LAFAYETTE, Colo. – Saturday’s Red River North clash between Baylor and Oklahoma will likely decide which of the two squads will represent the North at the April 1 conference championship game. Based on the fall outing between the two schools – a 37-0 beat down handed out by Oklahoma – it would seem likely the Sooners are set to earn an easy season sweep of the Bears. However, Baylor’s current winning streak has it feeling plenty confident as it prepares to take on Oklahoma at home this time around.
“We laid an egg back in the fall against Oklahoma,” said Baylor Head Coach Mason Hering. “We just weren’t prepared enough against a quality opponent like Oklahoma. We didn’t have the confidence we do now. Our skill level and set piece execution is also much sharper.”
Since its loss to the Sooners, Baylor has won three consecutive contests. The trio of victories includes wins over two of the conference’s best in Arkansas and Texas A&M. Most recently, the Bears destroyed TCU, 83-8.
“We needed to be peaking headed into the Oklahoma game. This game was probably our best performance of the year,” Hering said of the 75-point win over the Horned Frogs. “It affirmed what we’ve been saying all year which is we are a force to be reckoned with. We are focused and ready to bring it against Oklahoma.”
Hering’s presence on the Waco, Texas, campus can’t be undermined, but the Baylor players have been just as influential in the program’s improvement over the past 12 months. It’s not just the usual suspects leading from the front either. Eight man Pete Hamm and fly half Parker Vincent continue to be two of the top performers in the conference, but a pair of freshmen have been just as vital to the team’s 5-1 record. Full back Luke Davis and flanker Ryan MacIntosh, who combined for three tries during last week’s win over TCU, have played almost every minute of every match and are showing no signs of slowing down has they hit the tail-end of their first D1A Rugby campaign.
Regardless of how those two perform Feb. 18, plenty of improvements will need to take shape to reverse the 37-point decision from the fall. Oklahoma hasn’t scored less than 30 points in a single Red River match this season, and its explosive attack begins with the player Baylor has circled as its top priority to slow down – scrum half Manny Soto.
“We have to be able to bottle-up Soto,” Hering explained. “The team goes as he goes. They are very comfortable playing on the front foot. We are going to need to do a good job of slowing down their attack and creating some turnovers.”
The one-sided shutout of the Bears back in November ought to have Oklahoma brimming with confidence, but its latest result has the team back to the chalk board.
Two weeks ago the Sooners traveled to Arkansas where the Razorbacks dominated from the 25th minute to the 45th minute to turn back Oklahoma, 37-31.
“We will need to bounce back from our Arkansas loss and get back to our strengths,” Oklahoma Head Coach Doug Neubauer said. “The forwards will need to pick up the slack for some injured players, and we will need to play a complete match and not just the last 30 minutes.”
Soto takes up a lot of attention – and for good reason – but Oklahoma has an emerging talent in Luis Nuñez. The dynamic eight man has scored three tries in the Sooners’ past two games.
Elsewhere in the Red River, Texas A&M will welcome TCU to College Station Saturday, Feb. 18. The Aggies can stay within striking distance of South Division leader and 17th-ranked LSU with a win against the Horned Frogs.