WACO — With 9:42 left in the second quarter, Baylor WR Blake Lynch caught a pass from Charlie Brewer and raced down the sideline toward the Texas end zone, going out of bounds at the two. Two plays later, John Lovett ran the ball in to put the Bears on the board. That was the only time that occurred on Saturday.
Today the Texas defense shut down the Baylor offense regardless of who was leading it. The UT offense, led by sophomore QB Shane Buechele, was able to put up 31 points on its own to support the defense. Junior and Thorpe Award semi-finalist DeShon Elliott added six points of his own on an early-game interception, and the Longhorns cruised past Baylor in Waco, 38-7.
Elliott’s pick-six came on the first series of the game set the tone for the defense before lunch. Zach Smith, the other Baylor option at QB, sailed a ball into Elliott’s hands. Elliott took it back 43 yards to give the Longhorns an early lead before one minute of game time had even gone by.
“Sometimes you’ve got to be in the right place at the right time by doing your job,” Elliott said. “If it happens, get the ball. We know our team is going to block for us. Just get to the end zone. That’s what I tried to do.”
Texas and Baylor traded poor drives for the remainder of the first quarter, with freshmen running backs Toneil Carter and Daniel Young receiving the bulk of the carries throughout the opening frame.
The Longhorns righted things on their first drive of the second quarter, when Carter and Buechele worked the ball 90 yards on 11 plays into the Baylor end zone.
Sophomore Lil’Jordan Humphrey caught the only Texas passing touchdown of the game when he snagged a pass from Buechele in the end zone to complete the drive.
Baylor would add its only points of the game on the ensuing drive set up by the long Lynch reception.
The Longhorns offense attempted to run several trick plays throughout the first half, including plays where Humphrey and running back Chris Warren attempted passes, with both falling incomplete. Texas’ scoring plays throughout the first half came not from trickery but rather the right read.
One of those reads was when Buechele ran 28 yards to the end zone one play after the Baylor punter had a snap go over his head.
“I don’t like pulling (my running ability) out, but when you have to, you have to,” Buechele said.
In the third quarter, head coach Tom Herman, who has previously expressed considerable disdain for 20-yard field goals, sent kicker Josh Rowland out on the field to attempt the field goal. Rowland converted his try, giving Texas a 24-7 lead.
“I thought it was important to get a three-possession lead,” Herman said. “We were playing great defense, and to have it at three possessions, I thought was important because I was pretty certain at that point that we were going to be able to hold up defensively and wanted to make sure we came away with points and pushed that lead up to the three-possession mark.”
Texas would add two more scores in the fourth when Carter scored from 19 yards out to open the quarter. With the game in hand, his freshman counterpart Daniel Young rushed for 31 yards to score to seal the victory for Texas.
“Really good team win,” Herman said. “I thought we played well, save for one drive on defense the entire day.”
Texas once again relied heavily on its defense on the road.
Junior Holton Hill continued to play at a high level despite being forced to leave the game for a short spell due to a hard hit. Hill supported multiple times in the run game and was second on the team with five tackles, trailing only Elliott and junior Malik Jefferson.
“I feel like we’re playing at the level we should have been playing at,” Hill said. “It’s only up from here. Take it one day at a time, one practice at a time, and just grow every week.”
Hill has been playing against opposing team’s best receivers for most of the year. Today, he held Baylor’s Denzel Mims to four catches for 42 yards with a long of 21.
“I told you he’s a first round cornerback,” Elliott said. “They’re going to see it eventually.”
The efforts from Hill and the rest of the secondary have kept Texas in all its recent games against high-powered Big 12 offenses. Though the winless Bears likely do not fall in that category, the effort defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s side of the ball has shown has made a huge impact on the team.
“They’re carrying us right now,” Herman said. “If there’s one side of the ball that I would like to carry us, it is that side. That’s number one on our plan to win is to play great defense. We’re doing that pretty well right now.”
On the offensive side of the ball, there were still some plays in which the Longhorns looked very poor against a Baylor defense ranked near the bottom of the country in defensive metrics. However, the run game did seem to reinvigorate itself with the help of the freshmen runners, Young and Carter.
“I thought they broke tackles, which was encouraging to see, and they slithered around in there when things weren’t blocked perfectly they found creases and threw their bodies through the creases,” Herman said. “I was proud of them. They protected the football, which is obviously always a concern when you’re playing true freshman running backs.”
Buechele’s efforts through the air were great as well, going 27-of-34 for 256 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
“I was really excited and happy and proud for him to have not played for as many weeks as he hadn’t and stayed engaged,” Herman said. “Credit to Tim Beck and the offensive staff, and Shane as well for staying engaged and being there when his teammates needed him.”
Buechele admitted it had been difficult to stay on the bench these past few weeks, but he credited those around him for helping him keep moving forward.
“It’s been tough, I’m not going to lie,” Buechele said. “But you know, you have to stay focused. I think that’s just the main thing. The players and coaches around me I think helped a lot just keeping me focused.”
Herman and the Longhorns return to Austin for practice this week before going on the road to take on the TCU Horned Frogs. After celebrating a win on the road, Texas has TCU on the horizon as well as a chance to get to bowl eligibility. Herman’s focus, however, has not reached the latter part yet.
“I just want to go win another one this week,” Herman said. “The big picture is irrelevant right now.”