It's getting old, but remains necessary: this matchup is more an injury concern than anything. Brown was listed on Friday as questionable with a knee injury, different than the turf toe that cost him games against Texas Tech and Missouri earlier this year. And with Joe Bergeron declared out (hamstring), and Fozzy Whittaker missing for the rest of the year (knee), Texas needs Brown to be healthy in this one. Brown said on Tuesday that the knee brace he wore at practice was strictly preventative, and that he should be ready to go. The Longhorns better hope so, as rushing yards can be had against a Baylor defense giving up 5.3 yards per carry.
Texas defensive backs versus Kendall Wright, Baylor wide receiver
Really, all of the Baylor wide receivers are difficult matchups because of the speed and big-play ability they bring to the table. But Wright is in the discussion with Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon as the top wide receiver in the league, and therefore one of the top receivers in the country. Wright is actually a tougher matchup than Blackmon, as the Cowboys typically stick him on the outside and say "cover him if you can." But Wright gets moved around in the Baylor offense, meaning you can't toss somebody like Carrington Byndom on him and forget about him. The Longhorns did an excellent job of shutting down Texas A&M's Ryan Swope last week, but make no mistake, Wright is a superior talent.
Robinson and Acho have the game's toughest assignment, in that at times they'll be called out of the box to help on slot receivers, but at the same time, they'll have to come screaming up to help on Ganaway, a powerful 240-pound back with the ability to wear down a defense. And that's before we've started talking about the challenges presented by Griffin, both in the quarterback run game and as a scrambler. Robinson and Acho will have to be decisive, play fast and bring their feet to contact. Any slip-up could mean a big play.
Marquise Goodwin, Texas wide receiver, versus the Baylor defensive backs
With Case McCoy as the starting quarterback, the Longhorns will largely try to hit the Bears with short-to-medium-range passing. But if Texas wants to be consistent about moving the ball, the Longhorns have to at least threaten with the big play. While Jaxon Shipley will be more important in the former passing game, Goodwin has shown, with his world-class speed, the ability to get open deep. It's then up to McCoy to connect with him on a play or two to stretch out the defense. Mike Davis could also factor in here, though Goodwin has been able to get open deep more in recent weeks.
Texas defensive line versus the Baylor offensive line
The Baylor offensive line has had a pretty strong season. But the Texas defensive line has ramped up to domination mode in recent weeks, with Kheeston Randall eating up double teams, a collection of defensive tackles showing the ability to get to the quarterback and the development of Alex Okafor as one of the Big 12's top defensive ends. Simply put, the best way to control an offense, any offense, is to control the line of scrimmage. And that's precisely what Texas will have to do to keep the scoreline down: win the trenches on defense. If this game gets into the 30s, or higher, Texas is in big trouble. But if the Longhorns can get penetration, they can wreck the Baylor running game and pressure Griffin. That might be enough to keep the score at a more manageable spot.
When Oklahoma State jumped out to a 42-0 lead on Baylor, the goose egg wasn't caused by some great defensive effort. In fact, the Cowboys allowed 622 yards of total offense to the Bears. But Baylor turned the ball over a season-high five times. Texas doesn't need five turnovers to win this game. But the Longhorns do need to slow down the Baylor offense, and turnovers give the Longhorns a potential double-whammy, a possession change and a chance to flip the field for an offense still finding its way.
The result would be more assured if Bergeron (can't) and Brown (might be able to) could go. But as it is, you have a classic matchup between a defensive team with a struggling offense and an offensive team with a struggling defense. Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz earned a reputation for shutting down mobile QBs in Tim Tebow and Denard Robinson. But take that with a grain of salt, as Griffin isn't a mobile QB who can throw, he's an accurate thrower who also happens to be a dynamic runner. Still, the Longhorns should be able to generate a turnover or two, and that might just be enough.
TEXAS — 27
Baylor — 24