There was a moment when Baylor coach Matt Rhule saw his No. 12 Bears start to fracture just a little bit for the first time in this undefeated season. Understandably frustrated, defensive players were yelling at some of the offensive guys.
That was during halftime of their last game, down 9-0 after TCU had kicked two field goals in the final half-minute before the break. It was nine days after the Bears had won their previous game when scoring fewer than 20 points — the first time they had done that in 13 years.
“We’re a family, and families fight,” linebacker Terrel Bernard said. “I don’t think it was that we were cracking. We wanted them to move the ball and wanted them to score so bad. ... But, I mean, you see in the second half that we came together and played complementary football. That’s what it takes to win.”
Baylor (9-0, 6-0 Big 12, No. 13 CFP) has certainly gotten defensive and just in time: The Bears host four-time defending league champion Oklahoma (8-1, 5-1, No. 10 CFP) in a potential Big 12 championship game preview Saturday night. The No. 10 Sooners lead the nation with 587 total yards and are second with 48.4 points per game.
More known in the past for high-scoring, big-play offenses — especially during the 2011 Heisman Trophy-winning season by Robert Griffin III and then when winning their only two Big 12 titles in 2013 and 2014 — the Bears now have one of the league’s top defenses.
“We love to have the thing on our back, the pressure, the momentum, all that, so we can go win the game,” senior linebacker Jordan Williams. “It’s been crazy to see how the defense has come out there when our backs are against the wall, all odds against us, and we just play.”
Only once this season has Baylor given up more than 20 points in regulation. The Bears lead the Big 12 allowing only 19 points a game, and are second at 337 total yards a game — drastically improved after giving up 32 points and 426 yards a game last season.
“They’re an old defense. I mean they have a lot of guys that have played a lot of snaps,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said. “And they’ve moved a few pieces around, and those look like they have gone well for them.”
Bernard switched from outside to middle linebacker after senior Clay Johnston suffered a season-ending knee injury when making an interception against Texas Tech a month ago. Johnston had 58 tackles, 28 more than any other Bears player at the time.
After 19 tackles against TCU, Bernard is now the leading tackler with 68. He is still the only player with more than Johnston, but nine other players have at least 27 tackles. Fourteen players have contributed to the Bears’ league-leading 29 sacks.
TCU didn’t score in the second half last Saturday, and the Bears won 29-23 in triple overtime. Redshirt freshman John Mayers kicked a 51-yard field goal in the final minute of regulation for a 9-9 tie before Charlie Brewer accounted for three OT touchdowns — a run and two passes to Denzel Mims. Baylor’s defense held the Horned Frogs out of end zone in the third overtime even after they had first down from the 1.
“I just think at the end of the game, they all came together, and I think they learned something as a team,” Rhule said. “Just keep playing.”
Big defensive tackle Bravvion Roy, who blocked a late field goal attempt by West Virginia in a 17-14 win on Halloween night, has been limited with nagging issues. Grayland Arnold, still not 100% after missing a game last month, had the clinching interception against the Frogs. Senior starting safety Chris Miller, an NFL prospect, missed the TCU game because of an automatic one-game suspension for a third targeting penalty.
“We don’t want to be one of those programs that make excuses, we don’t want to talk about, oh well we would played well except we lost this guy or that guy,” Rhule said. “We expect everyone to go out there and play at a high level. I think it comes from our players, the way we practice, we practice the 1s and 2s, equal reps. We have high standards. We practice the 3s. ... You can be a guy pretty far down the depth chart early in the season, and then we can be counting on you.”