The Sooners couldn't have picked a better time to rediscover a semblance of their offensive identity. Oklahoma faces its toughest test of the season when No. 12 Baylor rolls into town on Saturday.
The 2014 season has been broken up into two distinct sections so far. In the first four games of the year, the Sooners looked the part of national title contender; the team many thought would plow through the regular season on the way to a spot in the initial College Football Playoff. After a bye, the Sooners struggled in their next three games, losing to TCU and Kansas State and somehow coming up with a win over Texas.
Another bye week gave way to this third section the Sooners find themselves in now, and last week's thumping of Iowa State may just give Oklahoma the boost of confidence it needs going into Saturday.
“It brings a lot of momentum,” running back Samaje Perine said. “These past few weeks we haven't played at our best but this week we came out and played as a unit, played as one. I think we did a really great job on offense and defense of keeping the ball on third downs and stopping them on third downs, the defense getting off the field and those things. It was a great win for us and I think the momentum boost is going to help us tremendously going into this week against Baylor.”
Oklahoma flourished on both sides of the ball. The offense rolled up 751 yards and 510 rushing yards and Trevor Knight looked more like the Sugar Bowl version of himself. The Sooners have plenty of weapons on offense, and seeing them come together reminded everyone how potent the group can be.
“It does a lot for us,” Perine said. “It shows we like to compete and we like to establish the run game first. It opens up the perimeter to get the ball to our receivers in one-on-one coverages and let them go out and fly around and have fun.”
The offense was impressive, but the defense's performance can't be overlooked. That unit was back to its early-season form, flying to the football and generally playing loose and free. Schematic adjustments allowed the defensive line to generate more pressure on the quarterback and the linebackers to make more plays.
“I just feel like it was resolidifying who we were; it wasn't anything new,” linebacker Jordan Evans said. “We've always had guys that can do that and it just came with how we wanted to play with more tenacity, more emotion, more aggression. We let the guys up front do some different things, go attack more and it let me and Dom run free more as well.”
The play of the front seven helped a struggling secondary fly around and make more plays as well. Minus a long touchdown pass, the secondary had its best game in weeks.
“You just knew with a lot of pressure on the quarterback the ball was going to have to come out quick,” cornerback Julian Wilson said. “It gave us the ability to sit on routes. We knew they're not going to have that much time to throw the ball deep.”
The confidence generated from a performance like Saturday's is extremely important for the secondary, which will be tested like they never have by Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty and the Bears' deep receiving corps. Wilson said the group understands the challenge they're up against.
“I know this week in the secondary, we're going to have to be able to cover great this week,” Wilson said. “They've got a lot of skill guys that can run deep, Bryce Petty is a competitor, he's throwing the ball around really well. It's going to be on the secondary this week to go out and do our job.”
But the confidence of Saturday's performance, combined with the challenge of defending the Baylor offense, makes for one inspired group of defenders.
“You get really excited,” Wilson said. “You know the ball is going to get thrown around a lot so you know there are going to be a lot of chances for you to get your hands on the ball.”
Baylor poses a monumental task for the Sooners on Saturday, especially since Baylor will be playing with its own motivation, having never won in Norman. But the Sooners have a lot of confidence, thanks to a performance on Saturday in which they rediscovered themselves and their identity.