OU football: Oklahoma in eerily similar position as 2015 team facing trip to Baylor

Kyle Phillips / The Transcript

Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray celebrates a big play during the Sooners' game against Iowa State last week at Owen Field. Murray was still in high school when OU traveled to Baylor in 2015 for a huge victory that helped its cause making the College Football Playoff. OU travels to Baylor with similar stakes this weekend.

Oklahoma’s been in this place before.

The Sooners’ game against 13th-ranked Baylor in Waco (Saturday 6:30 p.m., ABC) will impact the College Football Playoff and Big 12 championship picture. A huge home crowd is expected at McLane Stadium, and the Bears are as good as they’ve been in recent years.

Sound familiar?

OU’s 2015 team was saddled with a loss and finding itself when traveling to the same venue to face Art Briles’ 6th-ranked team, on the same weekend in November as this season. It was Lincoln Riley’s first trip to Waco with the Sooners, his debut season as Bob Stoops’ offensive coordinator.

“It was a fun game,” Riley said. “They were pretty highly ranked coming in, they’d done pretty well previous years and they were extremely talented. We were trying to kind of re-establish ourselves a little bit.”

Riley meant that in the scope of the season. OU had lost to Texas in October, but was playing some of its best team ball of the year, blowing out Kansas State, Kansas, Texas Tech and Iowa State by a combined 232-50 after that.

OU left Waco with a 44-34 win and a slice of redemption following embarrassing losses in 2013 (41-12) and 2014 (48-14) to Baylor.

Now, Riley is in Stoops’ position, trying to engineer a victory that could boost OU’s resume and serve as momentum for the season’s final stretch. The Sooners hit a rough patch that began in an October loss at Kansas State.

Riley’s defense scuffled in that game. More surprising was that OU’s usually reliable offense has had its rough patches over that span. Now comes the first road test since the Wildcats snipped OU’s 22-game true road winning streak.

In 2015, the Sooners and Bears staged a primetime game on ABC with ESPN’s College GameDay in attendance, same as this week. Former players are making the connection. Zack Sanchez, who made six tackles and recorded an interception against Baylor that game, recently tweeted highlights from that rainy night.

Baker Mayfield accounted for 346 yards and four touchdowns, and with CFP contenders LSU and Stanford losing, the Sooners were right back in the playoff discussion.

“It was a fun game, a wet game. We played really well as a team,” Riley said, referring to the downpour of rain. “Thought we really went down there kind of on a mission and just made it happen. Played good on all sides of the ball and made some huge plays. It was a fun night.”

Now the playoff committee’s 10th-ranked team, OU would love nothing more than a repeat — to do its part and, who knows, maybe receive help from No. 4 Georgia (at Auburn), No. 8 Minnesota (at Iowa), No. 6 (Oregon (vs. Arizona) or No. 7 Utah (vs. UCLA).

The Sooners can’t count on it happening just because a half-decade old team did the same. OU’s defensive inconsistencies are a real thing that must be fixed, linebacker Kenneth Murray said.

Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer is experienced — freshman Jarrett Stidham stepped in for injured QB Seth Russell in 2015 — and receiver Denzel Mims is one of the Big 12’s top big-play threats.

“When you have the home run threats — and he’s not the only one — but when you have the home run threats, it’s an eye-opener not just for your secondary but the guys up front have to understand, going back to a timing standpoint, you gotta try to get home as fast as you can because that ball’s coming out and there’s an elite guy that can do something with it,” OU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said.

Murray is confident whatever’s happened to the Sooners defensively, allowing 40 points or more in two straight games after surrendering 19.4 in the first seven, can be fixed. OU’s also blown two-score leads in its past two contests.

"It's really just regrouping and getting our focus back right,” he said. “I like that's really the main thing right now that we do need to get right is that focus for four quarters of a game. You know a lot of times throughout a game we are riding a wave. One time we are playing good and the other time we are not playing good. So, you know get some consistency to who we are. We haven't had that these past two weeks. We need to get back to that and I'm going to be relentless into getting that done."

OU at Baylor

When: Saturday, 6:30 p.m.

Place: McLane Stadium | Waco, Texas

Records: AP, CFP No. 10/Coaches No. 8 OU (8-1, 5-1 Big 12); AP No. 12/CFP No. 13/ Coaches No. 10 Baylor (9-0, 6-0)

Line: OU (-10)

TV: ABC

Radio: KRXO-FM 107.7

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