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Oklahoma Sooners-Baylor Bears: What to Watch

Oklahoma Sooners at Baylor Bearsphoto © 2008 Mark Spencer | more info (via: Wylio)

Date: November 20
Time: 8 pm EST
Venue: Floyd Casey Stadium
Vegas Line: OU -7

This isn't the Baylor of old.

Admittedly, the Bears have taken advantage of a number of highly winnable games this year. Yet, could you say that about the Bears in the past? Even though, Baylor has stumbled in its tougher matchups, the Bears are better.

Equally important for OU, the Sooners are heading out on the road for yet another night game, which has been a recipe for disaster lately.

If OU is to finally conquer its road mental block, watch:

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1. The Buzz in Waco

A few weeks ago, the Bears had the Big 12 South in their grasp. Losses to Texas A&M and Oklahoma State put the kibosh on that. Still, Baylor will be going bowling for the first time in 46 years. (Or something like that.)

In that respect, there isn't much on the line here for Baylor. Are the Bears and their notoriously indifferent fans satisfied with just a winning season? Or, will a night game against a national powerhouse fire them up?

2. OU's Efforts to Get the Running Game Going

The Sooners aren't running the ball particularly efficiently this year, gaining just 3.52 yards per attempt. They're really struggling on the road, though, averaging 2.30 yards per carry.

OU's ground problems away from Norman have forced offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson to lean more heavily on the passing game outside the friendly confines of Owen Field. Whereas the Sooners are running on 52 percent of all plays at home, the balance swings to the pass on the road, where 45 percent of OU's offensive plays are runs.

For OU to turn it around on the road, figuring out a way to run more effectively is paramount. Baylor sounds like a good place to start.

3. OU's Ability to Stop the Run on First Down

Averaging 6.8 yards per play, Baylor has one of the most explosive offenses in the country. The Bears' success on first down has had a big hand in that.

Running or throwing, the Bears are putting themselves in favorable position for second and third down by gaining an average of nearly 8 yards per play to start each series, based on data from cfbstats.com. Art Briles is attacking defenses by using the run to set up the pass, throwing for an average of 9.1 yards per attempt on first down.

If Brent Venables stacks the box on early downs, it will put pressure on the secondary to hold up when Robert Griffin III uses play action.

4. Phil Taylor

The Bears have one of the conference's best at nose tackle, 6'4", 340 lbs. Phil Taylor. He's facing a relatively weak interior to the OU offensive line.

If the Sooners plan to run the ball effectively, they will have to find a way to deal with Taylor. The big defensive tackle will likely command double teams more often than not. That means tackles Eric Mensik and Donald Stephenson probably won't get much help against Baylor's edge rushers, including freshman find Tevin Elliott, who has 5 sacks on the season.

5. The Red Zone

The Sooners cannot afford to squander opportunities deep inside Bear territory. Counting missed field goals, the Sooners left more than 40 points on the field at College Station and Columbia.

Maybe past versions of the Sooners could get away with that, but not this group. If OU leaves the red zone pointless more than once Saturday night, I bet Baylor scores the upset.