Football

Bears too much for UT, 28-7

Quandre Diggs. (Will Gallagher/IT)
Quandre Diggs. (Will Gallagher/IT)

AUSTIN — Two special team blunders – a blocked FG returned 62 yards for a Baylor score and a fake punt that quickly set up the Bears’ first offensive TD midway through the third quarter – offset a determined outing from Texas’ defense on Saturday. Throw in a 99.9-yard scoreless drive from a lackluster Longhorn offense and the result is a 28-7 spanking from their visitors from Waco.

“I thought it (fake punt) changed everything,” said Baylor coach Art Briles. “(After that), we go down and score in four plays and go up 14-0 after not making first downs, quite honestly. It was a field position game, and that kind of flipped the field.”

Any chance Texas can flip its fortunes? Any hope for the future?

This is a defensive scheme that can beat any Big 12 team – in a year or so. Texas DC Vance Bedford’s bunch has been growing up before our very eyes (with the possible exception of the Amazing Disappearing DE Cedric Reed). On Saturday, the defense dropped its corners and held college football’s most prolific offense well below its averages in virtually every category.

One of football’s oldest adages, however, is that stats are for losers.

The defense stuffed the run until that dagger of a fake-punt. The final book will show that Baylor rushed for 187 of its 278 yards following the fake punt on 4th-and-5 from its own 33 midway through the third. That’s when punter Spencer Roth scooted for 19 yards and when the air left the stadium. The defense did not lose heart, but it did lose steam. (It’s not for lack of heart but rather a dearth of able bodies in the rotation). The defense was getting gassed and gashed in the fourth quarter but, otherwise, is solid enough to give Texas a chance to scratch out four more wins and become bowl eligible.

That’s just where things are in this mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world where Texas entered as the biggest home underdog in almost 30 years and where Baylor has now won four of five in this series.

The seven points Texas mustered is the fewest in this series in a quarter-century. Watching this offense is like watching paint dry and, based on the empty seats in both end zones, it’s clear that a significant number of ticket-holders have already seen enough. (Yes, there is something worse than fan angst and anger. It is apathy).

Just five games into his tenure, Charlie Strong received a vote of confidence this week from the UT Board of Regents presumably because they thought he might need it. Strong is hardly in trouble with any of the big cigars but, these days, his toughest sales pitch may be to his own defense. He insists, however, that the offensive woes have not led to dissension within the ranks.

“Every place I’ve been the defense has always outperformed the offense,” Strong said. “There’s no finger-pointing.”

Coaches could help their cause with better clock management and more efficient playcalling; the offense had to burn timeouts in each half because the call was too slow from the sideline. Still, co-offensive coordinator Shawn Watson opened the playbook for this one, calling for more deep shots while sprinkling in some Zone Read, screens and speed sweeps.

The problem was that when QB Tyrone Swoopes wasn’t overthrowing open receivers, he was under throwing them. He was wildly erratic in the first half, including an INT at the Baylor 46 with 30 seconds left in the opening frame. His second goal-line fumble in as many weeks prompted a reporter to ask if he thinks it’s “as good as it goods” with Swoopes behind center.

“Tyrone could have played better,” Strong said, chalking it up to a mediocre day at the office.

For the second time this week, Strong reminded that Texas is bereft of the offensive personnel it expected to have in its arsenal. The list can still include Daje Johnson. The senior took his first snap of the season on Texas’ first series, collecting 5-yard speed sweep, but reportedly suffered an injury later in the game.

Swoopes continues to stare down receivers and, in all probability, is not Texas’ starting QB this time next year.

In all fairness, the ball also fluttered and floated on Baylor’s highly-touted Bryce Petty. In fact, Petty was just 7-of-22 for 111 yards (that’s not misprint) while Swoopes was 16-of-34 for 144 yards, two INTs.

Petty looked discombobulated throughout the contest and, obviously, the Texas defense had much to do with it. But all Baylor needed was just two or three TD drives to put away Texas and douse its fire-breathing defense. Petty completed just three passes in the second half, but two went for TDs.

Mixing pass-and-run, Baylor efficiently drove 78 yards to the Texas 5 midway through the second quarter. Officials signaled TD following Petty’s 4-yard keeper; the replay booth saw it differently, confirming he was stopped inches shy of the goal line. The Bears still had two shots inside the 1-foot line with 8:12 remaining.

And the defense held.

Here, you’re thinking this could be the tide-turner that propels Strong’s program toward a much-needed signature win. The result, of course, was a 99-yard Longhorn drive that did not end in points.

Texas got off its goal line with a 23-yard play-action pass to Alex De La Torre. Malcolm Brown stepped-off 13 yards on the Zone Read after Swoopes moved the chains on 3rd-and-3 with a 5-yard dart to M.J. McFarland. But this is when the offense shot itself in the foot. Twice.

A holding penalty against Sedrick Flowers negated a 22-yard TD pass to Brown. But, on 2nd-and-5 from the 7, one member of the (Keystone Cops of an) officiating crew signaled TD after Swoopes scrambled for what appeared to be the tying score. It was ruled, however, that Swoopes was just inches shy of pay dirt. It became the second time in as many weeks the Horns turned it over inside the opponent’s 5. And it came on the simplest play in football.

“It’s a center-quarterback exchange,” Strong said. “Nobody swiped it. It’s just snapping it, catching it, and moving forward. It was nothing but a quarterback sneak.”

It offset an otherwise outstanding first half from the defense. Until Saturday, Baylor had outscored opponents 150-10 in the first half.

Baylor’s second offensive TD of the day sent fans to the exits with 11 minutes remaining. The only question, now, was whether Texas could avoid its first shutout in ten years. The Horns benefitted from a pass interference penalty in the end zone. Johnathan Gray’s 2-yard TD run with 2:42 left erased the goose egg (but not what has been a rotten egg of a season).