Simply put, this one could decide the game. Baylor is an outstanding passing offense, and if Texas allows the Bears to be two-dimensional, this one could get out of hand. Salubi is certainly capable of gashing the Longhorn defense on his own, but Seastrunk figures to see more work this week. He's a former elite recruit with big-time speed and playmaking ability. So if there was ever a time for the Longhorn defense to figure out how to stop the run, this would be it.
On the flip side, the Longhorns will need to be able to run the ball well, both to slow the game down and to take advantage of the offense's primary strength. Texas is still at its best when the Longhorns run the ball, pound teams and then take shots to one-on-one receivers down the field. The offensive line will have to play better, certainly. But Texas should be able to run the ball on a defense allowing more than four yards per carry. This is a good week to get back to the type of running game the Longhorns have grown accustomed to.
David Ash, Texas quarterback, versus the Baylor safeties
At the same time, the Bears' primary weakness has been through the air. Last year, Case McCoy had his biggest passing game against Baylor, and the stage is set for Ash to have a strong performance himself. I wouldn't count on the Longhorns moving to a pass-heavy offense — while Ash was nails in the fourth-quarter against Oklahoma State, Texas still hasn't shown that to be a game-long identity offensively. So while Ash may throw the ball more than normal, the game shouldn't be placed on his shoulders. But he's still capable of the big game that will be available to him this week against the Baylor secondary. He needs to bounce back, because points will be needed.
Mykkele Thompson, Texas safety, versus the Baylor wide receivers
Thompson found out how the other half lived against Oklahoma, one week after an outstanding job against West Virginia. In the Mountaineer game, Thompson showcased his outstanding athleticism and range, while the Sooners exploited some tackling issues. So which Thompson will show up this week? I tend to think it will be the West Virginia one. In defending Baylor, I believe Manny Diaz will use two-high safeties (at least at the start of plays), much like he did to slow down the Mountaineers. And that does two things for Thompson. First, it takes him largely out of run support. And second, it takes advantage of Thompson's speed and skill set on the back line. It could be another strong effort for Thompson, and the Longhorns need one.
Reggie Wilson, Texas defensive end, versus the Baylor offensive line
Kenny Vaccaro said this week that senior defensive end Alex Okafor, even last year, was calling Wilson the best backup defensive end in the country. Can he become more than a backup legend? Wilson will get his first career start this week against Baylor with the season-ending injury to star end Jackson Jeffcoat, and the Bears might be wise to double-team Okafor until Wilson shows he can make an impact. With the way Baylor throws the ball, Wilson should have plenty of chances to prove his worth. Also keep an eye on Cedric Reed and true freshman Shiro Davis, who should see plenty of time.
This swung last year's game, with Texas falling by double-digits despite often moving the ball at will. Whenever you face an explosive offense, the one thing you don't want to do is turn the ball over, because it can quickly turn a seven-point game into a 21-point game, or worse. Texas will need to put up points, but even more than that, the Longhorns have to hold onto the ball and not give away easy scores, or eliminate scores of their own through mistakes. Lose the turnover war, and the Longhorns probably aren't winning the football game.
This is one of those games that feels almost pointless to predict because both defenses are playing so poorly. And while the Baylor offense has been better than the Texas one, the Baylor defense is (somehow) significantly worse. The point is that this one should light up the scoreboard. Baylor is more like West Virginia in that it's more of a pass-based spread, but of course that didn't stop Andrew Buie from running all over the Longhorns. Still, Texas slowed West Virginia's passing attack and was a few fourth-down stops away from winning by double-digits. Stops will be at a premium here, and I think Texas just gets one more than Baylor does.
TEXAS — 48
Baylor — 45