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PROVING GAME Banged-Up #3 Bears Trying to Get By Cowboys

Nov. 22, 2013

By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider

Baylor gets its best chance to end all the "Yeah, but . . ." talk when the third-ranked Bears (9-0, 6-0) play No. 9/11 Oklahoma State (9-1, 6-1) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla.

Not only is Baylor trying to win in Stillwater for the first time in 74 years, the Bears have the eyes of the world on them with an ABC nationally televised game and ESPN's College Game Day on hand.

"It means the world," said senior safety Ahmad Dixon. "It means everything, not just to me, but this team. This is a chance where we can really show people what we can do on a national level, in the national spotlight. We're not just the team that, 'Oh, they beat this team because they had this guy down.' Pretty much a "yeah, but" team. This is our time to seize the moment, because everybody tried to make an excuse when we beat Oklahoma. They had this guy out, this guy didn't play. (Oklahoma State) is a good ball club and they're a team that's gunning for what we want, what we have. And that's the No. 1 spot in the Big 12."

That being said, "The memo hasn't changed," Dixon said. "It's still about what we do."

It would be easy for the Bears to be the ones making excuses this time. After losing three of its most dynamic offensive players in a 41-12 win over Oklahoma - running backs Lache Seastrunk (pulled groin) and Glasco Martin (strained knee) and receiver Tevin Reese (dislocated wrist) - Baylor suffered even more casualties in last week's 63-34 win over Texas Tech.

Middle linebacker Bryce Hager went out early with a pulled groin and was replaced by redshirt freshman Aiavion Edwards, while starting offensive tackle Spencer Drango had surgery on Tuesday to repair a ruptured disc in his back.

"I wish we weren't having to prove it, first and foremost," said Baylor head coach Art Briles, whose team is riding a school-record 13-game winning streak that is the third-longest active streak nationally, "because you hate to see anybody that gives so much time and effort and soul to a situation, and then not be able to carry on. But it is critical, and it's something that our staff has done a great job recruiting to fill needs. When you recruit, that's the first thing you look at: What needs to we need to fill? We've been fortunate up to this point. I don't' think you ever get to where you want to get, but we do have guys on our roster that can play."

When Baylor Has the Ball

Briles hinted on Wednesday that both Seastrunk and Martin could be back this week. And that would be a huge boost facing an Oklahoma State defense that's given up just 133.6 yards per game and 3.5 per carry.

But the Bears have been able to carry on just fine with redshirt freshmen Shock Linwood and Devin Chafin carrying the load. Linwood has put together back-to-back 180-yard-plus performances and ranks second in the Big 12 behind Seastrunk in rushing yards per game (101.5), while Chafin added 100 yards and two touchdowns on 11 totes in the win over Tech.

"Those two guys are phenomenal talents," quarterback Bryce Petty said of Linwood and Chafin. "That's just the way it is. Our guys are very talented. And every one is ready to step up at any given time. That's why that result doesn't surprise me, because that's how they practice and that's how they work."

Petty, who ranks first nationally in passing efficiency (206.2) and yards per completion (19.68), will be challenged by a defense that's anchored by cornerback Justin Gilbert. In the Cowboys' 38-13 win over Texas, Gilbert picked off two Case McCoy passes, returning one of them 43 yards for a touchdown.

"Next Man Up" for the Bears in the offensive line is sophomore tackle Pat Colbert (6-5, 305), who will replace Drango on the left side.

When Oklahoma State Has the Ball

Quarterback Clint Shelf has been a huge key to Oklahoma State's six-game winning streak since a head-scratching 30-21 loss at West Virginia.

Shelf has completed 53.4 percent of his passes for 1,222 yards and 11 touchdowns while adding 325 yards and five TDs rushing.

"He's really hurt some teams running the football, and they throw it every effectively," Briles said. "He just seems to be very composed, has the ability to run, which they've really added the last two or three weeks. . . . I think they do a good job of game management, both sides of the ball."

Chelf could also get some help this week with the return of receiver Josh Stewart, who leads the Cowboys with 510 yards and two TDs on 40 catches. He's also a dangerous returner who's scored twice this year on punt returns.

Baylor's defense will likely have to go without Hager, who leads the team with 71 total tackles and nine QB hurries. If he can't go, it will put even more of a load on a relatively unproven Edwards, a converted running back from Stephenville, Texas.

The Bottom Line

With temperatures dipping into the low 30s, this one could come down to the team that handles the elements the best.

As one of the best running teams in the nation, Baylor is certainly built to handle the cold weather and sloppy field conditions.

But ultimately, I think it comes down to the team that handles "the moment" the best.

In line to win its first conference championship in 19 years and first outright league title since 1980, Baylor is in fairly unchartered territory. But it helps that the Bears not only survived, but thrived, in "big game" atmospheres against Oklahoma and Texas Tech the last two weeks and a road test against Kansas State.

Something tells me that this is just Baylor's year, the Bears' "moment," if you will. After crossing more bridges than he count in five-plus seasons at Baylor, Briles does it again and leads the Bears to their first win in Stillwater since 1939.