Texas Longhorns vs. #12 Baylor Bears
Saturday – December 5 – 11:00am
McLane Stadium – Waco, Texas
In the final game of the regular season, the Baylor Bears square off against the University of Texas Longhorns. Texas is coming off a crushing loss against Texas Tech that saw the Horns rally late, only to fall to the Red Raiders 48-45. The loss guaranteed UT a losing season, and pretty much ends the possibility of making a bowl game. As there are not enough bowl eligible teams, there is a possibility that a 5-7 Longhorns team would be attractive to a bowl selection committee, provided they can knock off the #12 ranked Bears.
Baylor is also coming off a disappointing week in which they lost 28-21 in double overtime to TCU. In a game dictated by the rainy cold conditions, Baylor looked nothing like the highly explosive team that fans have come to expect. Luckily for the Bears, the forecast for this weekend looks promising and they should have nearly ideal weather conditions for their meeting with Texas. For Baylor, this game is a chance to end the season on a positive note and set the tone going into the bowl season. Adding to the Bears motivation, it will be senior day at McLane Stadium and the Baylor players and coaches will want to send the departing seniors off with a victory.
A loss to the Horns would drop Baylor into 4th place in the Big 12 Conference and would see the Bears, most likely, return to the Alamo Bowl. However, a win will put the Bears into a three way tie for second in the conference, which using the Big 12 tie breaker rules puts Baylor into 2nd place and into the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day. Considering that the Bears lost to Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl last season and the loss to UCF in the Fiesta Bowl the season before, the Bears will be hungry for a chance at another big bowl game to exercise the demons of the last couple seasons.
What to look for when Baylor has the ball
- The key to the game for Baylor offensively will be how well Baylor’s veteran offensive line does against the aggressive Longhorns defense. The bright spot for the Longhorns this season has been their defensive line, and defensive pressure from the front four was big contributor to UT’s victory over the Big 12 champions, Oklahoma. The Longhorns rank 4th in the nation in sacks per game, averaging 3.27 a contest. The ability of the Baylor offensive line consisting of C Kyle Fuller, RG Jarell Broxton, LG Blake Muir, RT Pat Colbert, and LT Spencer Drango to deal with the pressure will be crucial for the Bears ability to move the football.
- Behind the line is QB Chris Johnson and in only his second game as a starter he is certainly hoping for a better result than in his first game. Against TCU, Johnson went 7 for 24 for 62 yards, passing for 1 TD with an interception. So it should be fairly easy for him to improve on those numbers in this game. However, the Longhorns defense is not going to just let Johnson stand back in the pocket. They will apply pressure, early and often, in hopes that Johnson makes mistakes. With Johnson accounting for three of Baylor’s five turnovers against TCU, he will need to do a better job protecting the ball in this game for Baylor to be successful.
- Baylor needs a solid run game and Shock Linwood, Devin Chafin, and Johnny Jefferson will need to deliver it. The magic number for the trio of Baylor backs appears to be 200 yards. In the Longhorns wins, they were able to contain their opponent’s rushing attack to low numbers, which includes holding Oklahoma to just 67 yards. In UT’s losses, they have given up big yards on the ground and when giving up more than 200 yards rushing they have only won one game, Rice. As mentioned, above, the UT defensive line has been the bright spot on the defensive side. The problem for the Longhorns is once you get pass the front four, things get a little questionable. UT’s top defender LB Peter Jinkens is out with an injury, and Malik Jefferson, second in total tackles, is listed as questionable for the game. So, if the Baylor running backs can break through to the second level, they should have an opportunity to make some big plays.
What to look for when UT has the ball
- Linemen matter, it is a basic fact of football that the team that controls the line of scrimmage controls the game. Baylor’s Senior Defensive Ends Shawn Oakman and Jamal Palmer will want to go out big with a dominating performance over the Longhorns. Matched up against the Bears DE duo are Texas’s LT Connor Williams, a freshman, and RT Tristan Nickelson, a sophomore. It will be interesting to see if UT’s underclassmen on the outside can hold up against the dominating Oakman, who leads the team in tackles for loss and is second on the team, behind only Palmer, in sacks for the season.
- With starting QB Jerrod Heard suffering a concussion against Texas Tech, the Texas coaching staff is erring on the side of caution and naming Tyrone Swoopes the starter. As Swoopes has not shown the ability to be a reliable passing threat this season, the Baylor front seven will contend mostly with Swoopes as a run threat along with running backs Jonathan Gray and Chris Warren III, who received praise this week for his performance in UT’s loss to Texas Tech in which he ran for 276 yards and 4 touchdowns. Baylor Linebackers Taylor Young, Grant Campbell and Travon Blanchard, Baylor’s top three in tackles, will have their hands full containing the UT running backs and at the same time keeping Swoopes from tearing up the field for big yards. If Baylor can hold against the UT’s rushing onslaught, it is unlikely UT will be able to put up enough points through the air to beat the Bears.
Both teams still have something to play for, and it will be interesting to see which team can overcome their injuries and disappointments to rise to victory in this game. Looking at the teams on paper, Baylor would appear to have a clear advantage. On the season, Baylor averages 50.8 points a game, to UT’s 26.7 and the Bears have an edge on the Longhorns in almost every statistical category. However, the Longhorns did have a tougher non-conference schedule, which has to be acknowledged. Injuries, especially at quarterback, have come to define both the Bears and the Longhorns season and both teams will come into this game undermanned in key positions. Still, the talent Baylor still has, provided they don’t hurt themselves with mistakes and turnovers like the five turnovers against TCU, should be enough to pull off a victory over the Longhorns.
Prediction: Baylor 49 – Texas 28