Officially, Saturday's scrimmage against outmanned Baylor serves as the Big 12 opener for both programs. Head coach Mack Brown points out that Texas has the chance to open the season at 4-0 for the third time in four years but also just the third time in 20 years.
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Make that will open at 4-0. Indicative of this week's mismatch is the fact that UT players and coaches did not talk about Baylor's personnel (other than the usual "on any given Saturday" rhetoric) as much as key areas where Texas must improve (and improve in a hurry) to play at a championship level (namely, pressuring the QB, pass defense, kickoff coverage, kickoff return, and finding the second WR to complement FL Tony Jeffery. Based on coaches' comments, apparently all is well with Vince Young's passing game).
"We know that we have to play every week," Jeffery said. "We've seen a lot of examples across the country of teams getting beat by teams they're supposed to beat. We want to learn from other people's examples and not be the example."
Thing is, we can't assess that kind of improvement until after kickoff, October 9, in the Cotton Bowl. Baylor is no barometer. Case-in-point: the defense couldn't buy a sack in critical games against OU, Texas Tech and Arkansas last year but dropped the Baylor QB eight times in Waco. What we need to see this Saturday is crisp execution, the sustained level of intensity that is setting the current defense apart from previous years and a pass defense that absolutely dominates.
Other than SMU, Baylor is literally the youngest team in D-I football (96 underclassmen). Texas has outscored Baylor 97-0 the past two seasons. The best thing to come out of this game will be to keep the kids injury-free and develop depth in front of 80,000-plus. Otherwise, the most interesting story line is whether RB Cedric Benson gets his 180 yards to surpass Earl Campbell on the career rushing chart.
Baylor enters the game with a 2-1 mark, having dismissed North Texas (37-14) and getting past Texas State (24-17) in the past couple of weeks. The Bears opened the season with a 56-14 loss to UAB (coached by Mack's brother, Watson Brown) in which the Bears committed five turnovers and gave up 343 rushing yards.
"They don't even look like the same team that played my brother's team on September 4," Brown said. "They had a bunch of sacks Saturday night. They're running the ball better. They were really emotional and they were really physical."
The last time Baylor beat Texas was when the goal posts came down on a miserable afternoon in Waco in 1997. The last time Baylor turned the table on the Horns in Austin was 1991. Not coincidentally, Texas replaced its head coach at the conclusion of both seasons. Brown sometimes jokes that if he loses to the Baylors of the world, then he won't be around to coach against Oklahoma.
It's hard to believe that Baylor held a 7-6 series lead from 1980-1992, including that 50-7 nightmarish upset in 1989. Texas has now won 10 of 11 with no end in sight to Baylor's misery. Other than hope for recruiting miracles and not fire its coach ever other year, what does Baylor have to do to become competitive again in league play? Join the Sunbelt Conference.
The Bears have hitched their offensive wagon to Blinn Junior College transfer and second-team National Junior College Football Conference All-American Dane King. (I wonder if his more literate friends call him 'Hamlet'?) King, who led the NJCAA in both passing yards (310.8 ypg) and total offense (322.3 ypg) last season, edged sophomore returning starter Shawn Bell on the first-team O.
Despite Arkansas QB Matt Jones' ability to pick his spots (13-of-27 for 249 yards) against Texas last month, the Horns are preparing to face their first true dropback passing attack this season.
"Baylor's going to throw it so it's good for us to see if we can cover anything," Brown said. "We're talented in the secondary, we're well coached in the secondary, we're more experienced in the secondary, so we should be really good back there. But I don't think the secondary has been tested, except for a couple of play-action passes against Arkansas."
Baylor is averaging nearly 222 yards through the air and just under 102 rushing yards per game.
"I miss being in the middle of the field," said FS Phillip Geiggar, who has been largely counted on this season to provide run support against ground-bound teams. "We haven't had a team try to spread the field very much against us."
King has completed 54-of-92 attempted for 604 yards, but he has thrown more picks (6) than TDs (5). Half of those INTs came in the season-opener at UAB.
"Every D-lineman glows when he has sack opportunities," RDT Larry Dibbles said. "Baylor throws the ball a lot, so that means we'll have a lot of opportunities to try to get to the quarterback. I look forward to it."
Baylor's leading rusher is sophomore TB Paul Mosley (from Austin Anderson High) with 154 yards on 31 carries, followed by senior TB Anthony Krieg (from Pflugerville) with 137 yards on 37 totes.
"Its the first time we have seen a drop-back passing team that is balanced in running the ball, so it's great work for us on both sides," Brown said.
The Bear defense is now under the capable tutelage of 'Super' Bill Bradley, who became Baylor's defensive coordinator following three seasons as the New York Jets defensive backs coach.
For Inside Texas subscribers born since 1975, Bradley was the highly recruited Longhorn tri-captain whom James Street replaced at QB in 1968. It was one of Darrell Royal's tougher decisions to replace a high school All-American like Bradley with the relatively unheralded Street, but Royal was convinced Street would be more adept at running his newfangled wishbone offense. The new era saw Texas ride a 30-game winning streak on the way to two national championships. Bradley, meanwhile, switched to defensive back where he still holds the UT single-game INT record (four, in Texas' 35-14 win over A&M in 1968).
"Bill Bradley has done a good job of bringing the defense along quickly," Brown said. "They're blitzing a lot and they're giving a lot of different looks. They've got an NFL influence to their defense much like we do. It will be a good test for our quarterbacks."
The mainstay on the Baylor defense is LB Justin Crooks (another Austin-area product as a former Round Rock McNeil standout). A pre-season selection to the Nagurski Watch List (recognizing the best defensive players regardless of position), Crooks was credited with 72 stops last season and ranked second on the team with 9.5 TFL.
BAYLOR'S BEST WEAPON
Bad football teams often have exceptional punters. Baylor P Daniel Sepulveda is the D-I football's second-leading punter with 48.6 ypg.
"Their punter is one of the best in the country," said Brown, "so field position will be a key."
BAYLOR'S SECOND BEST WEAPON
Playing Texas the week before OU.