By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
After yet another loss, the shockingly mediocre Texas Longhorns are left to pick up the pieces against the 25th-ranked Baylor Bears this weekend in a Big 12 Conference clash.
Baylor enters this showdown with a wealth of confidence, as the team beat Kansas State last Saturday by a 47-42 final to become bowl eligible for the first time since 1995. That victory was the second straight and fourth in the last five outings for the Bears, who are led by head coach Art Briles. Baylor, which has scored at least 30 points in all but one game this season, has cracked the Top-25 poll for the first time this year.
"It is certainly a step in the right direction," says Briles of the ranking. "The important thing is to be in it when the season is over. That is the important thing, but it is definitely a positive step perception-wise, no doubt."
Mack Brown has achieved sustained excellence during his tenure as head coach of Texas, so this season's 4-3 record is both surprising and disappointing. The Longhorns have lost three of their last four outings, including a 28-21 setback to Iowa State last Saturday in front of a deflated Austin crowd. Of the five games remaining on the regular-season schedule for Texas, four will take place at home, but considering the fact that the squad is 1-2 in Austin, that may not be a good thing.
"We said during the week that this team is not good enough to beat anybody unless they all come out and play as a team," said Brown after the ugly loss to Iowa State. "We've got a lot of work to do before we play Baylor next week. I'm really disappointed."
Texas owns a commanding 73-22-4 series advantage over Baylor, which includes 12 straight wins over the Bears.
Jay Finley was unstoppable for Baylor against Kansas State last weekend, as he rushed for a school record 250 yards. The Bears were able to move the ball through the air with ease as well, as Robert Griffin threw for a career-high 404 yards and four touchdowns. Baylor racked up a staggering total of 683 total yards in that affair and moved the chains 29 times. Both Josh Gordon and Kendall Wright had two touchdowns receptions in the clash.
Overall this season, the Bears are generating 34.9 ppg and 510.8 total ypg. Griffin is a star, as the signal caller has completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 2,373 yards and 18 touchdowns against only four interceptions. A tremendous all-around athlete, Griffin has rushed for 384 yards and six scores while gaining 5.1 yards per carry. As for Finley, he has run for 697 yards and five scores, numbers that were obviously helped greatly by last week's performance. As for the receivers, Wright has posted 46 receptions for 648 yards and five touchdowns, while Gordon has hauled in sevens scores. Through eight games, the Baylor offense has notched 31 touchdowns.
Defensively, Baylor has been able to limit opponents to 23.2 ppg and 385.6 total ypg, and while those numbers are acceptable, there is obviously plenty of room for improvement. The run defense has actually been fairly solid, holding opposing ball carriers to 3.9 yards per attempt. As for the pass defense, the Bears are surrendering 234.9 ypg and have come up with just eight interceptions in as many outings. Foes are making good on 41 percent of their third down conversion attempts, a rather high figure. Byron Landor paces the Bears with 76 total tackles, while Tevin Elliott has posted five sacks.
Against Kansas State, Baylor surrendered 407 total yards and permitted the Wildcats to make good on half of their 12 third down conversion attempts. The Bears played well against the run, limiting the Wildcats to 109 yards on 34 carries, an average of just 3.2 yards per attempt. Still, four rushing touchdowns were permitted. The pass defense wasn't nearly as strong, yielding 14.2 yards per completion.
Fans of the Texas Longhorns are accustomed to seeing a high-powered offense, so the 23.6 ppg and 358.7 total ypg that this year's team is generating simply isn't acceptable. Garrett Gilbert is a first-year starter under center, and he has completed 60.1 percent of his passes for 1,557 yards with only six touchdowns against eight interceptions. There isn't a star-caliber wideout in the fold, and the ground attack has been rather weak as well. It is hard to believe that there isn't a single player on the Texas offense that opponents have to game plan for.
Against Iowa State, Texas did record 440 total yards, including 344 from Gilbert, who finished with a pair of touchdowns and 57 pass attempts. Unfortunately, he was intercepted three times and got no help from the team's ground attack.
While the Texas offense has struggled, the team's defense has certainly been solid. The Longhorns are yielding a mere 258.3 total ypg, are they are permitting only 2.9 yards per rushing attempt and 9.5 yards per pass completion. Keenan Robinson has recorded 65 total tackles to pace Texas, while Eddie Jones and Sam Acho have both posted five sacks. Robinson has also intercepted a pair of passes and recovered two fumbles, as he is always around the football.
Iowa State was able to post 335 total yards and score four touchdowns against the Longhorns, who yielded two passing scores and two rushing scores.
Although the Bears certainly appears to be a better team than Texas at this point, it is unthinkable that the Longhorns would lose back-to-back home games to Iowa State and Baylor. Expect coach Brown's team to play inspired football.