Saturday can’t get here fast enough for Texas. After all, a win against Baylor is the best way to put Lubbock, Tex. in your rear view mirror.
Texas (8-1, 4-1 Big 12) vs. Baylor (3-6, 1-4)
Saturday, Nov. 8, 11 a.m.
Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium
A bitter, nasty taste lingers in the back of the Longhorns’ mouths following their 39-33, last-second loss to Texas Tech. And the only thing that’s going to come close to swishing it around and spitting it out would be Texas’ 11th straight win in their series against Baylor.
“The bad thing about football is you have to wait a week,” said defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. “In baseball, you can go 0-for-4, and the next day you’re swinging. You’ve got to wait a week with a bad taste in your mouth, but now you’ve got an opportunity to play Baylor on Saturday.”
The upset snapped an nine-game win streak and dropped formerly top-ranked Texas to No. 4 in the current BCS rankings. The only solace for players is Texas remains in the hunt not only for a BCS Bowl but also a shot at the BCS title game.
“We’re never happy about a loss,” WR Jordan Shipley said, “but we’re still in good shape. There are a lot of things we can accomplish. We’ve just got to take care of our end of the deal.”
Taking care of Baylor is proving more difficult these days under first-year coach Art Briles. The Bears will actually have a winning record at home if they dispatch of Texas A&M on November 15, a commendable mark considering Baylor has hosted the likes of Oklahoma, Missouri and Wake Forest. They’ve been icing down the Dr. Peppers for years in Waco, waiting to celebrate another Miracle-on-the-Brazos return to respectability. So far, those hopes have been placed squarely on the shoulder pads of freshman QB Robert Griffin.
The former Copperas Cove star led his alma mater to a couple of Texas 4A runner-up finishes before committing to Houston; he then followed Briles to Baylor at the start of the season. Griffin beat out returning starter Blake Szymanski as well as former Miami starting QB Kirby Freeman to become the most productive freshman QB in college football.
“Robert Griffin is doing for Baylor what Vince Young did for us as a freshman,” said Texas coach Mack Brown.
There is much to like about Griffin. The dual-threat QB has galvanized the offense and is the face attached to an improving program that hung tough for four quarters in consecutive outings against Missouri and Nebraska. In fact, Griffin’s first INT of the season did not occur until late in the fourth quarter last week when he was driving for a potential upset of the nationally-ranked Tigers. By then, Griffin had gone 209 attempts without a pick to set a new record for the longest career-opening streak in NCAA history.
“He gives them a chance to win because he raises the level of play of everybody else,” Brown continued. “He’ll change Baylor and give then a chance to compete in this league.”
A chance to compete is what the Baylor faithful have prayed for since Grant Teaff hung up his whistle in 1992; a chance to get back in the ‘win column’ is what Texas needs Saturday.
There’s a little bit of Texas Tech coach Mike Leach in what Briles has begun to do with the Baylor offense. There’s a heavy emphasis on screens, quick-read and the underneath passing game. But Baylor’s approach is a bit more balanced with its reliance on the running game, particularly at QB. The Bears have also gone to a no-huddle attack but, in this case, the offensive front remains at the line of scrimmage while the skill players briefly gather at the sideline for the play selection.
“Art gives you so many looks but Mike is pretty basic with what he does,” Brown said. “Mike does the same stuff every year and they get good at it. They try to out-execute you. Art is going to try to confuse you. It’s a real problem with all the shifting and motioning because it can get you out of position.”
It also allows Griffin the opportunity to create. The Bears sport a gun-run attack that moves the pocket and features a diet of boots, nakeds and sprint-outs.
“It fits his style perfectly,” Muschamp said. “He’s got legs. He’s accurate with the ball. He’s got a fluid and strong lower body. He’s a tough guy to tackle in space. The biggest thing, when you watch the film, is his players believe in him. He does a lot of things for them.”
Griffin has completed 129-of-210 passes (61.4 percent) for 1,688 yards. He has thrown for 11 TD passes against that one INT. The freshman averages 187.6 passing ypg while adding 65.2 rushing yards per game, little more than one yard behind leading ground-gainer Jay Finley.
“You have to focus so much on Griffin that it opens up the running game,” Brown said. “You have to worry about him running…If he throws it, you’re happy. He can score quickly and easily.”
The Bears are averaging 183.3 rushing ypg and 196.1 passing. Baylor possesses a couple of stretch-the-field WRs in Kendall Wright and David Gettis.
Wright is a 6-foot freshman who leads the team with 514 yards and three TDs. At least 12 Bears have collected a couple of grabs this season.
“Wright can score every time he touches it,” Brown said. “Art knows how to get the ball to different guys in different formations.”
OT Jason Smith, a projected first round pick in the upcoming NFL draft, is Baylor’s most experienced player with 27 starts.
First-year defensive coordinator Brian Norwood scrapped the 4-2-5 look (installed last season and intended to slow the proliferation of spread offenses in the Big 12) and has gone back to a 4-3 base. The biggest difference, Brown believes, is attitudinal.
“They’re playing much harder on defense because their offense is scoring points,” Brown said. “The defense knows their offense gives them a chance. They’re playing lights-out on defense.”
The leader of the pack is JoePa, the moniker given to 6-3, 233-pound MLB Joe Pawelek. One of six returning defensive starters, Pawelek is the team leader in tackles (105), interceptions (3), QB hurries (5) and fumble recoveries (2).
Senior DE Leon Freeman leads the team with six TFL. Junior FS Jordan Lake is the team’s second-leading tackler with 78 stops and has six PBU, two INTs and two forced fumbles on the season. Lake posted a team-best 11 tackles against Texas last season en route to Second-Team All-Big 12 honors.
“They’ll play a lot of zone,” QB Colt McCoy said. “We have to be able to handle what they do and get back on track.”