Sept. 23, 2017
By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
All week long, Matt Rhule challenged the Baylor receivers to step up and make the tough, contested catches.
Sophomore Denzel Mims made an unbelievable one-handed catch, pulled in a touchdown grab at the back of the end zone, had a career night with 11 receptions for 192 yards and three touchdowns and even helped the Bears recover an onside kick with 1:40 left.
But in the end, it still wasn't enough.
Powered by the pin-point passing of Heisman Trophy favorite Baker Mayfield and running of Abdul Adams and Trey Sermon, the third-ranked Sooners (4-0) held on for a 49-41 victory Saturday night at McLane Stadium before a crowd of 43,573.
"I feel like with this game, we know what we're capable of doing and we're going to keep building for it and keep trying to get these wins," said Mims, who posted his first 100-yard game and had career highs for catches, yards and touchdowns. "It feels good, but then it also feels kind of sad. It feels good that we got a whole lot better and we came to compete and we stuck in with OU. But, it still feels sad that we lost."
Quarterback Zach Smith also had his best day as a Bear, completing 33-of-50 passes for 463 yards - the fourth-most in program history - and a career-best four touchdowns.
"I thought he was quick, decisive, got the ball where he needed to," Rhule said. "I thought he was brave, thought he ran the ball when he needed to. He didn't turn it over. We had a chance to win the game."
Mims was a big reason why. The 6-foot-3, 197-pound sophomore hauled in TD passes of 19 and 71 yards in the first half to help the Bears (0-4) overcome an early 14-0 deficit and go into the break trailing 28-17.
"Absolutely, he played his butt off. I think every receiver we have played his butt off," Smith said. "It's fun to be able to sit back there and deliver the ball and them go up and make spectacular catches. That's fun."
Nothing like Mims' acrobatic one-handed catch midway through the fourth quarter, though, the 26-yarder keeping alive a drive that resulted in a 36-yard Connor Martin field goal that got it back down to a two-score game, 49-34, with 7:04 to play.
Playing it cool, Mims said it "was just all concentration."
However, Smith called it "unbelievable."
"I didn't see that coming, but it was a phenomenal play," the sophomore quarterback said. "He's a freak athlete. You saw it out there. He's a freak athlete, a freak guy, and I'm pleased to be throwing to him."
Like the rest of the receiving corps, Mims was challenged by the coaches to make the tough catches and help the Bears convert on third downs. After converting just one of 12 in last weeks' 34-20 loss at Duke (and 7-for-35 for the season), the Bears were a much more efficient 9-of-21 on third down against the Sooners and 2-for-2 on fourth down.
"He said all the 50-50 balls need to be ours," Mims said. "I feel like I made some contested catches, but I also dropped some. I dropped one late in the game that could have got us a first down, could have pushed it down the field. He challenged us a lot this week, and I feel like we as a receiving corps did what we were supposed to do."
The defense, blistered for 634 yards and several big plays - including a 99-yard touchdown run by Abdul Adams - came up with a key fourth-quarter stop after a failed onside kick.
Getting the ball back with 4:11 left and down by 15, the Bears marched 85 yards in 11 plays and scored on Smith's six-yard TD pass to Mims in the back of the end zone on a clutch fourth-down play. Martin's extra point made it 49-41 with 1:41 showing on the clock.
Smith said he was "praying that it was going to stand," as the replay booth reviewed Mims' catch. He bobbled it and regained control before stepping out of the back of the end zone.
Mims said he was worried, "in a way, yeah, but I knew it was a touchdown. I felt like I kept my feet in to get the touchdown."
Not done for the night, Mims was able to go up high to tip Drew Galitz' onside kick attempt back into a pile of defenders that had Taylor Young with the recovery, giving the Bears a chance to pull this one out.
"(Oklahoma tight end Mark Andrews) almost had it, so I had to go knock it out so that we could get the ball," he said.
Baylor wasn't able to take advantage of it, though, when Mims dropped a pass and then Smith was sacked by linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, losing a fumble that was recovered by the Sooners' Caleb Kelly.
"I'm proud of our team, but it doesn't mean I'm not angry," Rhule said. "I want to make it very clear. We didn't play above our capabilities. We have not played to our capabilities yet. We're going to continue to get better. Obviously, there are some things on defense, especially in terms of stopping the run, that were disappointing and have to get corrected, and we'll continue to work on those."
Oklahoma blitzed out to an early 14-0 lead, scoring on Mayfield's TD passes of 24 yards to Andrews and 52 yards to Dimitri Flowers. The Bears answered with Smith's 19-yard scoring strike to Mims, but Adams' 99-yard TD blast on the next play from scrimmage was a gut punch to the defense.
"Having the opening kickoff go back 70 yards is not what we wanted, but you know what? They rallied," Rhule said. "So, I think you see that the kids have heart and they're growing up and getting better in front of us."
Baylor started two more true freshmen in Saturday's game, with Xavier Newman at left guard and R.J. Sneed at receiver. And with Mo Porter going out early with a leg injury, converted tight end Josh Malin had to step in at left tackle, giving the Bears a true freshman and two former tight ends in the offensive line.
"We've still got to get better in the run game, which I think is coming," Smith said. "But, the o-line played their butts off. Josh Malin came in and played a great game. The o-line, as a whole, played a great game. I can't give enough praise to them. Without them, I couldn't be able to sit back there and deliver the ball."
The Bears go on the road for the next two games, facing Kansas State at 2:30 p.m. next Saturday, Sept. 30, in Manhattan, Kan., followed by a bye week and a trip to Oklahoma State on Oct. 14 in Stillwater, Okla.
"This kind of shows what we've got and how good we can be," Smith said, "so we've got to keep moving forward and keep building on it."