it’s an emotional game. I consider Lincoln a friend, so I imagine we’ll talk here pretty quick.”

But Aranda wanted to kick the field goal to give Baylor an edge in point differential if needed to reach the Big 12 championship game since the Bears lost to Oklahoma State by 10.

The point differential could come into play in a three-team tiebreaking procedure, but it’s not at the top of the list. After comparing head-to-head competition among the three tied teams, the next step in the tiebreaking procedure is which team beat the next highest team among the remainder of the Big 12 standings. The point differential between the three teams follows that tiebreaking procedure, so it’s a long shot that would come into play.

Aranda looked at the tiebreaking procedures early in the week before the Oklahoma game and wanted to be prepared for all scenarios. Baylor quarterback Gerry Bohanon wasn’t surprised that Aranda had all his bases covered.

“To be honest with you, that’s Coach Aranda from all aspects,” Bohanon said. “He’s always just on point. You can never really question what he does because it always makes sense and there’s always a reason behind it. And to think in that split-second, we’ve got to do this for this. The time and situation, he’s always thinking big picture. He’s going to make the best decision possible. Kudos to him.”

Of course, the Bears have to win their last two games to have a legitimate shot to reach the Big 12 title game. They’ll need to prove they can beat a hot Kansas State team in Manhattan after losing their last two road games to Oklahoma State and TCU. With Saturday’s 34-17 win over West Virginia, the Wildcats (7-3, 4-3) have won four straight games.

Then the Bears will have to beat the Red Raiders at McLane Stadium, which could be difficult after Baylor outside linebackers coach Joey McGuire became Texas Tech’s head coach last Monday.

If the Bears continue to play great defense like they did against Oklahoma, they’ll have a shot to win any game. The Bears limited an offense that was averaging 477 yards and 42.7 points per game to a season-low 260 yards and two touchdowns.

The Bears held the Sooners to 78 yards rushing and put a great deal of pressure on Oklahoma starting quarterback Caleb Williams by sacking him three times and sacking Spencer Rattler twice after he entered the game late in the third quarter.

Pressured by Baylor’s pass rush, Williams threw interceptions to cornerbacks Kalon Barnes and Al Walcott. The Baylor defensive line’s ability to stop the run and pressure the quarterback has made a difference in winning the last four home games.

“I think that our ability to stop the run on defense has been a game-changer for us,” Aranda said. “Initially, at the start of the year, we had to stop the run with eight-man fronts or run stunts or run blitzes or run coverages. And we struggled to defend it. It kind of goes back to, it’s not the scheme, it’s the execution, it’s the energy guys bring.”

Baylor’s ground game led by Abram Smith has also been a major factor in fashioning the Bears’ 8-2 record. With Smith rushing for 148 yards on 20 carries and Bohanon picking up 107 yards on nine carries and scoring two touchdowns, the Bears gashed Oklahoma’s defense for 296 rushing yards after it had previously allowed just 111 yards per game.

The Bears are far and away the best rushing team in the Big 12 with 237.5 yards per game while averaging 5.9 yards per carry. Smith is making a case for Big 12 offensive player of the year as he leads the league with 1,203 yards rushing while averaging 7.3 yards per carry and scoring 11 touchdowns. Trestan Ebner ranks ninth in the league with 642 yards rushing while averaging 5.9 yards per carry.

Baylor’s running game has worn down opposing defenses as the Bears clearly showed against the Sooners when they drove 80 yards on 11 plays and took 5:50 off the clock in the fourth quarter to open up a 24-7 lead with 2:26 remaining.

“I think playing us, Baylor football our standard, at some point we see every opponent wear down,” Bohanon said. “We practice so hard. When we returned, looking at the other guys on the other side it’s like keep going. We play for each other and motivate each other.”

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Sportswriter at the Tribune-Herald since 1982. When days free up in the summers, I head to the mountains, the desert, rivers & lakes. Places where God’s grandeur overwhelms you. Places best explored by foot, all day and sometimes for several days.

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