It always has to be close this year, I guess. I don’t know how close that game would have been had Sam Ehlinger not been knocked out of the game with a AC shoulder sprain on the opening drive.
Texas had to lean on a cold Shane Buechele, put out there for his first appearance of the year, combined with defense and the run game to get out with the win. Now it’s on to a badly needed bye week so Texas can try and get Ehlinger healthy, rest up everywhere, coach up some of the young stars on this team, and prepare for a final stretch of the season that will include league-deciding contests.
It’s always nice to beat Baylor as well. The fact that the game came down to Baylor throwing repeatedly into the end zone with a chance to end the game on a TD reception was surely anxiety producing for Texas fans but also ultimately a gut punch loss for the Bears.
Quick thought no. 1: Quality back-up performance
Shane Buechele’s final line went: 20-34 for 184 yards at 5.4 ypa with one TD pass and one INT (plus another one, debatably that was ruled incomplete). He also added four runs for 23 yards (after removing the sole sack) and made a few big throws throughout the game that put Texas in charge of the game and then helped them play keep away JUST well enough to hold on for the win.
It wasn’t an explosive or flashy performance but Buechele distributed the ball effectively to Texas’ war horses in Lil’Jordan Humphrey, Collin Johnson, and Keaontay Ingram. He hit the receivers on screens late in the fourth when Baylor was crashing into the line with run blitzes every play and eventually set up a good Ryan Bujcevksi punt down to the Baylor three yard line.
They also started mixing in some zone-read and counter-option where Buechele didn’t end up picking up many carries but did work to hold Bear defenders and free up Ingram to break free. It was basically exactly the kind of game you want and need from a back-up, minus the real INT which may have been him and Duvernay failing to be on the same page and minus the not-INT that was just a bad decision.
Hats off to Shane Buechele, who just led Texas to bowl eligibility and preserved the undefeated mark in Big 12 play.
Quick thought no. 2: Collin Johnson is having a huge conference season
Double slants to Collin Johnson continues to be unguardable on third and anything less than six. Baylor even bailed a LB out there to light him up on one particular catch and Collin still saw the ball in and took the hit before falling forward for yet another first down. Texas converted five third downs throwing to Collin Johnson today.
14 targets, 11 catches, 132 yards, one TD, and 9.4 yards per target. That’s yeoman’s work.
There will probably be some complaints about Texas’ overall lack of offense in this game but their ability to bully opponents on the perimeter with their big wideouts is a huge advantage and as long as they protect the ball and continue to play good defense, it’s a pretty good formula for success.
Quick thought no. 3: Dime defense for the win
Texas leaned very heavily on the dime package in this game, which carries a wide variety of different blitzes and schemes, many of them afforded by the hybrid skill sets of Breckyn Hager and B.J. Foster. Baylor’s 3×1 sets often ran into trouble early in the game on third down when Texas would drop Hager like a MLB and help him over the top with a safety while bringing the ultra-violent B.J. Foster off the opposite edge.
Foster played an inspired game, although he may have been partially to blame for the whip-dig route combinations that Baylor was working on a rather sizable percentage of their big passing plays. At one point on Baylor’s final drive I thought, “they should just call a timeout and talk that route combo over real quick, it’d be worth it.” Then Texas called a timeout and Baylor couldn’t connect again.
Foster’s ability to play big and physical on the box and as a pass-rusher matches what Jason Hall brought to the field late last year, he’s a special ball player. Of course the wolf of DKR Caden Sterns also made some nice tackles and a crucial INT when Brewer foolishly tried to beat him in cover 2.
Perhaps the most encouraging thing about the dime defense though was their play against the Baylor run game, which produced just 66 yards on 21 runs by their backs for 3.14 ypc. That’s not winning football, not when the same dime defense is holding you to 6.3 ypa in the passing game.
This package can get better down the stretch and after the bye week and it’ll need to as Texas faces the Raid Bro gauntlet of Mike Gundy, Dana Holgorsen, and Kliff Kingsbury in succession.
Quick thought no. 4: Keaontay Ingram
Maryland: 6 carries, 37 yds, 6.2 ypc
Tulsa: 10 carries, 64 yds, 6.4 ypc
TCU: 8 carries, 38 yds, 4.8 ypc
K-State: 10 carries, 68 yds, 6.8 ypc
Oklahoma: 13 carries, 86 yds, 6.6 ypc
Baylor: 19 carries, 110 yds, 5.8 ypc
Everyone will clamor for MOAR INGRAM! but you gotta like how he’s been eased along this season. We’ll see how the bye week treats him and his various maladies but there’s a chance that his more conservative utilization will make him all the more likely to produce more 100-yard games down the stretch when Texas is trying to pound Air Raid teams every week and win the Big 12.
As an aside, an extra quick thought, Texas picked up a third and 13 throwing the shallow screen to D’Shawn Jamison that last year would always work like a charm and then always end up producing 1st and 15 when Texas was called for offensive pass interference (usually after a review). Jamison caught the ball behind the line of scrimmage and then turned on the jets coming upfield. It was nice to see a play for Jamison yield a positive result AND for that useful play to actually be executed.
Quick thought no. 5: Two weeks to heal up and plan
Texas is bowl eligible, pretty nice, but obviously that’s not the goal this season. The goal is to keep administering punishment to a down Big 12 and win the conference title. Obviously that might even put Texas in the playoffs, which would be interesting and a helpful experience for the team if not an opportunity to do something special.
Obviously the big question is the health of Sam Ehlinger. My best guess of what happened was that he dinged the shoulder running through Bears (or maybe on the power-read play early that got him popped at the line of scrimmage). He also cut his hand somehow, which led him to being sent to the sideline to stop the bleeding. At that time, there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with him at all, he was carving up the Bears on the ground and in the air. Then all of a sudden he was running to the locker room, then coming back with his arm hanging limply at his side. Herman says shoulder sprain that will only keep him from throwing for a few days.
Ehlinger has two weeks to heal before a road trip to Oklahoma State, it’s nice to know though that Shane Buechele can distribute the ball in this offense effectively enough to give Texas a chance to win. If he could connect with Duvernay deep then teams would probably be as afraid of Buechele as they are of Ehlinger.
The special teams are coming along, I know Cameron Dicker missed a few field goals today that made that game closer than it needed to be but he also made some long ones early in the game. He’s an asset overall. Ryan Bujcevksi scares me to death but he pinned the Bears inside the 20 three times today and had some nice kicks. The defense has a few issues we talked about after last week but they have the chance to put together a big second half of the season and carry this team through some games.
For the rest of the year, the topics will be “WHICH postseason game will Texas participate in?” And “Can Texas FINISH and win the Big 12?”