Last year, Texas finished with more rushing and passing yards than Baylor, but lost 48-24, in large part because the Longhorns committed more turnovers. Saturday, the Longhorns flipped the script, winning the turnover battle 2-0, and the game 56-50 despite being out-gained by the Bears in a fast-paced shootout.
Texas offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin was quick to point out that turnovers were the main difference between the two Baylor contests after the game.
"That was the biggest thing," Harsin said. "When you give up six turnovers … it's hard to beat anybody when you do that. We hung on to the football, and then when we get turnover opportunities, that's huge for us, a sudden change, and we got to take advantage of that.
"We played smart football tonight," Harsin said. "We played tough football tonight."
That latter trait was exhibited largely through the Texas running game, which blew off Baylor's doors with an 84-yard Daje Johnson touchdown run on the game's first play and never looked back.
"Any doubt that was in any of our minds coming up to the game … all of that was just gone at that moment, when we showed, yeah, we can get int the end zone again," said Texas quarterback David Ash. "We can play football. We can win. We can be successful as a team. And all the hard work we put in this week, it's paying off right now."
Take out a bad punt snap and three kneel downs for Ash to seal the game, and Texas rushed 40 times for 293 yards, averaging 7.3 yards per carry behind a mauling offensive line.
"They played great. They were opening holes. They were doing their job. They were playing physical," Ash said of the offensive line. "And we made an emphasis of that this week and prepared them to play physical this game. I was really proud of them. Those guys, they don't get a lot of credit for what they do. Most of the time their number gets called out, it's for an offsides penalty or something like that or a holding call or a sack. Tonight, they really did a great job. In my mind they won us that game."
Texas coach Mack Brown also singled out the line's work.
"I thought it was good tonight," Brown said. "We did not have Donald Hawkins. We tried him in presume and he still had a sore ankle, he dressed but he didn't play. But I thought they pretty much dominated the line of scrimmage."
The tone for that group, and the team as a whole, was set during a brutal series of practices this past week. Safety Kenny Vaccaro called those sessions "full-on, just-hit-each-other," while Alex Okafor referred to them as "kind of like a training camp practice." Vaccaro, who busted the bridge of his nose open against Oklahoma, said his nose started bleeding a couple periods in, after a hard hit on Joe Bergeron.
"It was really, really physical," Vaccaro said. "… We took guys to the ground the whole time. Scout team, everybody was getting slung around."
"Everybody was just giving it their all," Okafor said. "Nobody was trying to save their bodies for the game. Everybody was acting like practice is the game. That was probably the biggest difference this weekend."
Vaccaro said the manner of practice allowed the Longhorns to develop tunnel vision.
"We just got back to being physical and not worrying so much about the stuff you get distracted with at Texas [like] the Longhorn Network, all the fans, all the glory, all the Nike and all that stuff, and just got back to playing football," Vaccaro said. "That's all that really matters, and I think a lot of schools that win across the country, that is all they focus on. They don't worry about all that other junk that's out there."
Meanwhile, Ash said the emphasis was on physicality, execution, energy and passion.
Both teams executed offensively in a whirlwind first half, with 11 scores between the two teams. Baylor put up 21 points in the first quarter to lead by seven at 21-14. Texas put up 28 in the second, helping the Longhorns carry a 42-31 advantage into the halftime break.
In the second half, the Longhorn defense helped take the reigns. After Nick Florence fumbled into the end zone and Baylor tight end Jordan Najvar recovered for a touchdown, the Longhorns didn't allow a Baylor player into the end zone for the next 25 minutes. The Bears had four drives during that period: two field goals, a fumble — which led to one of Texas's only two scores of the second half — and a punt.
"In some of their scoring drives early on, there were some third-down and fourth-down penalties, and that extended drives," said Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. "These offenses are way too good to let them get extra swings of the bat. We cleaned some of that stuff up, we didn't give up the big plays, we found a way to get stops, which sooner or later happens.
"For offenses, it's harder to drive the ball downfield," Diaz said. "We made them kick back-to-back field goals, both were 11-play drives in the third quarter. We got the ball back to our offense, and the offense kept powering away and scoring points."
Vaccaro said tackling was at the heart of the Longhorn defensive turnaround.
"Those drives don't keep extending when you just get the guy on the ground," Vaccaro said. "From what I saw, we tackled a lot better. So that just gives us more chances to stop them."
So the Longhorns led 56-43 late in the fourth quarter, but the Bears weren't finished. Florence captained a 94-yard touchdown drive, sneaking in on fourth-and-goal from the one to cut the lead to 56-50. Instead of an onside kick, with all three timeouts, Baylor tried to pooch it over the wall and recover it on the other side. Texas hauled it in instead, and Bergeron took three plays to generate the game-clinching first down.
Bergeron led all runners with 19 carries for 117 yards and five touchdowns. David Ash thre for 274 yards and a touchdown, with Mike Davis hauling in six passes for 148 yards and a score.
Florence was mostly brilliant for Baylor. He completed 30-of-41 passes for 352 yards and two touchdowns to one interception, while also rushing for 69 yards and two touchdowns. Terrance Williams was his favorite target, catching 10 balls for 183 yards and a touchdown.
"This season, we have faced some of the top offenses in the nation, so these guys are going to put up stats," said Texas cornerback Carrington Byndom. "I think the main thing for us is trying to limit as much as we can, but then again, at the end of the day, it all comes down to if we win or not."
The Longhorns (5-2, 2-2) did win, upping Mack Brown's record in post-Red River loss contests to 8-1. Texas's only post-Oklahoma loss defeat came last year, against an Oklahoma State team that was among the nation's best.
"Around here, you don't want to lose to Oklahoma," said offensive guard Mason Walters. "It's a bad taste in your mouth; you want to get it out as soon as possible. You don't want to lose to Oklahoma, that's the bottom line.
"So yeah, we came out ticked off, and we practiced hard this week, we got a great game-plan going, everybody gave their best this week," Walters said. "That's what we've got to do week in and week out."
But even if the Longhorns plan on approaching the next game with the same attitude — Texas travels to Kansas next Saturday — they'll do it with more confidence following Saturday's result.
"I think it kind of proves that wasn't really who we were last weekend," Ash said. "It shows that we can play football with anybody."
TEXAS — Daje Johnson 84 run (Anthony Fera kick), 14:43 1Q
Baylor — Nick Florence 8 run (Aaron Jones kick), 11:51 1Q
TEXAS — Joe Bergeron 15 run (Fera kick), 6:58 1Q
Baylor — Glasco Martin 2 run (Jones kick), 4:08 1Q
Baylor — Terrance Williams 80 pass from Florence (Jones kick), 2:42 1Q
TEXAS — Bergeron 2 run (Fera kick), 13:57 2Q
Baylor — Lanear Sampson 7 pass from Florence (Jones kick), 11:45 2Q
TEXAS — Bergeron 9 run (Fera kick), 9:38 2Q
TEXAS — Johnathan Gray 25 run (Fera kick), 6:18 2Q
TEXAS — Bergeron 4 run (Fera kick), 1:06 2Q
Baylor — Jones 29 FG, 0:00 2Q
Baylor — Jordan Najvar 0 fumble recovery (pass failed), 12:21 3Q
Baylor — Jones 42 FG, 7:09 3Q
TEXAS — Bergeron 8 run (Fera kick), 6:31 3Q
Baylor — Jones 44 FG, 2:12 3Q
TEXAS — Mike Davis 15 pass from David Ash (Fera kick), 12:16 4Q
Baylor — Florence 1 run (Jones kick), 1:57 4Q