After passing their first conference road test with flying colors last weekend, Baylor football hosts the 2021 Conference Runner-up Oklahoma State Cowboys this Saturday. Here’s a breakdown of what the stats say about Okie State and what Baylor fans should expect going into the game.
Oklahoma State Offense
Both SP+ and FEI believe that Oklahoma State’s offense is around 20th in the country, despite them leading the country with 51.7 points per game. A big reason is opponent adjustments — Okie State scored 63 on FCS opponent Arkansas Pine-Bluff.
Let’s take a look at how the Cowboys do on standard downs and passing downs. As a reminder, standard downs are all first downs, second downs with 7 yards or fewer to go, and third/fourth downs with 4 yards of fewer to go. Passing downs are all other downs.
First, the bad news. Oklahoma State has the highest success rate (percent of plays that earn 50%/70%/100% of yards to gain on first/second/third and fourth down, respectively) on standard downs of any opponent Baylor has played thus far. They pass the ball more frequently than not and earn an impressive 15.2 yards per completion. They also have yet to allow a sack in non-garbage time against their FBS opponents.
Now the good news. Baylor can make Oklahoma State one dimensional on standard downs. The Bears are exceptional are limiting rushing yards on standard downs, and Oklahoma State has the least efficient rushing attack of Baylor’s FBS opponents thus far. Their 4.8 non-sack yards per carry is solidly average but should take a big hit this weekend.
Due to their high success rate, Oklahoma State does a good job avoiding passing downs in the first place. On the other hand, is it really a passing down when you aren’t passing the ball?
The Cowboys flip the script in “obvious” passing situations, passing only 52% of the time, which is in the bottom 25th percentile of the nation. They still maintain a relatively high success rate and zero percent sack rate, but their yards per carry fall to 3.6 and yards per completion fall to 11.25. Baylor’s defense will likely allow similar numbers, at least based on what they’ve averaged so far.
Where Okie State really struggles, and where Baylor excels, is in stuff rate. Oklahoma State gets stuffed on 28.8% of rushing plays on passing downs (tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage), and Baylor’s opponents typically average a much higher stuff rate when playing Baylor than they do in other games. I don’t expect the Cowboys to try running it on third and long very often against this Baylor defense.
Oklahoma State Defense
Oklahoma State’s defense has definitely taken a step back from last year. They are allowing 22.7 points per game, which is in the middle of the pack nationally, but both SP+ and FEI rank them in the high 20’s. Keep in mind that both metrics still have a lot of pre-season data in them, and that might be buoying Okie State’s ranking for now.
As with the offensive side of the ball, let’s take a look at how the Cowboys do on defense for both standard downs and passing downs.
On standard downs, Oklahoma has allowed a success rate greater than their opponents’ average in other games, and Baylor has the highest success rate of all their opponents thus far. What makes this matchup interesting is how Baylor attacks the field differently than Arizona State and Central Michigan.
Arizona State and Central Michigan pass the ball near 60% of the time on standard downs, but against Oklahoma State, they ran the ball the ball two-thirds of the time. Their yards per completions dropped to a still-respectable 12.8, but their yards per carry increased to 4.4.
Unless some team makes major adjustments, Baylor should not be breaking their tendency against the Cowboys. The Bears already run the ball more than 60% of the time on standard downs and average 4.8 yards per carry. This will be strength against weakness, and I anticipate Baylor’s running backs will have a good day on the ground.
Baylor wants to have good first down yardage this game, because they probably won’t be able to run well on second and long. The Oklahoma State defense has held their opponents to a very impressive 1.4 yards per carry and 36.7% stuff rate on passing downs. Their allowed success rate is also below their opponents’ averages in other games.
On the bright side, Okie State allows an above average 16.8 yards per completion on passing downs, and Baylor is no worse than Arizona State and Central Michigan in picking up yards through the air on passing downs. The Cowboys are also bad at getting to the quarterback on passing downs, and their 3.3% sack rate leaves much to be desired.
SP+ predicts a 27-25 Baylor victory while FEI predicts a 29-28 Oklahoma State victory. I don’t think this game is going to be a toss-up. Baylor should be efficient running the ball and have opportunities to pick up first downs through the air whenever they get behind the chains. Oklahoma State should quickly resort to a one-dimensional offense, and we all know what happens when Spencer Sanders has to take the game into his own hands against Baylor.