Johnathan Gray and the Longhorns suddenly look like a contender in the Big 12.
After defeating the Oklahoma Sooners, the Texas Longhorns have shown life in a wide-open Big 12. Now the finale with Baylor looms as their biggest game of the season, which is not as scary as it was a week ago.
Prior to their Week 7 matchups, Texas and Baylor were programs heading in totally different directions. The Bears were making Oregon's offense look boring, while the Longhorns were destined to hit a low against the No. 12 Oklahoma Sooners.
But in a span of about six hours, both programs showed us why college football is not a math equation. Texas turned back the clock about eight years on the Sooners in a 36-20 win, while the Bears barely escaped a 2-3 Kansas State squad in a 35-25 win.
Now, both the Bears and the 'Horns are in a three-way tie with Texas Tech for the Big 12 lead, and their matchup on Dec. 7 has become tantalizing. Baylor is currently the best team in the conference, and Texas has the talent to challenge that statement.
As the Longhorns have proven time and again, there is a significant difference between talent and production in the left-hand column.
On the flip side, they proved just how tough that talent can be against the Sooners. Even with David Ash and Jordan Hicks out for the game, they never once looked like anything but the better team in Dallas.
Sure, that is one game in which Texas looked great compared to three or four where it looked somewhere between ho-hum and downright awful. But it's how Texas looked so good that should have Baylor—and the rest of the Big 12—on notice.
Texas beat Oklahoma for two reasons.
It could get whatever it wanted on the ground, as Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown combined for 243 rushing yards, and they tackled in space. That's two things that Texas could not do last season—especially with regard to the running game.
The Texas rushing attack is what should particularly worry the Bears. They struggled with the Kansas State ground game, which racked up 327 yards en route to a 19-minute edge in time of possession. The Wildcats kept the nation's top offense off the field and therefore stayed in the game.
The Longhorns have the potential to do the same thing to the Bears.
The shifty Gray has been great all season, racking up 562 yards and four touchdowns. If the more powerful Brown can continue to pound the interior of the defense, there will be no stopping this formidable one-two punch.
Also consider that Texas still has yet to unveil Tyrone Swoopes and Jalen Overstreet at quarterback. Daniel Sams just lit up the Bears for 199 rushing yards, and both of Texas' backups have the athleticism to make an impact as Wildcat or short-yardage quarterbacks.
Then, there is the pressure factor.
Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty has been sacked just 1.5 times per game, and Texas is coming off a four-sack performance against a team that allowed only seven through five games. Even the best quarterbacks look different when 250-pound defensive ends are hanging off of them.
With five more games on the schedule, don't take this to mean that Texas is the Big 12 favorite. But it does in fact have the talent to keep up with the Bears, and the 'Horns are officially a player if they continue to turn in complete efforts.