Texas' Talent Finally Plays Big, but Can Longhorns Hang with Baylor?
Baylor and Texas may have won their Week 7 games against Kansas State and Oklahoma, respectively, but the outcomes couldn't have been more different.
After a 1-2 start, Texas has finally found its mojo and took down OU in a 36-20 win. Meanwhile, after scoring an average of 70 points in the first four games, Baylor showed some mortality in a 35-25 victory over the Wildcats.
The Bears and Longhorns are undefeated in Big 12 play, and suddenly, a season-ending game on Dec. 7 between the two looks more interesting.
Baylor should still be considered the favorite to win the conference because the Bears are the only Big 12 team to which the phrase "can score at any time" literally and realistically applies.
But can Texas hang with Baylor if it can do like K-State did and slow Baylor's offense?
The Wildcats drew up the working formula for how to slow down Baylor by limiting big plays—there were still three touchdown passes of at least 54 yards—and getting off the field on third downs. Remember that the Bears' offense doesn't have a lot of experience in navigating lengthy possessions that take nine plays or more to score.
Not allowing Baylor's skill players to get behind the secondary is much easier said than done. Wide receivers Tevin Reese and Antwan Goodley have shown they are capable of running straight past defenders along with breaking tackles in open space. Running back Lache Seastrunk was averaging 11 yards per carry heading into Week 7.
Texas has improved drastically in open field tackling since Greg Robinson took over as defensive coordinator. This was most evident against the Sooners when the 'Horns took away the big-play ability OU normally gets out of its short to intermediate passing game.
However, Oklahoma's offense has lacked explosiveness since entering conference play. In three games, the Sooners are averaging roughly 16 points a game on offense. Baylor has shown it can average that in the first eight minutes of a game. Texas could play sound defense for 58 minutes against the Bears, but a handful of miscues could still prove to be lethal.
Baylor is capable of scoring that quickly with a mix of tempo and great athletes who understand the offense head coach Art Briles runs.
If Texas can keep Baylor's big plays to a minimum, that opens up more opportunities for the Longhorns to run the ball on offense. Thankfully for them, this is what they do best. UT ran 60 times for 255 yards against OU, oftentimes right up the middle of the line.
The Sooners' defensive front six is depleted and Texas has a veteran offensive line with one of the most talented group of running backs in the Big 12. Naturally, that was a matchup nightmare for OU.
It can be one for Baylor too. Kansas State racked up 327 yards on the ground against the Bears, most of which came from quarterback Daniel Sams. It was an impressive effort from the 'Cats, but it said more about Baylor's defense than anything else. K-State has been struggling to run the ball consistently this year, but looked fine, if not outright dominant, in Week 7.
What K-State showed is that beating Baylor doesn't take rocket surgery; it takes execution on defense. Considering the Wildcats were replacing a bulk of their defensive starters a year ago, what head coach Bill Snyder did against Baylor deserves a Nobel prize or something (if that's possible).
Put that game plan with Texas' talent and the Longhorns have as good a shot as anyone at upending one of the best offenses in the country.
Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenKercheval.
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