If you've ever seen two fat chicks fighting over a pair of lycra short shorts in a Wal Mart, then you may have some insight into the game in Waco. A Baylor team starting their fourth string QB/WR for much of the game faced a Longhorn team starting two QBs who would be third string at Baylor. Sprinkle in a Longhorn defense that was down 7 starters at one point and the result was gloriously bad football. Texas linebackers deprived of braille line chalk careened randomly around the field chasing a guy named Panther Steelcock while the Texas defensive staff spent most of the game in a defense suited to face a Tom Brady two minute drill rather than Baylor's direct snaps to the RB.
Overall, this was the gridiron equivalent of a Kirk Cameron Explains Evolution Seminar.
Making Art Briles and Baylor eat their Cocoa Puffs off of plasticware instead of Sugar Bowl china is always sweet and then there's this:
TEXAS (5-7) has more Top 15 wins than Alabama, Ohio State, Iowa, & UNC -- COMBINED
— Pick Six Previews (@PickSixPreviews) December 5, 2015
This Longhorn team is one bent officiating crew away from having wins over Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Baylor. The same Longhorn team that was shut out against Iowa State on the road. We're taking this Keep Austin Weird thing a bit too seriously.
The limitations of the Longhorn offense, both conceptually and with respect to personnel, were on full display.
Swoopes got the lion's share of snaps after leading the Longhorns for a touchdown on the opening drive. Heard was ineffective by air and by land and the QB job is a question mark going into the Spring. How this position is developed and what a new offensive direction musters will likely determine Strong's future at Texas. Swoopes regressed to his mean after a quick start (he attempted a pop pass into triple coverage in the end zone but the sure pick was dropped by the Baylor DB, he threw a wide open John Burt into the ground on a 3rd down play etc), but 12 of 19 for 151 passing and 52 yards rushing was enough to power the Longhorn offense to enough points. Props to Tyrone for playing through a thigh injury which clearly had him hobbled for much of the game.
Chris Warren powered for a gutty 106 yards on 28 carries, attempting to make the best of sparse holes. While his per carry average didn't sparkle like the Tech game, he showed me some less glamorous but equally crucial dimensions as runner with respect to toughness and desire. When Warren gets a clean initial hole, he's a pile mover. He also takes care of the ball. Unfortunately, penetration is deadly against him as his height and size play against his ability to cut back quickly to daylight. He'll benefit immensely as the Texas OL improves over time.
Barry Alvarez is pissed he didn't get to coach him.
Caleb Gronkowski has proven to be a legitimate TE with real upside in 2016. His 57 yard TD featured a five yard vertical levitation into the end zone that suggests he's been doing his planks. Daje made some nice plays, cut out his customary drops and generally played with a lot of effort in all phases. John Burt had some freshman moments, but, hey, freshman.
Andrew Beck had two nice catches on third down pop plays to run clock and Alex De La Torre finished the season with another physical effort as our lead H back in the running game. Props to Alex for finding a role and finishing well.
Andrew Billings gave Taylor Doyle some very tough moments and the Nickelson/Hutchins duo struggled mightily at times outside. The Texas OL had rocky moments and as Baylor's defense began to overplay the running game, Texas couldn't land counter punches to make things loosen up. The skill players making the plays available would do a lot to help these guys out. Wickline played Perkins inside to get the inside zone game going but it's a rob Peter, pay Paul situation no matter what he does.
In the second half, the Texas defensive staff exhibited pigskin malpractice playing honest fronts against the Baylor run game and off coverage against a QB who can only complete hitches and screens. Why the Longhorns wouldn't load the box, let Boyette and Ford shoot gaps, increase mayhem potential, walk safeties up and generally play the percentages to force Ocelot Thornwilde into high interception/sack/fumble likelihood downfield throws is a mystery. No, actually, quarks are a mystery. This was just demonstrably stupid.
I absolutely appreciate that the unit was the walking wounded and that our 2nd and 3rd team linebackers need guide dogs, but you can't allow a team to reel off 17 points running three plays when their best QB option screams like Monica Seles anytime he has to attempt a pass over ten yards.
Vance Bedford and the defensive staff should be running gassers right now. Baylor ran for 395 yards and nearly won the game because our coaches didn't understand the bigger picture that a little tactical risk was the best way to obviate the larger strategic risk of getting your ass methodically kicked and worn down allowing Baylor to run the only plays that they could.
Texas started Duke Thomas at safety and early returns suggested that we might have benefitted from this approach a week ago. He and Jason Hall both had picks against Sabretooth Bandana, but they were also forced from the game with injuries, allowing Texas to start an entire backfield of true freshmen at one point. I've never seen that.
Baylor was "held" to 84 yards passing, but game context renders that observation fairly meaningless.
Not all Cole turns into a diamond under pressure. I won't pick on Tim as the other Longhorn linebackers didn't perform better - which you'd sort of expect from 2nd and 3rd string freshmen. Baylor exploited their paralysis, bad angles and poor tackling all game, but the Longhorn staff didn't help their cause by stubbornly playing a 3-3-5 that allowed Baylor to double at the point of attack and then get bodies and momentum on to our freshman already taking false steps. 395 yards later...
Gapping our DL and bringing up a safety so that the linebackers could have had more decisive run fits would have helped.
Absent Hassan Ridgeway, I wasn't displeased with what we saw from Ford, Boyette, Nelson and Jackson. They were asked to hold the LOS against a big OL that was able to pound on our front with 66 running plays (and 94 total plays from scrimmage). In fact, when we empowered our DL with numbers or gapping calls, they responded with disruption. The catch and eat blockers approach with the 3-3-5 drove me mad, however, and that constituted a lot of our game strategy. Shiro and Hughes both fell during the game and it was all-hands-on-deck end of game.
Texas won special teams decisively and this was probably the story of the game next to putting Baylor's QB out. Dickson's punts were on point, Rose boomed kickoffs, Daje had a solid return or two (and his muffed punt didn't cost us), coverage teams were solid and Rose nailed 3 of his 4 field goals attempts.
We haven't had many special teams wins and it was sorely needed.
Happy for the win. Equally happy that the next time I watch the Longhorns, it'll be in Spring, 2016.