By Steve Habel, Senior Contributing Writer
AUSTIN, Texas — Take. A. Breath.
For the second straight game, Texas went to the final minute to win.
In the process the palpations and shuttered breathing in its fan base, which has had to hang for every snap, pass and run down the stretch.
“I'm relieved to be 1-0 against Baylor, and excited to be 1-0,” Texas head coach Tom Herman said. “I think when wins become reliefs, that's never a good thing.”
The good thing is that the No. 9-ranked Longhorns have made those plays when they counted the most and have become the team that most people expected them to be, and maybe more, entering the season.
The latest evidence for Texas’ turnaround was Saturday’s 23-17 victory over Baylor that was more difficult than perhaps expected but sweet nonetheless.
The victory, accomplished before a crowd of 93,882 fans at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, was the Longhorns’ sixth straight, their most consecutive wins since their run to the national championship game in 2009.
Texas is now 6-1 and 4-0 in Big 12 play heading into its open week and is bowl-eligible in October for the first time since 2012. The Longhorns have five game to play — two at home and three on the road.
This win was earned, despite the fact that record-setting quarterback Sam Ehlinger was forced from the game on Texas’ first possession with what was originally believed to be a cut on his throwing hand but was later reported to be an AC sprain of his right (throwing) shoulder. Ehlinger was out of uniform but on the sidelines in the second half.
In his stead, backup quarterback Shane Buechele threw for 184 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown to Collin Johnson.
Ultimately, it was UT's defense that carried the Longhorns to the win, albeit just barely. Baylor (4-2, 2-2 in Big 12 play), which is exponentially better this season than last, moved from its own 3-yard line to the Texas 17 on a final last-gasp drive that ended with three incomplete passes into the end zone.
“Great stop — that’s what I told the defense after the game,” Herman said. “They came up big when they needed to. We know we've got some work to do on that side of the ball in the fourth quarter. What that is, I don't know.”
The Longhorns’ defense held Baylor to 328 yards of total offense; the Bears entered the game averaging 499.5 yards per game.
Buechele, who played in 21 games over the past two years and started 19 times, stepped in for Ehlinger and hit on 20 of 34 passes with one interception.
Texas also got a career-high 110 yards rushing on a career-most 19 careers from freshman running back Keaontay Ingram in the win.
Texas held on to the ball for 14 plays on its first possession moving 52 yards before settling for a 40-yard field goal from freshman Cameron Dicker.
The drive marked the first in-game action this season for Buechele, who replaced Ehlinger for the final four plays of the march when Ehlinger got a cut on his throwing hand.
“We knew this wasn't going to be easy and then obviously when your starting quarterback goes out in the first drive there could have been some panic.” Herman said. “Shane was absolutely prepared for that moment.”
Baylor was impressive on its opening drive, marching 70 yards in 12 plays to a 19-yard touchdown pass from Charlie Brewer to Denzel Mims and a 7-3 Bears lead with 3:08 to play in the first quarter. Brewer was 6 for 6 on the drive and carried the ball twice for 19 yards.
UT's second drive culminated in a 35-yard field goal from Dicker on the first snap of the second quarter that cut the Baylor lead to 7-6.
Baylor’s Connor Martin added to the Bears’ advantage with 5:03 to play in the second quarter with a dying quail of a 46-yard field goal into the wind.
Texas took a 13-10 lead on the highlight-reel touchdown pass from Buechele to Johnson. The pass was on the mark, but Johnson, looking back into the bright sunshine, didn’t see the ball until the last split second when it was almost past him. He snagged it off the back of his shoulder and jaunted the final five yards into the end zone.
Ingram, and two big Baylor penalties, did the bulk of the work on UT's next drive. Ingram had carried four times for 34 yards on the march, which ended with a three-yard touchdown run out of the wildcat formation by Lil’Jordan Humphrey and the Longhorns holding a 20-10 lead with 1:12 to play before halftime.
A Caden Sterns interception at the Texas 48-yard line gave the Longhorns one more possession before halftime, and after key 17-yard connection from Buechele to D’Shawn Jamison, “Dicker the Kicker” did his thing again, this time from 47 yards out, to grant Texas a 23-10 lead at intermission.
Baylor climbed back to within 23-17 at the 4:33 mark of the third quarter on Jalen Hurd’s 2-yard touchdown run three plays after a 45-yard pass from Brewer to Mims allowed the Bears to set up shop at the UT 5-yard line.
Dicker, who kicked the game-winner on Oct. 6 in the Longhorns’ win over No. 7 Oklahoma, missed from 34 yards in the third quarter and from 51 yards with 5:51 to play. That allowed the Baylor an opening at the end that the Longhorns defense ultimately shut.
Texas has won four consecutive games against the Bears, its longest streak since winning 12 straight from 1998-2009. The Longhorns will enjoy their open week before returning to action Oct. 27 at Oklahoma State.