In the first four years since his hiring, Oklahoma rode Lincoln Riley‘s offense to four Big 12 championships. The No. 6 Sooners made it a perfect 5-for-5 on Saturday, but this time they overcame their offense and leaned on their defense to hold off a resilient No. 7 Baylor, 30-23 in overtime.
The Sooners blew two 10-point leads, endured two Jalen Hurts turnovers, knocked Baylor’s top two quarterbacks out of the game only to see the third stringer rally the Bears to overtime, but the Sooners’ defense forced three incompletions and a sack in the extra frame to preserve the win.
Oklahoma (12-1, 9-1 Big 12), who has won on a league-best 13 championships — all of them coming in the past 20 seasons — and five consecutive, will now turn its attention to Atlanta, where a No. 2 LSU win over No. 4 Georgia likely sends the crimson and cream to the College Football Playoff for the fourth time in Riley’s five seasons and three consecutive.
But before Oklahoma could think about the Playoff, the Sooners first had to win this game.
After a pair of punts to open the game, CeeDee Lamb — who missed OU’s epic comeback in Waco last month — announced his presence with a 71-yard reception, taking the ball from OU’s 22-yard line to the Baylor 7. Kennedy Brooks provided the Sooners’ only first half touchdown two plays later with a 6-yard rush.
The Sooner defense then forced a three-and-out and again pushed into the Bear red zone, but a third down sack by James Lockhart forced a 44-yard Gabe Brkic field goal.
Baylor’s offense continued struggling after falling behind 10-0, as their next two possessions failed to gain a single yard. However, the Bear defense stiffened, and James Lynch forced a fumble while sacking Jalen Hurts, which BU’s Terrel Bernard recovered at the Oklahoma 29. Baylor again struggled to move forward, gaining just three yards, but the field position allowed John Mayers to get Baylor on the board with a 44-yard field goal at the 10:20 mark of the second quarter.
The Bears then forced a punt on OU’s third consecutive possession, and backup quarterback Gerry Bohanon checked into the game after Charlie Brewer exited to be evaluated for a possible head injury. Bohanon and Jon Lovett combined to register Baylor’s first first down in a quarter and a half, but the Bears gained just one and punted on a 4th-and-14 from the OU 45.
That punt put Baylor’s offense back on the field — its defense. As Hurts threw to Lee Morris, Morris slipped and Jordan Williams snared it for the Bears, returning the ball to the OU 23. After a sack and an incompletion, Bohanon’s stat line read seven total touches for minus-5 yards. So, naturally, he threw a 33-yard strike to Tyquan Thornton on 3rd-and-20 to tie the game with 2:59 left in the first half.
The touchdown was Baylor’s first since the 11:02 mark of the second quarter… of the first Baylor-OU game, ending a streak of 12 straight drives that ended shy of the end zone.
Now facing its own scoring drought, Oklahoma went three-and-out, as its possession was derailed when Lynch again sacked Hurts for a 7-yard loss on 2nd-and-2. A 39-yard punt gave Baylor the ball at its own 47 with 1:22 left in the first half, and Bohanon converted another 3rd-and-long by throwing a 29-yard moonshot to Thornton, turning a 3rd-and-11 at the OU 40 into a 1st-and-10 at the 11 with 29 seconds left, and a 28-yard Mayers field goal gave Baylor, at that point the owner of all of 98 yards of total offense, a 13-10 lead halftime lead.
Oklahoma began the second half much the way it started the first. The defense forced a three-and-out, and the offense went 63 yards to set up a tying 24-yard Brkic field goal. The play before the field goal was one of those you immediately marked with an asterisk: after calling timeout, Riley dialed up a QB draw on 3rd-and-8, which did not achieve the line to gain.
Still, Oklahoma forced yet another three-and-out on Baylor’s next touch, and then the Sooners took the lead at the 7:53 mark of the third quarter with an 18-yard Nick Basquine catch (his first since 2016) to cap an 8-play, 74-yard drive. Yet another Baylor punt later, Oklahoma pushed its lead to 10 with a 24-yard Brkic field goal. With its lead at 23-13 with 10:31 to play in the fourth quarter, Oklahoma had control of the game, but they had not put it away.
Having gained all of 13 second half yards at that point, Baylor pulled Bohanon for third-string quarterback Jacob Zeno, and that move immediately paid off when his first pass found Trestan Ebner for an 81-yard catch-and-run score, bring the Bears back within 23-20 with 9:41 remaining. As fitting with this game’s character, a team that gained 111 yards in the first three quarters out of nowhere connected on the longest touchdown pass in Big 12 Championship history.
Oklahoma moved 31 yards on its next touch but again failed to put the game away, as Riley elected to punt on 4th-and-7 from the Baylor 44 with 6:11 to go. He would immediately regret the decision.
After a Bears offensive lineman was caught downfield, negating an 18-yard connection to Denzel Mims, Zeno hit Chris Platt for a 78-yard catch-and-run, moving the ball from his own 5 to OU’s 17. While Brewer and Bohanon went 7-of-21 for 71 yards, Zeno to that point was 2-of-2 for 159 yards. His third pass, though, sailed wide of Platt on 3rd-and-3, and forcing a 27-yard Mayers field goal.
A game that Oklahoma led 10-0 just over 10 minutes in and 23-13 seven minutes prior was now tied at 23 with 3:25 remaining.
A 31-yard rollout pass to Lamb overcame a holding call and pushed the ball from OU’s 15 to near midfield, but Lamb could not corral a 3rd-and-3 pass with 1:14 to go, and Riley elected to punt rather than risk giving Baylor the ball inside Sooner territory. Reeves Mundschau‘s punt rolled all the way to the Baylor 1 and the game went to overtime.
Baylor won the toss, and Oklahoma scored in three plays. A face mask of Lamb moved the ball to Baylor’s 11, a Hurts run pushed it to the 5, and Rhamondre Stevenson did the rest on a patented OU GT pull.
Oklahoma’s defense dominated the extra frame. After incomplete passes on 1st- and 2nd-and-10, the Sooners sacked Zeno on third down, then forced a hurried incompletion on 4th-and-20 to secure the win.
OU dominated the game everywhere but the scoreboard. The Sooners out-gained Baylor 433-265 and limited the Bears to just eight first downs, 3-of-15 on third down, and its three quarterbacks to just nine completions on 26 attempts. In fact, outside of Zeno’s 81- and 78-yarders and Bohanon’s 33-yarder, Baylor was 6-of-23 for 38 yards through the air. The Bears were also credited with 35 rushing yards on 29 attempts, including sacks. Meaning, outside of those three long completions, Baylor gained 71 yards on 52 plays.
For Oklahoma, Hurts went 17-of-24 for 287 yards with a touchdown and an interception while rushing for 38 yards on 23 carries. Brooks rushed for 59 yards on 17 carries and Stevenson totaled 48 yards on eight attempts; both players scored touchdowns. Lamb caught eight passes for 173 yards.