The University of Texas is ranked No. 22 in the BCS rankings and comes off its biggest win in over two years. Beating Texas A&M wasn’t very pretty, but what it lacked in attractiveness it more than made up for in adrenaline at the end. Nothing like a last second, 40-yard field goal to get the blood flowing — and raise the confidence of a team badly in need of a little.
Let’s not spend a ton of time talking about quarterbacks. We already know where we stand on that. Case McCoy didn’t lose the game, which is all Texas really needs from its QB: Don’t throw interceptions, don’t fumble, manage the game. McCoy did that, and when it came time to make a play, he did that too.
No, when it comes to playing No. 17 Baylor, we have to talk about defense.
Texas defense is stifling, nasty and playing at its highest level of the season. Baylor’s defense is not any of those things, but the Bears' offense is world class.
This will be Texas' toughest test. The Baylor offense led by Robert Griffin III (RG3) is No. 2 in the nation and No. 1 in passing efficiency (my goodness, why is he not playing for Texas?). This Baylor team may be the most explosive offense the Longhorns have played. You have to appreciate how weird it is to write that — “Baylor” and “explosive offense” in the same sentence.
This is uncharted territory for the Baylor Bears, a team that lived at the bottom of the Big 12 for most of the last 15 years.
“This is the most successful season since the early nineties for Baylor,” said UT coach Mack Brown said. “It's the first time they'll go to back-to-back bowls since 1992. So we used to have to worry about being excited about playing Baylor and trying to come up with little things that would get our guys ready and get their minds ready, but you don't have to do that anymore.
"Baylor has done a great job, and they're a really good football team.”
And the Bears are playing at home in Waco, where they haven’t lost this season. The Longhorns need to play their best game. The offense must avoid turnovers and must run the ball to run the clock, keeping control out of RG3’s hands.
If Texas’ newly effective defensive line can contain the likely Heisman Trophy finalist, the Longhorns can win. It says here they will.
This game sets up to be one of the best of the season. It pits Texas strength — the defense, specifically against the pass — directly against Baylor’s strengths — RG3, super receiver Kendall Wright and an offense that can sling it.
Texas cornerbacks, like the rest of the defense, are playing lights out. Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs cast a long shadow on opposing receivers. They are physical, fast and fantastic. Both had interceptions against A&M. Byndom took his to the house.
The D-line must collapse the pocket on top of Griffin, assuming a “pass-first” approach. That means the linebackers must be responsible for stopping the Bears big tailback, Terrance Ganaway. The corners need to lock down on their assignments.
“I will say this: If we don't play well, we'll end up on all the highlight shows, and we'd rather not do that," Diaz said.
The Texas offense’s job is to not screw it up.
For the Horns, this last game is hardly “playing out the string,” as it was last year. An eighth win is important. It can set the Longhorns back on a winning streak and lead them on the right course into a bowl game, whatever bowl game they end up in.
And bowl games are important, too. These young Horns need the extra practice time and the renewal that comes with a bowl game.
It was the Holiday Bowl of 2007, a huge win against Arizona State after a disappointing season, that led the Longhorns back into the national conversation — a conversation that ended in a 2010 BCS National Championship berth. This game against Baylor can start that string again.
Here’s what I’m looking for against Baylor:
Establish the run again and avoid the three and out: Texas tried and failed against the Aggies, leaving a struggling offense with an almost unmanageable challenge.
“We made some good runs, but we didn't take over the game in the running game, and that's something we felt like that we should and could be able to do," Brown said. “So we were disappointed there. Therefore, we had long yardage third down situations, and we didn't convert like we should.”
Pressure RG3 in the pocket, blanket Kendall Wright: Griffin may be the best scrambling passer in college football, so forcing him out of the pocket is not a good idea. But collapsing the pocket? That can work.
The Texas defensive line needs to be in Griffin’s face. Actually, the UT defense needs to be in every Bear’s face. The cornerbacks need to play straight up, knock down, man-to-man coverage and avoid giving up too many big plays.
“Through the course of the year, I think we're third in the country in fewest plays of 20 plus [yards],” Diaz said. “So to me, above everything, that's the challenge in this game. Them trying to get 20 plus [yard] plays and us trying to limit them getting 20 plus [yard] plays, and probably that stat will determine who wins and loses after the game. So that's strength on strength, so we're excited about that.”
Make special teams special: The Longhorns must make a play on special teams — block a punt, force a fumble, run back a kick. These big games often turn on that kind of momentum change. It worked against the Aggies, it will work against Baylor.