Texas is at a bit of a crossroads as it heads north to Baylor to start a two-game road trip and play in what will be its fourth straight 11 a.m. game. Do the Longhorns take a much-needed win and continue to muddy the Big 12 standings? Or does Texas take a loss and then basically hope for whatever the best bowl a record of 8-4 or 7-5 will get it to? There are questions and keys for the Longhorns as they continue a Southwest Conference rivalry and here at Horns Illustrated, we’ll take a look at them.
1. How did Texas handle the bye week?
College teams can make significant improvement during the bye week by either working on system weaknesses or just by simply getting healthier.
With Longhorns coach Steve Sarkisian in his first year in Austin, it will be interesting to see how Texas looks with two weeks to prepare. Baylor is also coming off a bye, so the Longhorns won’t have any advantage in terms of being fresher.
2. Does the defense slow down Baylor’s run game?
A few defensive stops and Texas could easily be at 6-1 entering this game. Instead, it’s 4-3 and has one of the worst run-defenses in the country. If the Longhorns run defense was simply sub-par, Texas would be 6-1. But it’s one of the 20-worst in the country statistically and thus that’s why Texas is now fighting for its life to stay in contention for the Big 12 title game. The answer to this question may seem obvious — no — but it’s one that has to be asked and will be a crucial part of the game. Asking to keep the Bears to less than 200 yards rushing shouldn’t be a huge ask in games between two Power 5 teams, but Baylor’s strength is running the ball — it’s the No. 9 rushing attack in the country — and Texas is bad against stopping the run. That doesn’t lead to positive things likely happening for the Longhorns defense, but it will be something to watch.
3. Can the Texas offense produce in the fourth quarter?
The Longhorns were bad on offense in the fourth quarter of losses to both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. One could make an argument that had the offense done almost anything in either of those quarters against the OU or OSU, those games would have swung to Texas even with how porous the Longhorns defense was. But it also speaks to how well the Texas offense has performed in the first half all season long — the Arkansas game withstanding. A bye week should have done the Texas offense good, so look for the Longhorns to be better in the fourth.
4. How does Alfred Collins handle the pressure to perform?
Collins is only in his second year of being in the program, but he’ll play a key role in how Texas’ defense performs Saturday. Playing on the defensive line as an end, he’ll need to contain on the outside and get penetration. The Longhorns haven’t been disruptive enough on the defensive line, and Collins has the talent that can help change that. This isn’t fair to put pressure on this young of a player, but Collins has the talent to be an NFL player and is someone who really doesn’t need to leave the field. He’ll be a key player on Saturday.
5. Is Baylor for real?
The Bears are 6-1, but their only win of note is over a good Iowa State team. Baylor did drill West Virginia, but we here at Horns Illustrated aren’t too impressed with the Mountaineers. Still, the Bears did play Oklahoma State tough in their only loss, but we’re not sure Baylor is the 16th best team in the country. But Baylor is a good team, so it’s for real, but its ranking should be around 25.
6. What’s the bottom line on this game?
This game is going to be close. Baylor is well-coached and the upperclassmen on this team were recruited by current Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule. Still, if Texas can be slightly better on defense and more consistent in the second half on offense, it should win. We think the bye week will be beneficial for Texas. Casey Thompson should have a good game and do enough on defense to take the win.
Horns Illustrated prediction: Texas 34, Baylor 31.