Baylor Preview: Are These Bears Bad News?

Texas' win over Oklahoma was the result of one of the most bare-knuckled, knock down - drag out tilts in series history. Now comes the hard part.

Arguably, the toughest challenge Texas faces each season is preparing for the opponent after the OU game. It's something Longhorn coach Mack Brown has learned from being on both sides of the border war.

"I remember in the 1984 game when I was at OU (offensive coordinator)", Brown said. "We nearly lost the next week to Iowa State, 12-9, when they weren't very good. We were still talking about the Texas game. It made an impression on me, at that point, that the game after Texas-OU is really, really hard for both teams. Win or lose, you have emotion that's been spent."

Games of this magnitude are typically waged at the end of the season, during the so-called Rivalry Week.

"How in the world do you manage a game like Texas-OU at midseason?", Brown asked. "It's a difficult thing. There's a build-up before it, and there's a build-up after it."

Brown's way of managing the post-OU chest-thumping is to treat Saturday's game against Baylor as a season-opener.

"Saturday night was the end of the first season," Brown said, "and we'll throw out the stats. Baylor will be our opening game of the next season."

When the 2006 schedule was released, a home game against Baylor represented the lull between the Red River Rivalry and road trips to Nebraska and Texas Tech. On paper, it was the guaranteed W during Texas' red October. This week, however, the only player predicting victory was Baylor cornerback C.J. Wilson. The senior has forecasted an "IH-35 Surprise" -- the modern day equivalent to Baylor's Miracle on the Brazos shocker in 1974 -- against the four-touchdown favorite Longhorns.

The bravado stems from the fact that, for the first time in program history, Baylor is 2-0 in Big 12 play. The Bears also have a program-best three-game win streak in conference play, dating back to its season-ending 44-34 win over Oklahoma State in 2005. This season, BU has a 17-3 home win against Kansas State (in which Baylor kept a Big 12 foe out of the endzone for the first time) and triple-OT win at Colorado last weekend. In fact, Saturday's match-up marks the first time since 1963 that both Texas and Baylor enter the game undefeated in conference play.

This much is certain: Baylor is no longer the Big 12 cellar dweller. It begs the question: is the Big 12 that bad?

Or, is Baylor that improved?

There's no question which direction Brown is leaning. The coach-speak was at full-throttle this week when Brown said Baylor "is just two plays away from being 5-1" and being ranked in the Top 15. He also pointed out that "they've beat A&M, and have gone to overtime against A&M, the past couple of years. They went to double-overtime against Oklahoma in Norman last year."

Added Brown, "It definitely gets our team's attention."

And that's definitely a good thing the week after OU.

BAYLOR OFFENSE
Baylor coach Guy Morriss is, by nature, a blue-collared, trench-warfare, pound-the-ball, old-schooler. He's also a realist. He knew the Bears would never have the across-the-board muscle and power (especially along the offensive front) to shove people around in the Big 12 with a power running game. That's why this is Year One of Morriss' implementation of the kind of pass-happy, spread offense that Texas Tech has been operating during Mike Leach's tenure.

"If there is a difference between the two offenses," Co-Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik said, "it's not glaring to me."

It's the type of show that first-year Offensive Coordinator Lee Hays ran when he was head coach at West Texas A&M. Morriss has also assumed responsibility for the O-line. The former Philadelphia Eagle All-Pro offensive lineman said during the Big 12 Football Media Days that pass-blocking was his strong suit. Therefore, some nuances of the new systems come naturally for him. He has the benefit of three returning starters from the O-line, and they'll assume the splits of 5+ yards just like Tech's scheme.

"It's an offense that forces you to play well in space. OU wads them up and hits you right in the mouth; this is going to spread you out and make you tackle well. You have to have great discipline. If you start running out of your area to get to the backs on all the short stuff, they'll throw it behind you."

The triggerman is QB Shawn Bell who earned his fifth career victory as a starter in a Big 12 game Saturday, matching the total number of Big 12 victories by all other Baylor QBs since the league's inception. Bell is the only Baylor QB to ever win a Big 12 road game. The fifth-year senior is 169-of-261 passing (64.6 percent) for 1,625 yards, including 11 TDs and seven INTs. Bell owns the school record for career attempts (792) and completions (487).

Bell will primarily look to WRs Dominique Zeigler and Trent Shelton, who have combined for a school-record 276 career catches. Zeigler is ranked No. 15 nationally with 140 receptions and enters the Texas game with 140 career catches (No. 4 all-time at Baylor). Former QB Terrence Parks moved to the inside receiver spot during spring football and has made three 2006 starts. All told, Baylor is averaging 279.8 passing ypg.

Baylor will put the ball in the air nearly 45 times Saturday, but Chizik's game plan -- as always -- is geared toward stopping the run first.

"This is going to sound backwards, you still have to start with stopping the run. They do a great job of spreading you out, and they'll hit you up in there with eight (yards) here, 10 here, 15 here. If you miss a tackle, it turns into a touchdown."

Baylor is averaging just 41.2 ypg rushing, but Longhorn coaches account the screens, flares and shovel passes as running plays.

"Their screens are their running game," Chizik noted. "Obviously, they have some running plays but screens and shovel passes are part of their running game in that type of offense."

Paul Mosley is an Austin (Anderson) product who returns for his fifth year. His 38.4 ypg makes him Baylor's leading rusher. He owns all three of Baylor's rushing TDs this season.

BAYLOR DEFENSE
At least C,J. Wilson can back his smack. The Bears are tied with Ohio State for the national lead with 12 INTs and Wilson has a Big 12-leading four of them. The Bears have 19 turnovers on the season and, since 2005, their 48 total turnovers has been best in college football. Brown believes it has everything to do with the NFL influence that former Longhorn 'Super' Bill Bradley has brought to the program in his third year as defensive coordinator.

"The pro guys bring that emphases in (on creating turnovers) and they've got a lot of speed on defense now," Brown said. "It's not like their defenses from a few years ago. Speed creates turnovers."

Freshman MLB Joe Pawelek leads his team with 47 tackles and leads all D-I freshmen with 7.8 stops per game. Junior WLB Nick Moore is a Georgia Tech transfer is Baylor's second-leading tackler with 43 and recorded a career-best 12 stops last weekend at Colorado. Sophomore DT Vincent Rhodes and senior NT M.T. Robison became the starters when Big 12 play began for Baylor two weeks ago. Senior DE Marcus Freeman logged 14 straight starts but missed the Army game with a strained knee (he came off the bench to play against Kansas State).

The Bears base out of the 4-2-5 and blitz approximately 29 percent of the time.

"That's not a high number for the Big 12," Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis observed. "You wouldn't classify them as a blitzing team."

Baylor is giving up 126.2 rushing ypg and 201.5 passing ypg.

SPECIAL TEAMS
Senior Daneil Sepulveda won the 2004 Ray Guy Award honoring the nation's top punter. Sepulveda is currently rated No. 3 nationally in both punts per game (6.2) and in average (45.06).

"They've got the best punter in the country," Brown said, "so they can change field position on you and make you go the distance."


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