Frisbie -- As expected, head coach Mack Brown announced Thursday that senior RB Brett Robin will get his first start against Baylor. Cedric Benson will be out of the starting lineup for the first time since the 2001 Oklahoma State contest (26 straight starts) and will return to the team Monday. But in the immortal words of Bill Murray: "It just doesnt matter! It just doesnt matter! It just doesnt matter!"
Not this week. Not against the Big 12s worst run defense (195 ypg) and just about the worst in the country (NCAA No. 103). Not with SE Roy Williams boasting a four-to-six inch height advantage over all starting Baylor DBs.
Robin had a career day against Tulane with 87 yards on 15 carries. His 21-yard run against the Green Wave is the longest by a Texas running back all season. The only suspense will be how healthy backup RB Selvin Young (groin injury) looks, plus if Anthony Johnson (61 yards on 12 career carries) will get any action in Waco.
Throughout the years, strange things have happened in Waco. Strange, worm-eating, Miracle-on-the-Brazos type things. The Bad News Bears have tarnished many a season for Texas (1974, 1978, 1984, 1991 come to mind). While its tempting to say that it cant happen this year, all one has to do is ask Colorado how they enjoyed their Waco weekend.
While Brown has yet to lead this program to the level of prosperity that so many of us expected, the sixth-year coach excels at overcoming adversity. Texas has had two weeks of it following The Debacle. If youre a betting man (and, remember, football is for entertainment purposes only. No wagering, please), the stone-cold lock is to go with Texas the week after something bad happens.
Again, this week, it just doesnt matter. Texas 48, Baylor 13.
Pearle -- Ah, Baylor. Such vivid memories does this long-standing I-35 rivalry evoke. Grant Teaff telling tales of Eskimos and chomping a worm to inspire his team to upset the Horns in 1978. The 50-7 stomping handed to the Horns by the Bears in Austin in 1989 when Texas football fell flat on its back. Then there was the Giftwrap game in 1992 when the zebras decided to hand Teaff a bright and shiny present in his last college game by blowing about at least three phantom fumble calls that enabled the Bears to steal a 21-20 win from Texas.
Hmmm. Why are my most immediate memories of this series all bad? Maybe its because Baylor is one of those bottom-feeder programs that rarely is any good, and against whom a victory means next to nothing, while a loss can derail a winning programs entire season. And whaddya know? This year is no different.
Baylor is showing signs of returning from the dead under Guy Morriss as the Bears pulled off a stunning win over Colorado in Waco, and then played down to the wire against an also-improving Kansas team, only to lose by a touchdown last weekend. Sandwiched in there of course was a 73-10 humbler in College Station at the hands of a mediocre Aggie squad. So Baylor is improving, but they are far from good.
But what I like about Morriss is his attitude -- no coddling. Comments coming out of Waco this week from the Bear head coach calling out some of his players and suggesting some might as well quit sounded really strange to these ears, living as I do in the heart of warm-and-fuzzy country where players can perform like schoolgirls and we hear from Mack Brown that they all "played hard."
Listen to these comments from Bear linebacker Justin Crooks as quoted in Thursdays Austin American Statesman: "He's the real deal," Crooks said. "He brings a lot of discipline to the table, and we needed that here. He called some people out who needed to be called out because he's not going to accept a lack of effort from anybody on this team." Or these from assistant coach Gerald Carr: "Guy is the leader of this vessel. We're not trying to rationalize why we lose a game and we're not here trying to play it close. We're judged by one thing, and that's winning." Man, is that sweet music? If only we had heard words like that coming out of the Longhorn camp post-OU. But thats just not Browns style, for better or worse.
Point is, after a week of letting his team know that their performance has been lousy, my sense is that Morriss is going to have Baylor ready to give a fanatical effort Saturday, and Mack Brown better have his players ready to meet their intensity level. One good thing about Browns Texas teams is that he almost always has his guys prepared to beat the inferior foes on the schedule, like the Baylors, Rices and Iowa States -- its the ranked teams that are willing to pop the Horns in the mouth that Texas usually struggles with.
While Cedric Benson deals with Plasma-Gate and sits this one out, Brett Robin, a banged-up Selvin Young, and inexperienced and little used Anthony Johnson will share the tailback duties against Baylor. My hope is that this means Texas will be forced to air it out and rely on the strength of its offense -- its amazing array of pass-catchers -- to move the ball on the Bears. I see Texas racking up plenty of yardage through the feet of Vince Young and the arms of Young and Chance Mock, enabling the Horns to post enough points to subdue an angry and pumped Bear squad out to prove something to their coach. Baylor figures to keep this one close for a couple of quarters before the Horns physical superiority finally spells the difference. I'll go Texas 41, Baylor 21.
Ross -- This is the most competitive Baylor football team the Horns will face since Mack Brown's first year in Austin. It's not that Guy Morriss, in his first year in Waco, has filled the green and gold uniforms with blue chippers. No, the Bears' '03 squad is quite similar in terms of talent to the '02 version (which the Horns clobbered 41-zip) and the '01 version, etc., but Morriss has instilled a new attitude in his charges that, despite an opening game heartbreaker, a week two debacle against North Texas, and an absolute embarrassment vs. A&M, makes Baylor a dangerous -- scratch that; let's call it potentially competitive on a weekly basis -- football team.
Those of you that are long-time IT readers will remember the "Survive the Surge" mentality that pervaded Brown's teams, a mentality which I roundly criticized, and from the comments coming out of the Forty Acres this week, it looks like the Horns are again in that mode (if they ever left it), battening down the hatches in preparation for a Bear onslaught. Pardon the repeat from Bill's preview article, but Brown said this week: "Theyll have their best game, theyll have their best shot, theyll have their best crowd, and theyll have the most energy. We understand because thats what we get every week, so were expecting a great game out of them." Phillip Geiggar, taking his cue from the head man, said, "Im expecting the best Baylor team to show up. They always play their best when they play us. Im expecting them to come out fired up and ready."
This isn't the best example ever of this phenomenon, but it is useful to point out because it shows that you can often get a pretty clear picture of what a coach is telling the team behind closed doors simply by listening to what the players say to the media. If there is a pattern across different players' comments, it almost certainly means they are getting the line of thought from the coaches.
Anyway, I've gotten off on a bit of tangent here, but I will say this: Texas still needs an attitude adjustment. Even though the verbiage has changed, I believe the "Survive the Surge" mentality lives on. Mack Brown can't help from talking up the opposition and imparting in his players the belief that every piss ant team will play them tough, and they're just going to have to withstand it. I wouldn't mind the compliments and flowery pre-game attitude so much if Texas actually took the game to its opponents rather than often letting the opposite occur. As Michael likes to say, though, Brown (and thus his team) is a prisoner to his personality. His personality is not consistent with a take-it-to-'em attitude on the football field and it shows in the players' words and team's performance.
In this case, as in most cases against inferior competition, Texas will overcome its attitudinal albatross. Baylor, even with its no-nonsense head coach, just can't win this one. The Horns will score almost at will (Vince Young should have a field day making off-schedule plays), and the UT defense is athletically gifted enough to stop a Bear offense which will look a lot like ISU's first half offense last Saturday. Other than the 'W' -- which will make the Horns bowl eligible (!!!!!), as Brown gushed earlier this week -- this is nothing but a warm-up for the real test of Longhorn mettle, which will come on three consecutive Saturdays and then a day-after-Thanksgiving Friday in the month of November. Texas 56, Baylor 16.