JOE MICHAEL (MICKEY) RIPLEY 1948-2019
Oklahoma 28 – Baylor 11
September 14, 1974 ▪ at Norman ▪ Attendance 62,375
In the previous three seasons, Oklahoma had finished in the top three of the final polls each year, second in '71 and '72, and third in '73, and had a cumulative record of 32-2-1. Coming off a supposed rebuilding year under a rookie head coach that produced a 10-0-1 season, losing seven players taken in the NFL draft, and despite being on NCAA probation for violations that happened in '72, the Sooners opened the '74 season ranked as the Associated Press' number one team. It marked the first time since '57 they opened the season at the top, and it was the first time in 11 years they sat atop the AP poll. Ohio State was behind them at #2, defending AP national champion Notre Dame was third, defending UPI national champion Alabama was fourth, and Southern California was fifth. However, at the beginning of the season, the UPI coach's board decreed that any team on probation was not worthy of their consideration, and therefore, Oklahoma was not among the teams listed in their poll.
Oklahoma was loaded with talent, returning 39 of 50 lettermen. On offense, eight came back from a unit that had amassed 453 yards per game and had scored 36.4 points per game. Directing the potent wishbone offense was junior quarterback Steve Davis, who in his first year had rushed for 887 yards, third on the team, and nine touchdowns and threw for another 934 yards and nine touchdowns. The top rusher also was back, junior halfback Joe Washington, who had rushed for 1,173 yards and ten scores. Unfortunately, the player who had finished second on the team in rushing, senior fullback Waymon Clark, had recently been put off the team by coach Barry Switzer for disciplinary reasons. Regardless, combined with a tough defense ranked in the top ten a year earlier that returned five starters and was led by senior linebacker Rod Shoate, it was easy to see why the Sooners were highly regarded.
Riding an 18-game unbeaten streak, Oklahoma hosted perennial loser Baylor from the Southwestern Conference for their opener. A year earlier in Switzer's coaching debut, the Sooners had crushed the Bears in Waco, 42-14, as Baylor went on to suffer through a 2-9 season that closed with seven straight losses. Under third-year head coach Grant Teaff, who in '72 had taken over the reigns of a program that had won just three games in the previous three years and had not had a winning season since '63, the Bears came into Norman as 43-point underdogs.
The partisan Oklahoma crowd of 61,826 saw their Sooners score the first time they had the ball. Beginning at their own 20, they marched down the field in nine plays. At the Baylor 28, substitute sophomore tackle Chez Evans opened a huge hole, and senior halfback Grant Burget, who had suffered a season-ending injury against the Bears a year earlier, busted through and rambled toward pay dirt. John Carroll kicked the extra point, and the Sooners were up 7-0 at the 12:14 mark. It was a confidence-building drive, and they had looked every bit like the top team in the land.
This is where the Bears' defense tightened up, bending but not breaking. On the Sooners' third possession, which started when Shoate recovered a fumble at their own 48 and drove down to the six, a drive was thwarted by self-implosion. Faced with a fourth down-and-inches, Oklahoma tried a pitchout to the left, but Burget bobbled the ball, and while he was trying to find the handle, Baylor's Darrell Luce nailed him for a four-yard loss. It was the beginning of a series of miscues, as the game did not go as scripted.
Then things got a little worse during the next sequence. A nifty 66-yard punt return by Washington was nullified by a clipping penalty, which sent the Sooners back deep in their own territory to start. On the next play, the first of the second quarter, Davis bobbled the snap from center and Baylor's John Royal recovered at the 11-yard line.
Baylor quarterback Neal Jeffrey dropped back to pass and senior cornerback Tony Peters picked it off in the end zone, circled around running with the ball, came out to the two, and then inexplicably ran back into the end zone while looking for some daylight. Instead, he found a jarring tackle by 5-7 tailback Steve Beaird that dislodged the ball, and with players from both teams in hot pursuit, Shoate fell on it, but it resulted in a safety. So just 17 seconds into the second period, it was Oklahoma, 7-2.
On Oklahoma's next series, Luce met Davis with a head on collision, and the quarterback got up and wobbled over to the sidelines. It meant that Kerry Jackson, the African-American quarterback whose transcript debacle had been the primary reason for the Sooners' probation, and eligible to play again after sitting out '73, entered the game. He quickly impressed and connected with junior Tinker Owens, the team's leading receiver with 18 catches and 472 yards a year earlier, for a 43-yard completion that moved the ball to the Baylor two-yard line. But on the next play, Washington pounded into a big pile up and fumbled, and the Bears recovered the loose ball in the end zone for a touchback, as another scoring chance vanished.
Later, and just before halftime, Jackson moved the team 25 yards to the Baylor 26. From there, he launched a beautiful pass intended for junior split end Billy Brooks, the team's second leading receiver with 12 catches for 310 yards a year earlier, but he was just out of the end zone as he collected the toss. Carroll came on to try to salvage some points with a field goal, but the mistakes continued, and a low snap from center delayed the kick, enabling Baylor's Tim Black to block it. The two teams headed to the locker rooms with surprised Oklahoma ahead by only a 7-2 count.
Baylor, held to 79 total yards in the first half, began the second at their 30. Jeffrey drove the team 48 yards in seven plays where it stalled at the Oklahoma 22. David Hicks came on for just his third career field goal attempt, who had missed on his other two, but he connected for a 39-yarder, and it pulled the Bears to within two points, 7-5, with 11:51 left in the third quarter. Everyone covering the game or rooting for the Sooners was shocked, as the best team in the country barely led a seemingly bad Baylor squad.
Oklahoma set about to answer, and it came in the form of Washington. He ripped off a 49-yard run which took the ball to the Baylor 22. The next two plays gained only five yards, and then Davis, back in the lineup, went to the air, but his pass for senior tight end Wayne Hoffman, wide open for a seemingly sure touchdown, was just inches too long. Carroll was on to attempt a 33-yard field goal, and the snap was good, but the kicked wasn't, and it sailed wide to the right. Another opportunity fell by the wayside.
The Baylor defense continued to live dangerously, and the Sooners drove to the Bear 18 on their next series. Washington scampered to the 15, which would have been good for a new set of downs, but Oklahoma was guilty of holding, and there went yet another series.
There was only 1:59 left in the third period when the Sooners got the ball again at their 46, and still clinging to a scant 7-5 lead. Spurred on by a standing crowd, the offense went to work. Davis directed them down the field, but he had plenty of help. Washington ripped off gains of 11 and 14, and Burget had a 15-yard run, as they moved to within a yard of the end zone, but the quarter ended and the teams changed sides. At the other end of the field, and on the eighth play of the drive, Davis went over junior right guard Terry Webb for a touchdown, ending a nightmarish scoring drought that had lasted over 42 minutes. Carroll added the extra point, giving the Sooners some breathing room, 14-5, just three seconds into the final period. Finally, they had stopped beating themselves.
The Oklahoma defense held suit once again, and the offense got the ball back at their 37. Davis and the wishbone went to work again, and a 17-yard pass completion to Brooks and a 15-yard run by fullback Jim Littrell highlighted a march to the Baylor nine. On the ninth play of the drive, Washington picked up a fine block from highly recruited and true freshman halfback Elvis Peacock and scooted into the end zone. Carroll's kick gave the Sooners a more comfortable 21-5 lead with 9:45 remaining, also providing some relief for the faithful.
Later, and not finished with mistakes, it was Peacock who fumbled as he tried to break free of a tackler, and Baylor recovered at its 44. The Oklahoma defense did what the could, but it was a few big plays that provided the spark, Jeffrey's 30-yard pass completion to Beaird and then his 16-yarder to tight end Sam Harper that moved the ball to the three. The Sooner defense held up admirable with their backs to the end zone, but on fourth down, Jeffrey passed into the flat to Beaird and he went the three yards for the touchdown. Baylor went for two points and attempted to pass, but two receivers, both in the open, seemingly tripped over each other, so it was Oklahoma up 21-11 with 2:35 left.
The Sooners began their next possession at their 46, and they used the remaining time to mount another drive, spurred on by Littrell's 19-yard burst. With under a minute to go, Oklahoma ran an end-around with Owens, who picked up a good block by Evans, and was able to cover the final seven yards untouched to climax the six-play, 54-yard march. Carroll added the extra point to close out the scoring, making it 28-11. Even though they had never trailed in the game, the three fourth quarter scores had helped the Sooners escape a scare.
The Bears had given their all, but in the end, Oklahoma's talent and depth was too much to overcome. The wishbone ground out 438 yards, as Washington led all rushers with 17 carries for a personal career-high 156 yards, while Littrell picked up a career-high 125 yards on his 17 carries and Burget added 84 on a dozen. In amassing 554 total yards, the Sooners had also picked up another 116 yards through the air, as Jackson threw for 71 and Davis for 45, each completing three passes. And the defense had permitted just 221 yards, 128 on the ground and 93 through the air.
But the Baylor effort received high praise. Washington said, "We knew they had a good team, but I don't think the people of Oklahoma expected them to have that good a team. Their defense is just much better than last year." Burget agreed, "They're sure a lot better than last year. They made us work a lot harder." Shoate said, "Baylor sure came to play. They were tough, much better than what we faced last year."
Afterwards, it was Davis who offered, "Maybe that was too easy," referring to the opening touchdown drive. He continued, "Or maybe it was just first-game jitters, the new people. But this gives us reason to work, reason not to be overconfident." And later, he also offered, "But when we gain that many yards I still think we can be a great offensive team."
Source: Jeff Linkowski