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Shooting From the Hip:Texas 23, Baylor 17

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Wait, what?

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

4-7 Texas just beat 9-2 Baylor in Waco.

4-7 Texas just beat 9-2 Baylor in Waco.

Holy shit.

I'm not going to pretend that I've got this one all the way processed - it was a roller coaster that left the head spinning, the heart pounding and the corn dogs perilously close to coming up for a rematch.  Which is, on the face of it, absurd.  This game carried no bowl game upside of any kind and was approached with less anticipation than any Texas contest in recent memory - a meaningless clock-punching that could only take on larger relevance if turned into a 50-point clock-cleaning and served as an eleventh-hour referendum on everything.

And then it started feeling like a plucky effort to be proud of.

And then it started feeling like a possible upset.

And then it started feeling like an ass-kicking that (despite Baylor's obvious handicap at QB) was going to provide not just a springboard, but a template for what a physical and dialed-in Longhorn squad could start to deliver on the regular.

And then it began a second-half slide into disaster that - after the game took on so much absolutely unlooked-for importance - felt like it could end up serving as an eleventh-hour referendum on everything, anyway.

And then it became a gasping, sweating, awkward high-fiving escape that somehow ended up feeling...weird?

Which is why I had to remind myself out of the gate - 4-7 Texas just beat 9-2 Baylor in Waco.

Holy shit.

Offense

With Heard cleared to play after his concussion against Tech but still banged up, Texas opened the game with Tyrone Swoopes at QB.  On the Longhorns' first drive it looked like they were ready to continue last Thursday's Outside Zone party with Chris Warren, and then Swoopes lobbed one to Caleb Blueitt on a well-designed and perfectly timed play action call.  Caleb hit the afterburners nitrous oxide premium unleaded down the sideline, fought through a half-hearted tackle attempt that provided more boost than hindrance and made a sneakily athletic layout to break the plane and put Texas up 7-0.

Innnnnteresting.

The Longhorns followed that up with a field goal drive that featured a couple more solid Warren runs, an impressive contested grab by Daje Johnson (!) and an 18-yard third-down scamper by Swoopes that highlighted his escapability - as long as said escapability involves a straight pocket climb with zero lateral movement.  The drive stalled after a first-half-of-the-Tech-game redux with a first down throw, and Swoopes came up limping following a second edge run.  Tyrone still had the juice to get around the edge for Texas' second touchdown on a subsequent possession, though, cashing in an 18-yard TD drive that was set up by a Baylor fumble.  It didn't exactly take Vince Young 4th and 5 magic to make it in, thanks to Andrew Beck setting the edge and Alex de la Torre absolutely killing a guy with a trident.

Even though Swoopes was limping, the first quarter featured just enough of Jerrod Heard to convince everyone involved that we didn't realllllyyyy need to see any more Jerrod Heard this season.  From the start of the second quarter on it would be on Swoopes, Warren and the Longhorns OL to bring home an unlikely victory.

From the start of the second quarter on, Texas would score six more points.

Three of them came thanks to 35 rushing yards from Warren (26 of which I'm sure looked awesome, despite the fact that ESPN couldn't quite manage to include them in the live broadcast), three rushing yards from Swoopes, five penalty yards from Baylor and a redemptive 53-yarder from Nick Rose.  Aside from those moments, the drive featured themes of:

- Andrew Billings is a lot better than our interior OL,

- We can't really trust Tyrone Swoopes as a passer, and

- Baylor knows that we can't really trust Tyrone Swoopes as a passer

The next quarter and a half would provide increasingly frustrating variations on those themes.

Warren managed to find a couple of creases and deliver some punishment to second-level defenders, but took plenty of his own as Billings led frequent charges into the Longhorn backfield.  As soon as Baylor internalized that they could outnumber the run with virtual impunity, Warren found extremely tough going on the ground.

The Longhorns found new and inventive ways to fail on the bubble screen, mixing in the typical behind-the-receiver throws and dodgy blocks with the exciting new wrinkle of "Good throw, good block and the receiver inexplicably falls down on his own."

Swoopes scatter-armed a third down throw to a wide-ass open John Burt, forcing Burt to the ground and setting up a 4th-and-1 fail when the 18 Wheeler jumped the tracks as counter blocking left an absolutely unblocked defender on each side of the formation.

All in all, things looked ugly.

Once the game got within three in the fourth, though, Texas managed to scratch and claw its way to one more crucial field goal.  Warren managed a few more solid cuts and strong finishes while Swoopes invoked the ghost of James Brown on a Great Grandson of Roll Left and Mini-Roll Right to create a crucial pair of third-down conversions to Andrew Beck.  Swoopes gutted up for another twelve yard run to bring Texas inside field goal range, and the offense had done just enough to bring the win home.  In other words...

An offense featuring Tyrone Swoopes, Sedrick Flowers, Taylor Doyle and Marcus Hutchins just beat a Top Ten team on the road.

Holy shit.

Defense

The Longhorn Defensive M*A*S*H unit that came into the contest lacking three of its most critical run defenders in Hassan Ridgeway, Peter Jinkens and Malik Jefferson had everyone braced for a tough day against Shock Linwood and company.  Linwood turned out to be dinged, and he got dinged even harder when a fourth-down Poonatration dropped him in the backfield to snuff the Bears' first drive.  Poona and the rest of his DL mates hung tough against a massive Bears OL early on, while a secondary that had bamboozled Bryce Petty in 2014 found itself much younger but on at least equal footing against Baylor's third-stringer Chris Johnson.

We got to see the fourth-stringer in short order, as said secondary annihilated Johnson when a great form tackle from new free safety Duke Johnson tag-teamed with a KTFO shot from P.J. Locke.

Enter...the Lynx.

Lynx Hawthorne, by name a possible replacement for a recently-blackballed James Deen atop the porn industry and by trade a wide receiver, entered the game and proceeded to throw the ball like...a porn star/wide receiver hybrid.  Texas' DBs wasted no time going Lynx hunting, nabbing a pair of picks and staying in position to foil a couple of flea-flicker/double pass trickeration attempts.  If you'd like to jump in a DeLorean and try to convince Charlie to roll with Duke Thomas at free safety six games ago... well, you're not alone.  (If you do manage to swing the DeLorean thing, please do pre-Thanksgiving Me a solid and convince me not to bet the under against Tech.)

With a patchwork front seven six holding its own and the Once and Future DBU DP'ing Lynx at every opportunity, what could go wrong?

Oh.

That.

Full marks to Art Briles and the Bears coaching staff for flipping the script and playing a pure  numbers game in the second half.  Baylor came out with backup running back Johnny Jefferson lined up as a Wildcat QB with a fullback and two receivers split wide - way wide - to either side.  Strong and Bedford responded with Texas' standard 3-3- stack look, opting for the security of a deep safety and matching each detached receiver with a DB over outnumbering the box against a non-quarterback.  They made a decision that's more or less been writ large all season, opting for one-play score denial uber alles and counting on someone - anyone - in the box to make a plus play or two and short-circuit the opponent's ground game.

What followed were three of the most frustrating defensive drives in recent memory.  They resulted in 17 points, 35 plays, roughly 200 rushing yards and approximately 500,000 bloody knuckles, angry Tweets and FIRE EVERYONE NOW imprecations from the Longhorn faithful who weren't hunting, parasailing, antiquing or playing Star Wars Battlefront today.

Were Strong and Bedford mindless for not rolling the dice and outnumbering the run on the snaps when there was no legitimate passing threat in the backfield?  Were they vindicated when holding Baylor out of the end zone on three of their five second-half drives proved sufficient to secure a victory?  Were they simply battling with brutal injury circumstances when 49 second-half Baylor snaps were met with roughly five positively-graded DL plays and three acts of recognizable linebacking?

I guess...I'll have some of each?

When a staff is justifying 70+% of its right to keep coaching this team on the back of its defensive acumen, you want to see SOME kind of creative late shift/disguise/slant and scrape/SOMETHING to derail an alignment that had less than a 50% chance of completing a throw of any kind outside the numbers. At the same time, it's tough to hand Baylor a potentially effortless 30+ yard play or full-blown score by leaving them a two-on-one advantage on the outside or rolling with a zero look and allowing a single missed tackle or missed fit (and we didn't lack for THOSE) to go the distance.  At the same same time, players gotta play - and when you're all but out of players, that becomes a tall order.

There's no excuse for the continued failure of guys with two, three or four years in a Texas uniform to execute basic contain responsibility on the edge against the clear and present threat of a QB read.  But there's also no force on Earth that's going to have a Cole/Hager/Wheeler linebacking corps consistently hitting their fits and making sound plays against a quickly-conjured but highly effective ground game.

Ultimately, the Longhorns played it conservative and survived.

Survival wasn't assured, though, until Texas got one more act of Poonatration.  On a drive that could have staked the Bears to a heartbreaking 24-23 win, Ford shut things down with a high-effort pursuit that forced a fumble from the previously unstoppable Johnny Jefferson - he was even kind enough to fall on the ball himself to seal the deal.  The Longhorns' second half offensive foibles meant that the Bears would get one more shot, but the Lynx's gun wasn't sufficiently fluffed and a pair of last-gasp heaves fell limply short of paydirt.

Or, to put it another way:

Texas just held Baylor - qualifiers be damned, BAYLOR - to 17 points in Waco.

Holy shit.

Special Teams

If you were only going to manage a clear win on special teams in one game this season, this was a hell of a time for it.  Texas actually, amazingly dodged a self-inflicted wound for roughly the second time all season as a poorly thought out Daje return attempt got fumbled but recovered thanks to a very welcome Jake Oliver sighting.  Nick Rose endured a miss left/miss right combo after getting a re-do on a second quarter field goal attempt, but ended up putting three through the uprights including a long-distance dedication from 53 yards out.  Daje broke off a crucial 53-yard kick return when he sagely ran away from his set-up "blocking" (well, it would have been crucial had Texas gotten a single point out of the resulting drive,) and Michael Dickson had an all-around stellar outing capped off by an inside-the-10 job that forced Baylor to attempt a 96-yard final drive.

The Bottom Line

This one didn't mean anything.  Until it did.  And even then, it contained such a mix of fun, frustration and fugly that it's still tough to unpack - hell, I meant for this writeup to sound a lot more upbeat than it probably came out and couldn't quite manage it.

So, one more time, let's fall back on something more objective.

4-7 Texas just beat 9-2 Baylor in Waco.

Holy shit.