03 December 2011
Once upon a time, Texas used to be confident going into games against Baylor, sure that the Longhorns would win and win big. Fans used to look forward to seeing their team face the Bears, seeing the contest as a much-needed break between games against stiffer opponents like Oklahoma and Nebraska. But with Robert Griffin III behind center in Waco, Baylor is suddenly a team that demands Texas' respect, a team that finds itself favored by a field goal this weekend.
Then again, it's hard for the Longhorns not to be confident after picking up a victory like the one over Texas A&M on Thanksgiving. Despite trailing 13-0 and watching the Aggies score a go-ahead touchdown with less than two minutes left in front of a raucous crowd of 88,000-plus at Kyle Field, Texas found a way to march 48 yards downfield - its longest drive of the night - and give Justin Tucker a chance to nail a game-winning 40-yard field goal as time expired.
But how confident can a team be going against the nation's second-most productive offense, one led by a Heisman Trophy candidate and one that scored 66 points a week ago?
Matchups to watch:
1. Robert Griffin III vs. Keenan Robinson, Emmanuel Acho
Robinson did not hesitate when asked if Griffin would have a signature moment that would put him over the top in the voting for the Heisman Trophy.
"It's not going to happen. We're not going to let it happen," said the senior linebacker.
Acho was just as eager to insist that Griffin would not deliver a Heisman-worthy peformance against the Longhorns defense but conceded that Griffin has made significant strides in his passing game and described his dynamic dual-threat ability as "annoying." But Acho is a part of a defense that has worked its way to among the 10 best in the country. Griffin led Baylor to a 30-22 victory over Texas a year ago, but Acho and Robinson will need to find a way to limit Griffin and the Bears' quick-strike offense Saturday.
2. Carrington Byndom vs. Kendall Wright
Kenny Vaccaro said Wright was the best receiver he's gone up against. Manny Diaz claimed that Wright "takes a backseat to no one." Those are meaningful remarks coming from two guys that know what it's like to face the likes of Ryan Broyles and Justin Blackmon. But Wright is that good. He's got over 1400 yards and 12 touchdowns this year and is the catalyst of a Baylor vertical passing game that is one of the nation's best. But Byndom, a mere sophomore, has quickly thurst himself onto the short list of the conference's and country's premier defensive backs. But he'll have his hands full covering Wright this weekend.
Keys to the game:
1. Win the red zone battle
For Texas to have a chance at beating Baylor, they can't let anyone in the end zone - a daunting task. Even Diaz conceded that the Bears will rack up yards but preached the importance of making sure they don't score points. The Longhorns will need to bring a great red zone defense to Floyd Casey Stadium Saturday. Texas has only allowed 17 touchdowns in 36 red zone opportunities opponents have had this season. It'll need a similar showing against Baylor. Likewise, the Longhorns offense, which did not have a drive longer than 48 yards against Texas A&M in its last game (its last drive), will need to punch it in when they get their chances in the red zone.
2. Re-establish running game
The Longhorns embraced a run-first identity this season, running for a whopping 439 yards against Kansas and 441 against Texas Tech before their top three running backs fell victim to injury. One of them (senior Fozzy Whittaker) has been lost for the season with a torn ACL and MCL, another (Joe Bergeron) has played sparingly since hurting his hamstring and has been ruled out for Saturday's contest against Baylor while the third (Malcolm Brown) says he's over his turf toe injury and will start Saturday. Texas needs a big day from Brown, who could use some help from D.J. Monroe and Marquise Goodwin on speed sweeps and Cody Johnson on short-yardage situations.
Malcolm Brown finally started looking like himself in the second half against Texas A&M, lowering his shoulder and falling foward at the end of runs instead of falling backward like he did in the first half. He won't have Bergeron helping him but he says the turf toe that has nagged him since high school is no longer an issue. With Case McCoy finally taking over as the full-time starter and Texas' defense, one of 10 to allow less than 300 yards per game in the nation, playing lights ouot, the Longhorns have what it takes to go to Waco and leave with a win.
Texas - 34, Baylor - 31
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