Sooners try to turn focus to lowly Baylor

Wednesday, November 12th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ Bob Stoops and the No. 1 Oklahoma Sooners may be taking Baylor seriously. Hardly anyone else is.

About two dozen questions were pitched at Stoops during his 23-minute meeting with the media Tuesday, most concerning the team's etiquette in a 77-0 rout of Texas A&M. A few were about quarterback Jason White's strengthening Heisman Trophy campaign. Others sought to prod Stoops into naming a specific weakness on his team (he couldn't).

Only two were about lowly Baylor, a 52-point underdog coming into Norman this weekend.

``We do recognize that anybody can get anybody if they're not prepared to play,'' Stoops said. ``We definitely need to be prepared to play, as always.''

That's a scary prospect for the Bears (3-7, 1-5 Big 12), who were 73-10 losers to Texas A&M earlier this season.

Here's a breakdown of what appears to be a colossal mismatch:

_ Oklahoma (10-0, 6-0) has the nation's top-ranked defense, keeping both Oklahoma State and Texas A&M out of the end zone in those games. In the Sooners' win over the Aggies, A&M had only three first downs and 54 yards of offense. Meanwhile, Baylor ranks 113th out of 117 Division I-A schools in total offense (280.5 yards a game) and they've only scored one offensive touchdown in the past three games.

_ The Sooners have the country's highest-scoring offense (48.3 points a game) and have scored more than 50 points a school-record six times this season. Baylor has the nation's 109th-ranked defense (457.3 yards a game) and is 113th in scoring defense (37.6 points a game).

_ Against common opponents (North Texas, Colorado, Texas and Texas A&M) Baylor has been outscored 66-211, while Oklahoma holds a 203-36 advantage.

You get the idea.

Making matters potentially worse, new Baylor coach Guy Morriss has openly mused about starting a lineup full of underclassmen, including freshman quarterback Shawn Bell, against the Sooners to get some much-needed playing time.

``They are the future,'' Morriss said. ``I think it would be a good opportunity for them to go into an environment like Norman and play against the No. 1-ranked team.''

Stoops, who has caught plenty of flack for ``running up the score'' against the Aggies, wouldn't back off his assertion that he held down the score as much as he could.

He noted that White and most other offensive starters didn't play in the second half, he couldn't have possibly expected cornerback Derrick Strait to score on a 17-yard fumble return and, by the end of the game, his lineup mostly featured walk-ons and scout team players running plays not even in the playbook.

``The bad part of it is we're having to apologize for playing well,'' Stoops said. ``That's unfortunate. But I'll take that kind of criticism every week.''

The Sooners, to their credit, have rarely come out flat in any game this season. But Stoops' greatest challenge this year may be keeping his team focused against a team they've beaten by a combined score of 179-43 over the past four years.

Stoops and his players repeatedly emphasized that this game has importance beyond just beating a lowly conference foe: it's the final home game of the season and the Sooners can clinch the Big 12 South Division title with a win.

``We're not overlooking Baylor,'' center Vince Carter said. ``They're looking to play the spoiler role. We're coming to accomplish our goals and finish out the season.''

That's bad news for the Bears.