WACO — Texas arrived in Waco as 21-point underdogs. They left as 6-point victors. Barely.
Behind Tyrone Swoopes, more Chris Warren, and a nasty attitude, UT took down No. 12 Baylor, 23-17, in front of 48,093 fans at McLane Stadium on Saturday.
Texas (5-7, 4-5) now has more Top 15 wins than Alabama, Ohio State, Iowa, and North Carolina. Combined. It shows the capability and potential to which this program holds. However, it didn’t come without some tension. After building a 20-point halftime lead, Baylor installed a new offense at the half, and found points on its next three consecutive drives.
But Texas responded with a 12-play, 62-yard march, a drive where Andrew Beck caught two 3rd down conversions, and ended with a Nick Rose 37-yard FG, and 6-point margin with under four minutes to play, and visions of an upset in their eyes.
“I’m just so happy for our football team,” Strong said. “Happy for this whole program. It’s all about preparation, and confidence, and team chemistry. You look at the really good teams, and they have great team chemistry. That’s what we told the team. ‘Go play for your teammates. Play for the seniors.'”
Baylor (9-3, 6-3) took the ensuing drive to midfield, but a Poona Ford forced fumble and recovery all but sealed the Bears fate.
“I’m so glad for our seniors,” said Strong. “I said to the team before the game, ‘we need to go get this one; we need to go get it done for our seniors.’ To our young players I said, ‘just go out and play with confidence.'”
And they did.
Despite missing key starters in Malik Jefferson, D’Onta Foreman, and Hassan Ridgeway, the young pups played like dogs. From Anthony Wheeler, Breckyn Hager, and Connor Williams, these youthful Horns were all fight.
“Chris Warren grew up today,” said play-caller Jay Norvell. “We had guys grow up today. The truth is we are a very immature team. We have to take our football seriously. We have to grow up and care about football everyday.”
Warren, freshman, making his second career start performed much like his first with another 100-yard+ rushing performance. His 110 yards, on 28 carries paced the Longhorns rushing attack. He has optimism for next year. He sees it almost everyday.
“From what I see in practice,” said Warren. “I know we have a lot of potential in our room. I know we can go out there and make plays. That’s what we needed to do. This will be a good springboard for next season.”
It was a first half for the ages. After a Duke Thomas interception, a brief skirmish broke out when the benches cleared thanks to some extracurricular activities. It was symbolic of the opening stanza. One in which Texas completely dominated. And it might’ve began earlier in the day.
“It started in warmups,” said Strong, on the melee. “(Baylor) was chirping a little and our guys got upset. And I was glad it happened.”
It provided a much-needed spark. When you provoke these young Horns, who forced four Baylor turnovers, this how they respond.
Texas got on the scoreboard first at McLane, normally reserved for BU points. After holding the Bears on 4th down on their opening possession – BU had scored a touchdown on its first possession of every game in 2015. It took statistically the worst defense in Texas history to stop them. A few plays later, Swoopes finds Caleb Bluiett on a play-action 57-yard score, and a 7-0 lead.
After another BU stop, Texas drives 56 yards on seven plays, culminating in a Rose 23-yard field goal, and a 10-0, Texas advantage.
When freshman PJ Locke stripped BU’s Chris Johnson, fellow frosh Wheeler scooped up the free football. Swoopes found pay-dirt minutes later and the Horns built a 17-0 mark, with 1:11 remaining in the 1st quarter in front of a stunned Baptist crowd on an incredibly beautiful day. Moments later, Baylor went to its emergency QB – wide receiver Lynx Hawthorne – after third-stringer Johnson was helped off the field with a concussion. It was a big adjustment, for both teams, considering BU didn’t have another quarterback on its roster.
“We had to adjust,” said Paul Boyette. “They had their 3rd string QB in and we wanted to see who the next guy up was. We found that out today. We knew they’d run the ball. We just had to maintain our gaps. Moving forward next year, we have to keep building our confidence really. We need to know ourselves and be more confident in ourselves. I think that’s what it comes down to, being more confident.”
Rose connected from 40 yards with 2:01 left in the first half, giving Texas the most unusual 20-0 halftime lead.
Baylor got on the scoreboard when they opened the 2nd half with a steady dose of single wing, wildcat, or the play where the guy playing QB keeps it every snap. Running backs, Johnny Jefferson and Terence Williams, all toted the rock during an 8-play, 69-yard drive. Jefferson’s 20-yard score got BU on the board – it was the first time Baylor had been held scoreless in the first half since October 29, 2011 at Oklahoma State.
On BU’s next possession, Chris Callahan connected on a 24-yard FG, cutting UT’s halftime lead in half, 20-10.
It was 17 unanswered points when BU’s Lynx Hawthorne hit the pylon on an 8-yard TD jaunt. It brought Baylor within three, 20-17, with 9:40 remaining in the contest. And made the Longhorn faithful anxious. It was a rerun of a movie they’d seen all too often in 2015.
Except this time, the good guy wins.
“This is a springboard for the Spring now,” said Strong. “Now we have something we can build on, and take into the offseason. I’m not pleased with the year we had. You go beat Oklahoma, then go on the road and beat Baylor. (Strong laughs) I don’t have an answer for this team. I wish I did. I wish each week and every week could’ve been like this one. I don’t want to make any promises about next year, but we have a lot to look forward to.”
Texas senior DB Duke Thomas, who played all four secondary positions in 2015, including safety today, said it best for the future Horns.
“Texas is built off tradition and pride,” said Thomas. “We showed that today. If you don’t want to come here, you don’t want to work. Working hard, that’s us. Coming here, you have to know there will be a grind. You have to know you have to beat somebody out. You have to be passionate. When you step on the field, there’s only one way to work.
The run for 2016 begins tomorrow. Buckle up.