Baylor Upsets Oklahoma State in Big 12 Title Game as Cowboys' CFP Hopes Fade

Adam WellsDecember 4, 2021

Baylor wide receiver Tyquan Thornton (9) celebrates a touchdown catch with wide receiver Drew Estrada (18) and tight end Ben Sims (86) during the first half of the Big 12 Championship NCAA college football game against Oklahoma State in Arlington, Texas, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Roger Steinman)
AP Photo/Roger Steinman

The Baylor Bears have won the Big 12 Championship Game for the first time in school history after their thrilling 21-16 victory over Oklahoma State at AT&T Stadium on Saturday.

Oklahoma State had an opportunity to take the lead in the final seconds, but Baylor's defense stepped up huge. Dezmon Jackson's attempt to turn the corner on 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line came up short when Jairon McVea stopped him short of the end zone.

SportsCenter @SportsCenter

BAYLOR STOPS OKLAHOMA STATE ON 4TH DOWN ๐Ÿ˜ฑ <a href="https://t.co/9JlKW4ZLrv">pic.twitter.com/9JlKW4ZLrv</a>

That came after the Cowboys went 89 yards in 16 plays to put themselves in position to go ahead. Baylor forced a turnover on downs and was able to run out the clock on its next offensive snap.

This was the second time Baylor has played in the conference title game. Its first appearance was a 30-23 loss to Oklahoma in 2019.

Saturday's win also provides the Bears with a strong measure of revenge. They were held to a season-low 14 points in a loss to Oklahoma State on Oct. 2. Head coach Dave Aranda's team will likely be headed to the Sugar Bowl for the second time in three years.

Oklahoma State likely would have found itself in the College Football Playoff with a win. The Cowboys entered this week No. 5 in the rankings, with all four teams ahead of them playing Saturday.

One of Georgia (No. 1) and Alabama (No. 3) was guaranteed to lose since they are playing in the SEC Championship Game.

Baylor looked like it was going to roll in this game during the first half. Quarterback Blake Shapen completed his first 17 passes, three for touchdowns, to get the Bears out to a 21-3 lead with 5:29 remaining in the second quarter.

The Bears were shutout in the second half, but their defense was able to make enough plays for those 21 first-half points to be enough.

Oklahoma State was its own worst enemy for most of the game. Spencer Sanders threw four interceptions, though some were the product of bad luck. He hit Brennan Presley in the third quarter with a pass that was thrown a little off target, but Presley bobbled it, allowing Brayden Utley to pick it off.

After getting down to Baylor's 1-yard line late in the fourth quarter, Jackson fumbled a handoff by Sanders that Oklahoma State was able to recover. It settled for a field goal to cut the deficit to 21-16 with 8:17 left in regulation.

That would be the end of the scoring for both teams in the game. Oklahoma State lost for just the second time this season. Its 11 wins this season are its most since 2011 (12-1).

Notable Game Stats

  • Blake Shapen (BAY): 23-of-28, 180 yards, 3 TD
  • Abram Smith (BAY): 17 carries, 63 yards
  • Tyquan Thornton (BAY): 6 receptions, 71 yards, TD
  • Spencer Sanders (OK State): 31-of-46, 257 yards, 4 INT; 13 carries, 33 yards
  • Dezmon Jackson (OK State): 19 carries, 31 yards
  • Tay Martin (OK State): 9 receptions, 88 yards

Defensive Heroics Bail Out Bears

This game couldn't have any started any better for Baylor. Shapen was picking apart an Oklahoma State defense that came into this week ranked third in the nation in total yards allowed per game (281.4) and tied for fifth in points allowed per game (16.4).

The Bears surpassed that point total in the first 25 minutes of game time. Shapen looked to be on his way to having a historic performance.

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

What a first half for Blake Shapen against OKST...<br><br>- 4th QB with 3 Pass TD in the 1st half of the Big 12 title game.<br><br>- 17 straight completions to start the game. <a href="https://t.co/WSpUBfSpCV">pic.twitter.com/WSpUBfSpCV</a>

ESPN @espn

Perfect throw โœ…<br>Beautiful catch for the TD โœ… <a href="https://t.co/Q2fGYETVhT">pic.twitter.com/Q2fGYETVhT</a>

The Bears did miss a golden opportunity to extend their lead before halftime. Shapen drove them 60 yards downfield with three chances from the Oklahoma State 21-yard line, but each of his passes fell incomplete to set up a field-goal attempt that was blocked.

Baylor's offense had five drives in the second half, not counting the final snap of the game. Only one of those drives lasted more than five plays and gained at least 10 yards.

Max Olson @max_olson

Baylor offense in the second half:<br><br>23 plays<br>36 yards

Despite those struggles with the ball in their hands, the Bears were able to win because their defense was able to match what Oklahoma State was doing.

The Cowboys had seven drives of their own in the second half. Two of them did end with points, including one touchdown, but the others resulted in two interceptions, one fumble, one turnover on downs and a punt.

ESPN @espn

Make that 3๏ธโƒฃ INT for the Baylor defense ๐Ÿ˜ฎ <a href="https://t.co/e5RuXAmsuQ">pic.twitter.com/e5RuXAmsuQ</a>

Mike Golic Jr @mikegolicjr

Baylor owning the line on defense all day. Bully ball.

It hasn't been talked about a lot because the Big 12 isn't regarded as a defensive conference, but defense was crucial to Baylor's success this season.

Even though Oklahoma State was the best defensive team in the conference, Baylor more than held its own. The Bears ranked 17th in the nation with 19.4 points per game coming into Saturday.

TCU was the only team to score at least 30 points against Baylor.

All of the pieces came together to lead the Bears to a Big 12 title game victory for the first time in program history. They have been an elite team all year and will have a chance to end the season ranked in the Top 10 for the first time since 2014 with a win in the bowl game.

Mistakes Doom Cowboys in Final Playoff Audition

In their biggest game of the season, this was as bad as the Cowboys could have played. Sanders had as many interceptions today as he did in the previous seven games combined.

ESPN @espn

Baylor intercepts Spencer Sanders for the second time in the first quarter ๐Ÿ‘€ <a href="https://t.co/PgL1exrTmN">pic.twitter.com/PgL1exrTmN</a>

Heather Dinich @CFBHeather

This is a career-high INTs for Sanders. It's very hard to watch this and not immediately react with: not top four.

The Oklahoma State defense allowed Shapen to throw for 151 yards and three touchdowns in the first half.

Whatever head coach Mike Gundy said to his team during the halftime break seemed to have resonated, especially with the defense. Shapen completed six of 11 attempts for 29 yards in the second half.

Oklahoma State's offense did move the ball better in the second half, but there was still a lack of consistency overall that wound up playing a huge role on the decisive final drive.

The defense forced a turnover on downs early in the third quarter to help set up the Cowboys' first touchdown drive. Dominic Richardson capped off an eight-play drive with a score from four yards out.

ESPN College Football @ESPNCFB

Oklahoma State punches it in for 6๏ธโƒฃ to make it a one-score game! ๐Ÿค  <a href="https://t.co/eoMS83Opqg">pic.twitter.com/eoMS83Opqg</a>

Special teams also looked like it was going to work in Oklahoma State's favor. In addition to a blocked field goal at the end of the first half, the Cowboys got a turnover when Baylor's Trestan Ebner muffed a punt return that Korie Black recovered.

Gundy continued to show tremendous confidence in his defense in crunch time. He punted the ball away on 4th-and-4 from his own 31 with 3:51 remaining, despite trailing by five points.

The strategy paid off with Oklahoma State forcing a three-and-out to get the offense back on the field with 90 yards to go and 3:14 left on the clock.

It looked like the Cowboys were going to overcome their ugly play and pull off a miraculous win. They gained 88 yards in 13 plays to set up a 1st-and-goal from Baylor's 2-yard line.

Gundy's play-calling in that situation left a whole lot to be desired:

Geoff Schwartz @geoffschwartz

Ball at the 1โ€ฆ<br>0 yard run inside the tackles<br>0 yard run inside the tackles<br>PAP throw to the DE<br>Shotgun inside zone for .5 yards <br><br>Credit the Baylor defense but my word Okie State. Yโ€™all had nothing better when that same offense didnโ€™t work the last drive

Throughout his tenure at Oklahoma State, Gundy's teams have been defined by explosive offenses capable of putting up points in bunches. He coached a conservative game Saturday, and it wound up hurting his team.

Sanders' turnover problems may have impacted how Gundy wanted to play, but running back-to-back plays in the biggest moment of the game into the teeth of a Baylor defensive front that has been eating you alive all day was a bad strategy.

The end result is that Oklahoma State probably won't make it into the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings.

What's Next?

Oklahoma State and Baylor will find out which bowl game they will play in on Sunday.