Biggest Things to Watch for in the 2019 Big 12 Championship Game

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistDecember 5, 2019

Biggest Things to Watch for in the 2019 Big 12 Championship Game

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    Ray Carlin/Associated Press

    Who will reign supreme in the Big 12?

    The last time Oklahoma and Baylor met back on Nov. 16, it took a 25-point comeback for the Sooners to pull out a 34-31 victory and hand the Bears their first loss of the season in the process. Now, both teams have reached the conference title game with one loss on their resume, still clinging to the periphery of the College Football Playoff picture.

    Oklahoma was in the No. 6 spot when the latest rankings were revealed Tuesday, with Baylor right behind at No. 7. Both teams will have to leapfrog No. 5 Utah and hope fellow one-loss team Georgia picks up its second defeat in the SEC title game against LSU if they want a chance to play for the national title.

    Ahead, we've provided a preview of what to watch for when the cream of the Big 12 crop does battle on Saturday at 12 p.m. ET from AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

    Let's get to it.

When Oklahoma Is on Offense

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    Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts
    Oklahoma quarterback Jalen HurtsSue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    The high-powered Sooners offense leads FBS in total yards per game (564.3) while averaging an impressive 44.3 points per game.

    Quarterback Jalen Hurts is one of the most dynamic two-way threats in the country and the face of the Oklahoma attack. He's racked up 3,347 passing yards (tied for 12th in FBS) with 31 touchdowns (tied for ninth) and a 71.9 percent completion rate (fourth) while also adding 1,217 rushing yards (22nd) and 18 rushing touchdowns (seventh).

    When he does air it out, wide receiver CeeDee Lamb is his No. 1 target.

    B/R NFL draft expert Matt Miller had Lamb going No. 7 overall to the Arizona Cardinals in his most recent mock draft. The 6'2" junior has hauled in 50 receptions for 1,035 yards and 14 touchdowns on the season.

    That said, Lamb missed the last meeting against Baylor with an injury, and he's been limited to just six catches and 52 yards the past two games combined.

    "He's been fine and he's handled things well," Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley told reporters. "He understands...you're going to have games where you get really involved and games where it just doesn't find it your way. That's just the nature of this game and being an offensive skill player."

    Getting him going on Saturday could be one of the keys to victory for the Sooners.

When Baylor Is on Defense

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    Baylor defensive lineman James Lynch
    Baylor defensive lineman James LynchPeter G. Aiken/Getty Images

    Since allowing 24 unanswered points in their earlier loss to Oklahoma, the Baylor defense has been stout in wins against Texas (10 points, 391 total yards) and Kansas (six points, 280 total yards).

    While they rank 51st in FBS against the run with 143.7 rushing yards allowed per game, the Bears surrendered 228 yards on the ground in their first meeting. Hurts (27 carries, 114 yards) and running back Kennedy Brooks (18 carries, 93 yards) both put together strong games.

    Meanwhile, the Bears were one of the best teams in the nation at limiting big plays through the air, allowing just 9.8 yards per completion (second-lowest in FBS) and only 12 passing touchdowns to opposing quarterbacks.

    Then again, four of those 12 touchdown strikes came from Hurts when he was playing without his best receiver back on Nov. 16.

    Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year James Lynch will be counted on to wreak havoc in the backfield, as he's recorded a conference-leading 10.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss on the year.

    Fellow defensive lineman Bravvion Roy was also named first-team All-Big 12. The massive 6'1", 333-pounder had 51 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.

    It will largely be up to those two to get the necessary push up front to keep Hurts from feeling comfortable while surveying the field.

When Baylor Is on Offense

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    Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer
    Baylor quarterback Charlie BrewerCharlie Riedel/Associated Press

    The Bears have generally been billed as a defensive team this season, but they have also averaged 36.2 points per game, good for 15th in FBS.

    Getting the running game going will be key.

    While they rank a respectable 41st in the nation in rushing yards per game (186.2), they were bottled up by the Sooners' front seven in the first meeting. They managed just 113 yards on 23 carries, and most of the damage came from quarterback Charlie Brewer, who had 17 carries for 65 yards.

    That said, the running back tandem of John Lovett (97 carries, 618 yards, five touchdowns) and JaMycal Hasty (98 carries, 602 yards, seven touchdowns) has been productive when called upon.

    Still, it's Brewer who will be integral to the offense.

    The junior signal-caller has thrown for 2,935 yards with 20 touchdowns against six interceptions, good for a passer rating of 153.4 (20th in FBS).

    His No. 1 target, wide receiver Denzel Mims, earned first-team All-Big 12 honors with 61 catches for 945 yards and 11 touchdowns. The 6'3" senior provides Brewer with a big, experienced target in the passing game.

When Oklahoma Is on Defense

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    Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray
    Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth MurrayAssociated Press

    The Oklahoma defense has routinely bent but rarely broken.

    Linebacker Kenneth Murray is the leader, and Miller had him going No. 18 overall to the Oakland Raiders in his most recent mock draft while providing the following scouting report:

    "Kenneth Murray is perfect for the modern NFL where a 'Mike' linebacker has to play in nickel packages. Murray has been a tackling machine at Oklahoma, but don't let that fool you into thinking he's a thumper at the position. He has real range and coverage chops while showing elite speed to make plays all over the field."

    The 6'2", 243-pound junior has piled up 85 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and three sacks, and his ability to cover sideline-to-sideline will be one of the keys to slowing the Bears' rushing attack.

    Defensive linemen Ronnie Perkins (37 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, six sacks) and Neville Gallimore (24 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, three sacks) will help give the Sooners an advantage in the trenches.

    The secondary has also been effective at surface level, allowing just 195.9 passing yards per game (22nd in FBS). Brewer was limited to 194 yards on 18-of-29 passing in the first meeting, and the Sooners would likely be thrilled with a similar result Saturday.

Special Teams

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    Oklahoma kicker Gabe Brkic
    Oklahoma kicker Gabe BrkicBrian Bahr/Getty Images

    Since taking over as Oklahoma's starting kicker for the fourth game of the season, Gabe Brkic has been perfect, converting all 14 field goals and all 45 extra points he has attempted.

    That includes a 31-yarder with 1:45 to play that proved to be the difference in a 34-31 victory by the Sooners the last time these two teams met.

    To his credit, Baylor kicker John Mayers has also been solid, driving home 13 of 16 field-goal attempts and 49 of 51 extra points.

    This one came down to the kicking game last time around, and it could happen again.

    The high-scoring Sooners have not needed to punt much this season. But when they have played the field-position game, Reeves Mundschau has been a useful weapon with a 42.4-yard average on 27 punts. On the other side, Bears punter Isaac Power has averaged 39.7 yards on 55 punts.

    Neither team has a prolific return threat, but the kicking game could certainly be a factor once more if things stay close.

         

    All stats courtesy of NCAA.com unless otherwise noted.