Horns Venture Into Bear Market

An overtime loss at Texas A&M, a double-overtime loss at Oklahoma, a first-ever Big 12 road win, and a defense that held Texas Tech to no TDs for three quarters. If this was your clue in Final Jeopardy, the correct response would be, "What evidence is there of Baylor's improvement?"

Closer to home, is there a shred of evidence that No. 2 Texas' season is in jeopardy when it ventures to Waco this Saturday? In short, are these Bears bad news?

The rhetoric around the Forty Acres this week is that this is, in fact, your grandfather's Baylor team. Or, at least third-year coach Guy Morriss' program is closer now than any point during the past decade to replicating the success it enjoyed when the Bears took eight-of-10 against the Horns in Waco (1974-1992). At most places, a 4-4 season is no reason to pound your chest. Then again, no Baylor team has notched more Ws in the past decade. During that span, Baylor typically had more coaches (four) than wins-per-season.

That's part of the reason why there are dancing Bears on the Baylor sideline this season. After all, it's November and the Bears are two wins away from bowl eligibility. And, according to Texas coach Mack Brown, they are just a couple of plays away from hosting the Big 12's marquee matchup this weekend.

"They are just plays away from being in the leadership role in this league right now," said Brown, who obviously graduated with honors from the Lou Holtz Institute of Pre-Game Hand-wringing.

The alternative would be unthinkable if it wasn't for the fact that so many of us easily recall that dismal stretch from 1984-93 when Baylor held a 6-4 series lead over Texas. To his credit, Brown's teams have won 24 of their last 25 roads games and have fashioned the school's longest winning streak (15 games) in 35 years. And, to Morriss' credit, his team has some growl to it.

"They've played in a lot of close games that have gone down to the wire," said TE David Thomas. "They could easily have a couple of wins over Oklahoma and A&M. This isn't the same Baylor team that we've played in the past."

Baylor's biggest area of improvement is on defense, Brown told Inside Texas.

"They're all juniors and seniors," he said. "They're not starting a sophomore or freshman. They've had younger guys playing but Guy's brought them up. They've done a great job of recruiting and they're pressing you with man coverage. Their defensive line is as good as anybody's."

The numbers, ahem, bear it out. The 2004 Baylor defense surrendered 205.8 rushing ypg (NCAA No. 102) while the current unit is allowing 130.5 (No. 40). The biggest area of improvement may be Baylor's scoring defense, yielding 20.5 ppg (No. 33) these days after giving up an average of 36.9 ppg in 2004.

The Burnt Orange can take partial credit for Baylor's upgrade. Former Longhorn captain 'Super' Bill Bradley is now in his second season as the Bears' Defensive Coordinator, joining Morriss' staff following a three-year stint as a New York Jets assistant.

BAYLOR OFFENSE

Morriss has played the ol' keep-em-guessing when it comes to naming his starting QB, but look for Shawn Bell to notch his ninth starting assignment of the season.

Bell’s 1,486 yards (on 150 of 256 passing) this season ranks a mediocre eighth in the conference but his completion percentage (59.5) is best ever in school history. He saw action in nine games as a sophomore in '04 and drew three starts, including the upset OT win over the Aggies. Bell posted 13-of-21 passing for 127 yards in Saturday's 28-0 loss to Texas Tech, but it was the first time Baylor failed to score this season. Morriss replaced him with sophomore QB Terrance Parks on the first drive of the fourth quarter.

Parks was a TE on Reggie McNeal's Lufkin team and spent 2004 doubling as a WR and a QB. He has just one career start and has thrown for 599 career yards with three TDs.

The Bears average 207.1 passing ypg (NCAA No. 76) while Texas' pass defense leads the league (No. 14) by holding opponents to 175.9 ypg through the air. WR Dominique Zeigler paces the Bruins with 440 yards on 34 receptions but will always be remembered as the guy who caught the TD pass and the two-point conversion in the OT win against Texas A&M last season. He posted a career-best 141 yards on nine receptions at OU last month. WR Trent Shelton has grabbed one reception in 30 straight games.

"They have good receivers who are very steady football players," Co-Defensive Coordinator Duane Akina said. "Schematically, they give those guys a chance to be successful with a high-percentage throwing game. They try to stay away from negative plays."

Junior RB Paul Mosley, an Austin Anderson product, is Baylor's leading rusher with 565 yards on 139 carries (70.6 ypg).

BAYLOR DEFENSE

When your nickname is 'Super' "that means you were pretty good," Brown said of the former Longhorn standout who now directs the Baylor defense. The high school All-American who quarterbacked his team to the 1965 state title was expected to direct Darrell Royal's offense in 1968. But it's well documented how Royal turned to James Street to operate his newfangled wishbone offense as Bradley moved to DB. The Horns reeled off a school record 30 straight Ws.

"Bill was one of the best players in the history of Texas high school football," Brown said. "When you look at what he did for Coach Royal at quarterback, and then even more when he moved over to defense and intercepting all those passes when he hadn't played over there, and then having a long pro career, and then coming back to coach, I think you can honestly say that in the history of football in the state of Texas, Bill Bradley is a Hall of Famer and a legend in this state. He has done a tremendous job with Baylor's defense. I have gotten to know Bill pretty well in my eight years here. He's so emotional and he's such a competitor. That's the way he played and that's the way he coaches. That's the way their defense is playing."

Baylor based out of a 4-2 last season but is showing an eight-man front these days.

"They're structurally different," said Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis. "They're very aggressive and blitz about 30 percent of the time. In our ballgame last year, they blitzed 42 percent of the time."

FS Maurice Lane leads his squad with 65 tackles while his 238 solo stops rank No. 2 on Baylor's all-time chart. Outside safety Willie Andrews is an All-Conference candidate and has started 31 games for BU and has 40 tackles on the year.

"They're playing a lot of man coverage (and are) challenging you and bumping you," Brown said. "They're saying that you're going to have to beat us through the air because you're not going to run the ball on us."

Fifth-year LB Jamaal Harper is second only to Lane with 59 tackles. He registered a career-best 14 tackles against Nebraska last month.

"Harper and Andrews are one-in-the-same in the eight-man structure where they both are going to play near the line of scrimmage most of the time," Davis said. "Harper tends to go to the formation called while Andrews tends to go away from the call. Both of them blitz, and both are the kind of guys where you've got to know where they're at and what their intentions are."

SPECIAL TEAMS

Daniel Sepulveda, the 2004 Ray Guy Award winner as the nation's top punter, ranks seventh nationally with his 45.1 ypg average. Meanwhile, Andrews ranks No. 2 among all active D-I players with 157 total career kick returns (90 punt, 67 kickoff). He averages 24.5 yards on KO returns but is still looking for his first special teams TD.


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